Okayama ESD-Local residents engaging in waterfront environmental research

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Okayama: A city united for education for sustainable development

The city of Okayama, with a population of 720,000 people, is located in Okayama Prefecture, some 700 kilometers west of Tokyo. Spared from natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes, and blessed with long hours of sunlight, Okayama City is known as one of the most comfortable places to live in Japan. But the city, as UNESCO Learning City, offers more than an enjoyable lifestyle; it is also a world leader in the promotion of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).  

ESD seeks to provide learners of all ages with the knowledge, skills, values, attitudes, and power to address interconnected global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, unsustainable resource use, and inequalities.

In 2016, the Okayama ESD Project received the UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development, a biennial prize that honors outstanding projects that advance the role of education in connecting the social, economic, cultural and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Funded by the Government of Japan, the Prize consists of three biennial awards of USD 50,000 for each recipient to further advance ESD.

The Okayama ESD Promotion Commission (secretariat at Okayama Municipal Office) has been promoting ESD through the Okayama ESD Project based on the Okayama ESD Project Fundamental Plan since 2005. It was acknowledged as a Regional Centre of Expertise on ESD by the United Nations University. Okayama incorporated the promotion of ESD into the Kominkans (CLCs: Community Learning Centers) policy in 2007, and thus started to include ESD in Kominkan activities.

When the government became active to engage corporations, schools and civil society groups, it led to a major transformation.
Hirofumi Abe, Vice-President of International Pacific University and Chairperson of the Okayama ESD Promotion Commission

The Okayama ESD Project brings together organizations promoting ESD and facilitates a whole-city approach to ESD. The project involves the local community through both formal and informal education. It offers various activities and training organized in Kominkans, schools, parks and shopping malls as well as in places close to nature. For example, in Okayama City, ESD begins in elementary school: pupils have the opportunity to visit local farms, meet with human treasures (elders with specialized knowledge of the local area), as well as learn about the environment and recycling.

Kominkans serve as learning centers for residents and visitors of the city of Okayama, offering a broad range of educational courses, and even encouraging the community to initiate localized learning programs. Based on a whole-city approach, residents play a major role in planning and implementing ESD projects, incorporating issues that are important to them into the activities. This collaborative effort has allowed Kominkans to organize lectures and workshops based on ESD and civic collaboration that aim to solve regional issues, deepen learning, and create locally relevant projects. 

Our children walk through the rice paddies to come to school every morning, but before ESD classes, they seldom took an interest in what is grown there. The classes have substantially changed them. They have become interested in different kinds of rice and some even come to me to ask about how it is grown. One child became eager to take over a family farming business in the future.
Elementary School Teacher who took the lead on ESD

Currently, more than 350 organizations are members of the Commission, including educational institutions, Kominkans, civic organizations, non-profit organizations, companies, and governmental agencies. To further accelerate ESD, the Commission developed the new Plan (2020-2030) focusing on eight main action areas: promotion of collaboration and cooperation to build a sustainable society in Okayama; promotion of initiatives that lead to the practice of creating sustainable society; development of the youth and ESD leaders; promotion of ESD at local communities, Kominkans and schools; recognition of good ESD practices; expansion of ESD activity bases; promotion of ESD and SDGs to businesses; and further collaboration with relevant national and international organizations.

Okayama ESD-Multicultural Community Workshop in Kominkan

ESD Coordinator Trainings are free and accessible workshops and activities that build the capacities of educators and youth. University students are also offered the opportunity to complete ESD internships with local NGOs. The internships strengthen youth participation and action in support of sustainable communities. The objective is also to connect thought and learning to concrete engagement, commitment, and action towards ESD. Turning ideas into reality has made the city of Okayama a role model for other cities worldwide.  

We work on ESD in order to build a sustainable society. It is essential for local citizens and the government to work as one.
Mitsuyuki Ikeda, Director of the ESD Promotion Council of the Kyoyama District of Okayama City

The project is driven by a collaborative, community-based approach. More than 160 groups of citizens, from youth to elderly people, out of more than 350 member organizations have taken part in these activities, working day in and day out to achieve environmental preservation, global understanding, and disaster reduction. Ultimately, the initiative’s strength lies in its promotion of civic collaboration to solve regional issues, deepen learning, and carry out activities reflecting local life. Embracing this spirit of action, Okayama City’s whole-city approach is successfully paving the way for a more sustainable future for its citizens and communities.