UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Education towards Sustainability at York University marks 20 years

Established in 1999, the UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Education towards Sustainability at York University was the first UNESCO Chair to be created to support education for sustainable development (ESD).

The initial task of the Chair was to develop guidelines for reorienting teacher education to address sustainability, and the Chairholder created the International Network of Teacher Education Institutions (INTEI), which has grown to include members in more than 70 countries.

Charles Hopkins
Charles Hopkins

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Education towards Sustainability at York University, and highlights the work of Charles A. Hopkins, who has held the role of Chair since 1999.

“The mission of the UNESCO Chair is to further the capability of the world’s education, public awareness and training systems to embed sustainability in their programs and practices,” said Hopkins, who has assumed many roles over the last two decades to accomplish this mission.

During the first 15 years, the most prominent role of the chair as creating INTEI, which collaborates with and operates in conjunction with international initiatives including the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-14) and the UN Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development (2015-19).

More recently, the role of the Chair has also been to initiate international and collaborative research such as an initiative spanning almost 40 countries on how to improve the education of Indigenous youth, as well as collaborating to become a partner for the new UN #ESDfor2030 Framework.

In addition to leading these initiatives, the UNESCO Chair also conducts research, publishes academic and popular papers on the topic of ESD, presents at international conferences and is involved with many advisory panels for national and international ESD initiatives.

“One of the most important contributions of the Chair’s INTEI network towards the implementation of ESD in teacher education was coordinating the research and publishing the Guidelines and Recommendations for Reorienting Teacher Education to Address Sustainability,” said Hopkins. “This handbook was published by UNESCO and has provided insight and guidance to teacher education institutions around the world on reorienting their programs to align with global objectives in ESD. Although published in 2005, it is still in active use today as a basic text document.”

The Chair is now in the process of publishing a new paper on invitation by UNESCO to share its vision of the futures of education, which is being written with partners from Canada, Germany, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia and the United States.

“The Chair team continues to work closely with ministries of education, school systems, UNESCO and other UN education initiatives such as Greening Technical and Vocational Education, and UN Climate Change to embed ESD in education and training systems,” said Hopkins.

More locally, the development of the UNESCO Chair at York University led to the creation of the first network of Canadian Faculties of education focusing on ESD that is part of the INTEI as one of the most relevant chapters in the world.

Through the Chair’s initiative, the UNU Regional Centres of Expertise in ESD in British Colombia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick were started.

“We created the Sustainability and Education Academy at York, which worked on reorienting school systems across Canada,” said Hopkins. “We work closely with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO in their Education Committee and in their Chair network to bring the international concepts on future education to the Canadian context.”

About Charles Hopkins

Hopkins was superintendent of curriculum with the Toronto Board of Education. He has been advisor and partner for UNESCO’s efforts to develop education for sustainable development since its inception in 1992. In 2002, Hopkins became an advisor to the United Nations University and a developer of their Regional Centres of Expertise in ESD. This program now engages more than 150 cities and regions around the world. In addition to his work directly with UNESCO and UNFCCC, Hopkins is a co-director of the Asia-Pacific Institute on ESD in Beijing, China.

A longtime leader in the field of education, Hopkins has lectured and presented papers in more than 90 countries. He has earned three honorary doctorates, four honorary professorships, the Gold Medal from the Peruvian Association of University Rectors and the Silver Jubilee Medal from Queen Elizabeth II. . He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in the U.K., the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria, and the Australian Association of Environmental Educators.

He has numerous publications and has lectured worldwide on a range of topics from quality education to educating for global citizenship and educating for a sustainable future. In the past, he was a teacher, principal, curriculum superintendent and regional superintendent with the Toronto Board of Education before assuming the UNESCO Chair in 1999.

Today, Hopkins is advisor to both the United Nations University, UNESCO UNEVOC on technical and vocational education and Co-Director of the Asia-Pacific Institute on Education for Sustainable Development in Beijing, China.