Working paper Open Access

Skilling for Sustainable Futures: To SDG8 and Beyond

McGrath, Simon

This is a Transforming Education for Sustainable Development (TESF) Background Paper. One of the well-established purposes of education is to support the economy, whether at individual, enterprise or national level. However, the quest for sustainable futures at the heart of this network’s vision and activities requires us to raise serious concerns about both the ways that the economic function has come to dominate education and the unsustainability of the economic models that education is called on to serve. Therefore, this paper will take a critical stance on the education – economic development relationship as reflected in current economic models. 

Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures has placed a critical engagement with the SDGs and related cross-cutting inequalities at the heart of our approach (Tikly et al., 2020). In particular, we take up three SDGs as core to the network’s research questions, one of these being SDG 8.

The focus in this paper is not directed at providing a comprehensive review of debates about education and economic development (see McGrath, 2010 and 2018 for a discussion of those literatures). Whilst TESF is interested in commissioning research that takes any aspect of this relationship in more sustainable directions, the ambition here is more modest. Here, I will focus on how skills development for all, but especially marginalised groups, can be transformed to support decent, sustainable livelihoods as part of just transitions. In TESF, we stress the agency of communities and individuals whilst noting the effects that structure has on their lives. At the heart of our emergent account of skills for sustainable livelihoods, therefore, is a commitment to practices and policies that respect the voices of those who are typically most readily silenced in conventional skills debates (Powell and McGrath, 2019a). 

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