Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Curriculum for Citizenship and Sustainability

Written By

Eleni Mousena, Trifeni Sidiropoulou and Maretta Sidiropoulou

Submitted: 01 February 2022 Reviewed: 28 February 2022 Published: 16 April 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.103981

From the Edited Volume

Pedagogy - Challenges, Recent Advances, New Perspectives, and Applications

Edited by Hülya Şenol

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Citizenship, as the making of citizens, is an empirical and intellectual educational process. The ability of citizens to understand the world and also their responsible and active attitude has to address the issue of sustainability in the 21st century, i.e., an environment that will continue to exist for the future generations of citizens. Sustainability has emerged as a contemporary political value, as both the destruction of the natural environment and the complex social problems of humanity are threatening the development and self-realisation of humans and posing limitations, an issue of concern to the academic community and political leaders. Active and responsible political attitudes are cultivated through educational experiences and curricula that are engaging and meaningful to students. This chapter analyses the concepts of citizenship and sustainability, refers to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as defined in a UN conference (Agenda 2030) and presents ways to promote sustainability in education as well as relevant research, with a focus on the natural environment. It is concluded that a 4Cs curriculum on citizenship and sustainability is grounded οn civic and political values, developed in the conceptual framework of critical pedagogy, methodologically operates the school as a civil society forum and needs competent teachers to implement it.


  • citizenship
  • sustainability
  • 4Cs curriculum
  • political values
  • civil society

1. Introduction

Making citizens is a major objective of contemporary education systems. Citizenship at first glance seems to be a complex concept and an extremely demanding educational process. The questions one might initially ask are: what does citizenship mean; how is it built; how is it taught; through what means and materials; what are its aims; what qualifications should those who teach it have; what age groups of pupils are concerned; how are curricula for citizenship designed; is the content oriented locally, regionally or globally; what is its relationship to sustainability and sustainable development?

In terms of curricula, this objective appears in two forms: either as a cross-curricular goal or process or as a distinct school subject with its own syllabus. Recent views of citizenship education academics, however, are not in favour of either of these approaches. They argue that for the desired outcomes to be achieved, citizenship education should be both a cross-curricular goal and a distinct cognitive domain, with its own materials and with specific time and space allocated to it in the educational process. The content of citizenship education today focuses on the development of an autonomous personality that is characterised by a democratic political identity and an understanding of and respect for diversity and ‘otherness’ [1, 2]. Sustainability is arising as a contemporary political value and curricula are oriented to conclude related content and activities.

The fact that nation building was a necessary precondition for the development of modern education systems can explain, to a certain extent, the ethnocentric orientation of education and the strengthening of national identity it has brought about. Nonetheless, this trait imposes constraints on the formation of a democratic political identity with a global view, and it restricts understanding of social pluralism and multiculturalism [2].

The ability to live together in a democracy does not come naturally, it is an experiential and a spiritual process. The knowledge, skills and values that are the preconditions of living in a democracy should be learnt from early years to the adulthood. The components of citizenship education are school climate, curriculum and teaching strategies, pedagogy in the community and making the school a civil society forum. As Paulo Freire proposes, the schools should facilitate the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of the world [3].

The traditional curricula, promoting the 3Rs (Reading, Writing, Arithmetic), do not seem to suffice to respond to current challenges. These curricula cultivate mainly literacy tools. Knowledge about the natural and social phenomena are the subject of the natural and social sciences. In particular, knowledge, skills and values about the socio-political organisation of the world are the domain of the social sciences.

This chapter analyses the concepts of citizenship and sustainability, refers to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as defined in a UN conference (Agenda 2030, Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals—SDGs) and presents ways to promote sustainability in education as well as relevant research, with a focus on goals related to the natural environment. We explore the ideological framework; the content and the appropriate methods for a curriculum of citizenship education.


2. Citizenship and citizenship education

‘Education is always a political act… It is impossible to remain neutral in education, all educational policies and practices have social implications’

Paulo Freire

Citizenship is a highly complex concept. Citizenship means being a member of a political community. The members of this political community have the same rights and responsibilities towards the state and other members of the community. Thus, citizenship is a legal status on the one hand, and a social relationship between citizens on the other [4].

The term citizenship implies a relationship, the relationship of the individual with the public life and with the polity. It is the status of a person that makes him/her a citizen, and this is achieved on the one hand empirically as a process of socialisation and education, and on the other hand legally as a status conferred by law. In the former case, we have a de facto acquisition of citizenship, while in the latter we have a de jure conferment of political rights on individuals. The de jure procedure for acquiring citizenship varies from country to country, with differences concerning persons who have a first citizenship of another country or are stateless. Such cases are mainly migrant populations or refugees.

In her paper The Public Self, Virginia Rettinger describes the way in which the public self is expressed. According to her, the public self is that part of the self which is concerned with political and social issues. To a certain extent, all individuals express this part of themselves. The two forms of being, public and private, are manifested in situations and activities, which are clearly distinct from one another. For the formation of the public self to be achieved, understanding, nurturing and support are necessary. In identifying its main characteristics, Rettinger suggests that the public self:

  • seeks to express itself in the public sphere, a space where many persons assemble and which is open to all;

  • enters the public space with the aim of connecting with others through discourse and action. Indeed, political activity is defined as a number of people who speak and act together publicly;

  • focuses on public issues or problems, with the ultimate goal of producing a public good [5].

In its strict sense, citizenship is a legal concept, and it can only be exercised in the context of a state. Citizenship implies a sense of identity, loyalty, and devotion to the idea that the citizen should assume responsibilities for the state, which is the source of the political rights he/she enjoys. Heater claims that instruction in citizenship, as a status and a right, can only be partial and distorted unless it addresses the issue of identity and loyalty ([6], pp. 62–63). It is perceived as an idea or an ideal comprising of five constituent traits. It can be seen that the most clear-cut aspects are those regarding the legal, political and social status of citizenship. Civil citizenship is about the protection of civil rights, political citizenship is about the relationship between the law and election procedures and social citizenship refers to all things related to social welfare and social benefits. The other two aspects of citizenship, civic virtue and identity, are less tangible. They both refer to the experiential relationship between the citizen and the polity. Civic virtue, being a good citizen, means to behave in a politically moral way towards the state-polity and to your fellow citizens. The quality of civic virtue is based on political identity [6]. Essentially, political identity is free from the restrictions of the nation-state and the exclusive commitment to a unique level of political loyalty.

The concept of global citizenship does not relate to nation-states or similar geographical and political entities. Global Citizenship Identity focuses on the development of active and democratic citizens who are characterised by global consciousness, a shared understanding of current humanity issues and a strong interest in providing solutions. UNESCO identifies Global Citizenship as ‘a sense of belonging to a broader community and common humanity. It emphasizes political, economic, social and cultural interdependency and interconnectedness between the local, the national and the global’ ([7], p. 14).

2.1 Citizenship education

Citizenship education is a part of the education systems of all modern states. Pedagogues, philosophers, political scientists and sociologists have sought to define the field of citizenship education. There are a number of definitions, each reflecting the respective viewpoint (ideological, theoretical and didactic) and the specific historical circumstances in which each of these attempts was made. This is a strong indication of the inherent dynamics of citizenship education, which has been linked to the construction and operation of the nation state, while today, in the globalisation era, a cosmopolitan approach is being promoted.

Various terms have been used for citizenship education such as Civic Education, Political Education, Education for Citizenship, Education for Democracy, Law-related Education and Values Education, which can be found in the literature. All of these terms suggest the study of political issues such as political values, democracy, law, rights and responsibilities, peace education, intercultural education and education for sustainable development.

The necessity of citizenship education is set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, where Article 29 declares that ‘The States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to … (d) the preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin; (e) The development of respect for the natural environment’ ([8], p. 9).

The construction of the political identity has its roots in ancient Greek literature, and of certainly distinguished philosophers and pedagogues, such as Rousseau, Dewey, Freire, Giroux, Crick and Reimers, have strongly emphasised the importance of this central aim of education. Dewey stresses that ‘Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education. … A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience’ ([9], p. 87). For Paulo Freire, education is always a political act, and also it is impossible to remain neutral in education, all educational policies and practices have social implications [3]. Therefore, the basic purpose of education is the formation of the autonomous and active citizen. The concept of the active citizen has been interpreted as that of a citizen who ‘governs himself and takes responsibility for his actions, thus reducing his dependence on the state’ ([10], p. 774) ‘to be a citizen is to participate’ ([11], p. 85), also, ‘It is only when one leaves one’s home and enters the public space that the dialogue about a citizen’s idiosyncrasy begins’ ([12], p. 41). Also, ‘Citizenship or civics education is construed to encompass the preparation of young people for their roles and responsibilities as citizens and, in particular, the role of education (through schooling, teaching and learning) in that preparatory process.’ ([13], p. 2) and ‘Citizenship education cannot stand by itself, independent of cultural norms, political priorities, social expectations, national economic development aspirations, geo-political contexts and historical antecedents’ ([14], p. 17).

According to the Council of Europe, ‘Education for democratic citizenship means education, training, awareness-raising, information, practices and activities which aim, by equipping learners with knowledge, skills and understanding and developing their attitudes and behaviour, to empower them to exercise and defend their democratic rights and responsibilities in society, to value diversity and to play an active part in democratic life, with a view to the promotion and protection of democracy and the rule of law’ ([15], s.I.1.b).

Crick and Lister have provided a definition of citizenship education encompassing all its main aspects. According to them, the description of the main characteristics of political literacy is crucial and it should precede the formulation of any proposal concerning curriculum frameworks for the subject of Citizenship Education. In their document Political Literacy, the centrality of the concept, they attempt a theoretical conflation of political theories with education theory. Three important aspects of citizenship education are noted:

  1. A broad definition of politics, which is not limited to political institutions, state jurisdictions or the activities of political parties and pressure groups but which also incorporates the ‘politics of everyday life’, exercised, among others, by the family, the local community, educational institutions, the workplace and unionism.

  2. The belief that citizenship education should be founded on controversial issues, as ‘politics is inevitably involved in conflicts of interest and ideas’. Through awareness of controversial issues and the process of conflict resolution, students should be provided with an insight into the political process.

  3. Knowledge, skills and behaviours contribute to the acquisition of political literacy. These should be developed in parallel with one another and ‘each of them should determine the rest’, as political literacy ‘includes both an understanding of what one is within a context and one’s capacity to act’. Action should be emphasised as a dimension since ‘the final structure of political literacy lies in the creation of a tendency for action, not in the achievement of even more theoretical analysis’ ([16], p. 3).

The above definition is principally oriented to the microsystem of each school’s educational community, taking into consideration all the factors that may be involved in the developmental process of this school subject. However, schools do not evolve in a vacuum. Rather, they exist and operate within the context of a specific community, a particular political system. Today, a broader approach should be taken to school knowledge for the reason that social identities and cultures are no longer secure and static, ‘Social mobility, migration, increased awareness of gender, environmental concerns, social exclusion and class all continue to contribute to a general challenge to traditional verities’ ([17], p. 97).

Serious objections have been voiced with regard to ethnocentric curricula. The most notable of these focuses on the discrepancy between the fact that pedagogical work cultivates a humanitarian culture while, at the same time, it promotes views on separate races, and friendly and barbarian peoples [2]. The “political cosmopolitasnism” advocates the world-wide democracy [18]. The merit of political identity lies in creating a sense of belonging, as well as in cooperation, loyalty, stability and social solidarity. The political identity formed in the context of civic nationalism is flexible and, therefore, capable of covering many different political views and of being open to cultural pluralism ([19], pp. 49–64). Thus, since the development of political identity through the education system is necessary, this identity should be based on law, reason and political values. The viewpoint has been expressed that an ethnocentric curriculum is only legitimate as a response to the nation at risk theory, which creates a general impression of the nation-state in economic decline [20]. To provide a brief definition of Citizenship Education, one could say that Citizenship Education is education provided to school-age people which involves the systematic cultivation of political values and the study of social and political institutions, with the ultimate goal of developing autonomous and democratic personalities ([21], pp. 16–26).

Competencies required for democratic life include values, skills, knowledge, critical understanding and attitudes. It is referred to the ability of applying learning outcomes adequately in a defined context, not limited to cognitive elements and encompasses functional aspects and ethical values [22].

Competences need to be practiced, not only taught theoretically. The area of competence is defined as a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the context. The European Framework on Key Competences for democratic culture, emphasise,

  • knowledge about democracy, justice, law, justice, the nature of the law, civil and political rights history, socio-political events of the day;

  • skills for engaging effectively with others, problem solving in the community, decision making, critical and creative thinking;

  • attitudes and values related to respect for human rights, equality and democracy, sense of belonging locally, belonging to the country, willingness to participate in democratic decision-making, respect for the set of values necessary for social cohesion, sustainable development [23].

Based on what has been mentioned so far, we can summarise that citizenship education cultivates political values, constructs specific social knowledge and is implemented by democratic teaching strategies. In terms of political values, citizenship education includes universal human values such as democracy, autonomy, equality, freedom, identity, rights, responsibility, justice, respect, tolerance, freedom of speech and the right to be heard.

In recent decades, sustainability has emerged as a contemporary political value, whose meaning does not only concern the protection of the natural environment but extends beyond it, to the coexistence of humans and the environment, to North–South relations and the exhaustion of natural resources, to the emergence of new forms of poverty and racism and to the justice of nature. All this has raised concerns about whether or not humankind has respected the natural environment and its balance, and today, seeing the impasse, views are being expressed regarding the development of justice of nature [24]. The very fact is that all the categories of rights were institutionalised with a man-centred approach. Social, political and human rights were all institutionalised in relation to humans, nature was taken for granted and sustainable, but it seems that it was not.

Citizenship education knowledge focuses on humanity’s social achievements, the way of social and political organisation, issues of power, pressure groups, global organisations, polities and contents of social studies. On the basis of the new political value, the value of sustainability, the knowledge content of civic education refers to the interactive relationship between human beings and natural environment and the value of a righteous coexistence that does not unfairly harm any category of people, races and nations, but also natural ecosystems. Such an approach extends the content of citizenship education from the local and national to the global and cosmopolitan environment.

Regarding teaching strategies, citizenship education is understood as a democratic pedagogical praxis, which is developed with actively involved students, where teachers do not consider themselves as the authority of knowledge, as they explore and learn together with students. Teachers have the role of facilitator and orchestrator of pedagogical praxis, while ensuring that pedagogical action takes place in the community and the school operates as a civil society. In order to be able to approach it properly and to teach relevant political issues, educators should receive extensive training in subjects pertaining to the social sciences. Citizenship education should focus more on reality and experience than on knowledge accumulation. As Dubet states, it should cultivate the capacity to learn and not just content knowledge aquisition, and to be directed towards discovering the common ethnic culture, over and over again, in a world that is open and diverse [25].

To sum up, Citizenship Education is characterised by an interest in developing autonomous and democratic personalities in young individuals, awareness of their responsibilities, acknowledgment of their rights, promotion of respect for, tolerance and solidarity to their fellow humans, and compliance with the law and the conventions of the political entity (state or federation) which provides them with citizenship, i.e. with the property which grants them the right to act as political beings in the context of democratic political institutions.


3. Sustainability and global citizenship

‘…the first environmental crisis is the potential collapse of the natural world … the second environmental crisis is the removal of children from the natural world’

George Monbi

In today’s rapidly changing global landscape, the individual is called upon to manage with a fresh, flexible and original look his/her private spacetime and the daily change of this. Contemporary challenges humankind has to address are the question of coexistence, staking the survival of the species, new complex problems, e.g., pandemics and environmental pollution. These challenges transcend national borders and lead to the need for global awareness and the identity of global citizenship. Sustainability is emerging as a contemporary political value. It engages every field of the human community, science, politics and society. International organisations have released proposals for sustainable policies, scientists are researching the challenges related to sustainability and education seeks to cultivate values, skills and attitudes for sustainable behaviour in students. Such behaviour is based not only on respect for people but also for ecosystems and nature as a whole. In the undisputed universal human and political values, the value of sustainability is projected as the supreme imperative, which man should not ignore.

Global Citizenship Identity focuses on the development of active and democratic citizens who are characterised by global consciousness, a shared understanding of current humanity issues and a strong interest in providing solutions. UNESCO identifies Global Citizenship as ‘a sense of belonging to a broader community and common humanity. It emphasizes political, economic, social and cultural interdependency and interconnectedness between the local, the national and the global’ ([7], p. 14). Global citizenship education ‘…is used as an “umbrella term” covering themes such as education for tolerance and appreciation of diversity, conflict resolution and peace, humanitarian action and introduction to the principles of human rights and humanitarian law, as well as civic responsibilities,—as these themes relate to local, national and international levels’ ([18], p. 9). As regards global orientation of education, aims to empower learners to engage in active roles locally, nationally and globally, to face global challenges and sustainable world.

Comparing the identity of citizenship in the past with this of nowadays, citizens had only the identity of their state whereas today there are many elements that define citizenship and define many identities. This is the right way to construct global citizenship as identity, an identity that defines the relationship to others. Also, rather than being linked to a kind of institutionalisation, the concept of global citizenship refers solely to global citizenship as identity. This makes the concept of global citizenship as an identity more rooted in the realities of international relations than its concept as an institution [26].

Sustainability means enduring into the long-term future; it refers to systems and processes that are able to operate and persist on their own over long periods of time. ‘The adjective “sustainable” means “able to continue without interruption” or “able to endure without failing.” The word “sustainability” comes from the Latin verb sustinēre, “to maintain, sustain, support, endure”, made from the roots sub, “up from below” and tenēre, “to hold” ([27], p. 3).’

Sustainability refers to three dimensions, Environment—Ecological sustainability, Economics—Economic potential and Equity—Social inclusion. These three dimensions—environment, economy and equity—are sometimes called the ‘triple bottom line’ (TBL), a term introduced in 1997 by corporate responsibility expert John Elkington ([28], pp. 18–22). They are referred to as the ‘three E’s’ and are also known as the three pillars of sustainability or ‘planet, people and prosperity’ [29]. Sustainability science is a field of study devoted to tackling the challenges of sustainable development in the transition towards sustainability. This field is interdisciplinary, ‘defined by the problems it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs’ ([30], p. 26). The concept of sustainability has a dynamic rather than a static meaning, which promotes the continuous cultural and social change for development of global solidarity and justice [31].

UNESCO has encouraged national government agencies, transnational and non-governmental organisations and teachers and researchers to pursue various policies, programs and pedagogies to foster and further develop global citizenship education. The United Nations in 2015 defined 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda, and they must be achieved by 2030. According to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the SDGs are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success. The goals address the needs of people in both developed and developing countries, emphasising that no one should be left behind. Broad and ambitious in scope, the agenda addresses the three dimensions of sustainable development: social, economic and environmental, as well as important aspects related to peace, justice and effective institutions [29].

Three dimensions occur by the SDGs, ecological sustainability, social and cultural sustainability and economic sustainability. In social and ecological systems, modularity means that groups of parts are strongly connected internally, but only loosely connected to other groups. The parts of a resilient system are connected, although not in a predictable, linear way. When one module fails, others keep functioning and the larger system has a chance to self-organise ([32], p. 121). For example, a local food system is a module that may also be connected with national and global food sources, but when there is a disruption in the larger distribution chain, people in the community can keep growing food and are less likely to go hungry. Whether in ecosystems, such as forests or oceans, or in social systems, such as cities or nations, the more diverse a system is and the more variations there are, the better that system will be able to deal with change and stay resilient. Diversity gives system flexibility; it has multiple ways to perform its functions, so the failure of one part does not cause the entire system to crash ([33], p. 355). This definition emphasises the global perspective. It also recognises economic and cultural diversity, in terms of needs as well as in terms of contexts for interpretation and implementation of the goals set out in the report.


4. Curriculum for sustainable development

The Sustainable Development Goal 4 on Quality Education asks Member States to ensure that all learners acquire values, attitudes and behaviours to promote sustainable development, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development [29].

Curriculum refers to the overall process of developing, selecting, promoting and evaluating learning contents [34]. On the basis of this term, education is understood as a mechanism that promotes and organises matters related to knowledge. As far as the subject of Citizenship Education is concerned, it is crucial that educators are free to improvise. A closed curriculum would deprive Citizenship Education of its inherent vitality. In contrast, an open curriculum allows teachers to undertake initiative. However, it should be borne in mind that for an open curriculum to be efficient it is vital that educators receive full scientific training in pedagogy and that they be aware of and familiar with themes of social and political science.

The 3Rs literacy was instrumental, not substantial at its core. Writing, reading and arithmetic are tools for approaching knowledge. The question is what knowledge is being promoted for the education of young people and in what ways is it being promoted? Citizens need tools, but first of all they need knowledge about the world around them, human and natural. What exists in the environment, how societies are constituted, how people function and what is the role of the individual both in relation to social action and to the environment. In contemporary curricula, citizenship education is encountered either as a cross-curricular objective or as a distinct school subject. In the former case, citizenship is thought to be promoted by all subjects and by the educational process as a whole. As a consequence, citizenship education is only mentioned in the curriculum as one of its general principles. In the latter case, it is believed that a cross-curricular objective does not suffice to achieve the specific goals of citizenship education. It is, therefore, necessary to apply specialised instruction and to bring children into contact with appropriately designed material.

Education for Sustainable Development, part and parcel of Target 4.7, empowers learners to take informed decisions and responsible action for environmental integrity, economic viability and just society for present and future generations, while respecting cultural diversity. In Oxfam, the philosophy of global citizenship is implemented through a whole-school approach, which involves everyone from learners themselves to the wider community. In this way, global citizenship education creates a culture of global knowledge about other societies, thus instilling tolerance and emphasising the importance of collective power for responsibility [35].

Democratically-oriented curricula develop knowledge, skills and habits that promote civic values [36, 37]. Designing a curriculum that can lead to the establishment of a global citizenship identity is the desideratum. The traditional curricula, promoting the 3Rs, do not seem to suffice to respond to current challenges. What we need is to seek new ideas that can contribute to sustainable development on multiple levels. According to Reimers, the content of such a curriculum should place emphasis on environmental studies, world history and public health. In addition, educators must address the range of skills that global competency requires [38]. Re-examining literacy is a continuous process emerging from social needs and scientific progress. Welch and Freebody showed that each and every era and society undergoes its own literacy crisis [39].

Educators are the main supporters of citizenship and sustainable development education. Given that democratic citizenship is built both through social interaction and through syllabuses and circulars, and that educators are entrusted with the task of applying and developing the moral, mental and learning objectives of specialised activities, their contribution to building a democratic political identity and global consciousness is invaluable. However, the work they are entrusted with is ambiguous in nature. Educators work in the context of educational institutions, and are, therefore, an essential link in the process of producing and spreading scientific knowledge. Their work, however, is not as easy as it may seem. Phillips stresses that teachers are major role models for others and that, because of this, students’ preparation for democratic civic participation is more likely to succeed when the autonomy model endorsed is a democratic one. He stresses that the likelihood of democratic autonomy and participation exists where the processes of analysis, judgement and dialogue are at the core of professional training [40]. Educators develop their educational strategies based on their personal theory and oral competencies. Students, in their effort to construct meaning and learn, are directly influenced by the way in which educators manage orality. The genuine dialogue in learning process is highly valuable ([41], pp. 231–247).

4.1 Natural environment and education

‘What they do not know, they will not protect, and what they do not protect, they will lose’

Charles Jordan

Just as in order for young citizens to tolerate and respect other cultures they need to become acquainted with and interact with individuals of other cultural identities, similarly, in order to understand the wealth of the natural environment they need to become familiar with it and aware of its benefits. Plato in his fundamental work Politeia stressed, do not force the children in their lessons, but cultivate them by playing, so that they may rather have their own way as long as each one has the dynamic to be. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his work Émile, stresses that nature and the immediate environment are the sources of knowledge for the child. For John Dewey, the environment and the child’s drive for life take a primary place in the New Education.

Environmental education supports many areas of development. Contact with nature is important for children’s development in all areas: physical, emotional, social and cognitive [42]. It enhances cognitive abilities and promotes creativity and problem-solving. Surveys of children in schoolyards found that children engage in more creative forms of play in green spaces ([43], pp. 311–330). Nature play is particularly important for skill development, creativity, problem solving and intellectual development [42]. It also improves nutrition. Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables [44], show higher levels of knowledge about nutrition, and are more likely to continue healthy eating habits ([45], pp. 91–93). It has benefits for the visual sense. More time spent outdoors is associated with reduced myopia rates, especially in children and adolescents [46]. Access to green spaces and even views of greenery enhance calmness, self-control and self-discipline, particularly in girls ([47], pp. 1580–1586).

Mousena and Sidiropoulou investigated the views and attitudes of parents of infants residing in the capital city of Athens regarding the phenomenon of children’s removal from the natural environment and the disorder caused by Nature Deficit Disorder ([48], pp. 11–18). The results showed that parents are not sufficiently aware that their children’s limited contact with nature causes problems. Mostly they appear surprised at the vision problems. Also, patents adopt in about 10% the view that bad weather conditions should minimise children’s playground time. The frequency of teachers’ responses is interesting. The most important research finding is that, although in Greece the climate and the natural environment favour outdoor activities, parents of young citizens act restrictively for them.

According to the findings of another research, parents consider environmental protection as a necessary condition for improving the quality of life, and they accept environmental awareness as a particularly important factor in shaping children’s character [49]. Also, they acknowledge the contribution of environmental education in kindergartens and consider that they themselves, through their actions, are the ones who help their children to develop environment-friendly attitudes. But there is a discrepancy between parents’ words and actions as they state that they do not participate in voluntary tree planting, do not seek out shops that promote recycling programs and do not use public transport. Finally, the research data suggest that although parents believe that raising children’s awareness of environmental protection issues should be more of a concern for parents and educators, cooperation between them and teachers on environmental education activities is almost non-existent.

Richard Louv, in his book, Last Child in the Woods, describes the cost of human alienation from nature. It is manifested by limited use of the senses, difficulty in paying attention and higher rates of physical and emotional illness. According to him, for the new generation, nature is more of an abstraction than a reality. Increasingly nature is becoming something we watch, consume, wear and ignore. Also, the new age and urban development limits play in nature and combined with a hard-wired culture keeps children confined to the home [50]. The term Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) does not refer to a developmental disorder, as listed in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but to the phenomenon of human withdrawal from nature, which causes various developmental problems in children, such as vision problems, obesity and an unwillingness to take initiatives or risks.

The methods proposed for a kind of teaching that promotes environmental education and addresses the SDGs are characterised by critical thinking, experiential and exploratory learning, a holistic approach and authentic learning situations in open spaces, as well as by the involvement, apart from the teacher, of a team of experts. Such methods include Philosophy for Children, Enquiry-Based Learning, Systems Thinking, Project-based Learning, Mantle of the Expert and Open Spaces for Dialogue and Enquiry methodology [51].

In order to bring schools closer to the concept of citizenship and sustainability, it is necessary to define them as public spaces that aim to reintroduce the idea of critical democracy and community. As Henry Giroux stresses, the best way to conceive of the school is as a ‘public space’, as the centre of citizenship. By public space we mean a tangible set of learning conditions where people come together to talk, engage in dialogue, share their stories and struggle together in a context of social relations that not only do not weaken but enhance the potential for active participation in the public sphere [52].

Civil society, historically, imposed new themes on ecology, environmental threats, feminism, etc., which were the focus of non-centrally institutionalised debates. The role of civil society proved to be decisive in the public framing of many new issues, which went from being part of alternative and marginal debates to becoming elements of the political discourse. Civil society seems not only to be a second society of dissent and opposition but also to sometimes co-shape political publicity and influence the political system in modern democracies [53].

Making school a civil society forum leads to the constitution of a space and a vision that offers alternative ways of seeing and understanding the student, the educator and the school institution. A forum is a podium and a field for the articulation of ideas and the formulation of problems and requests. A space for negotiation and sharing of aspects and views. Fora give space for active citizenship to participate in collective actions. Democracy has inherent dynamic elements, it is not a commodity that you acquire and rest, but it needs constant vigilance to be maintained. Democracy keeps always a promise ‘to come’ [54]. A place where children and adults participate in projects of political, economic and cultural importance, really this can be seen as such a forum. We need to understand the power that this space has, that it is a central cell of society. Around the young citizens and around the school institutions, there are many other systems, so we need to understand the power of this space and thus orient ourselves towards its new role.


5. Conclusion

Citizenship and sustainability are main goals for schooling in the 21st century. The plethora of questions about citizenship education and sustainability were impossible to be answered in this chapter. In this text, we have analysed the concepts of citizenship and sustainability, in the spirit of promoting the sustainable development goals, in order to highlight specific issues of their implementation in the school curriculum and teaching strategies. Citizenship education is a highly dynamic subject, which is of concern to the academic community and to education policymakers in every country and internationally. Citizenship is a subject that refers to the education of people to become citizens, to learn to govern and be governed.

Citizenship education concerns values, democracy, autonomy, peace, equality, freedom, collective action, dialogue, communication, recognition, rights, participation, tolerance and respect, empathy, responsibility, autonomy, cultural pluralism, problem solving, decision making, critical thinking, democratic dialogue, openness, transparency, sharing and publicity.

Education for citizenship is a basic purpose of educational systems, which has been linked to the formation and functioning of the nation state, and as a result, an ideologically ethnocentric curriculum has been promoted. However, in the era of globalisation and the contemporary problems of humanity, which transcend national borders, it follows that citizenship education should have a transnational orientation and a cosmopolitan content.

The sustainable development goals set all the parameters for the functioning of societies with a perspective of continuity, both of the institutional achievements of humanity and of the adequacy of the natural environment. Historically, the acquisition of citizenship has required significant ideas, thoughts, struggles, negotiations and institutionalisation. The political constitution of society and the functioning of democracy is both an achievement and a perpetual goal. These are not taken for granted and conquered at once. It is highly doubtful that they are to be considered as conquests that have been established forever. Democracy is not conquered all at once, as it is not a concrete and immutable form of government, it is a constitution that is based on fundamental political values. Democracy is an ideal constantly imminent, ‘to come’, as Derrida has pointed out. To safeguard the institutional achievements of humanity, there is no other way than to educate the new generation in democracy and the value of citizenship.

A 4Cs curriculum that could be drawn up to serve this purpose would be one that would provide for the following:

Civic and Political Values: The cultivation of civic and political values to be the ideological basis of the program.

Critical Pedagogy and Social Sciences: Critical pedagogy as a discipline and social studies is the appropriate conceptual framework for the study and formation of citizenship.

Civil Society: From a methodological point of view, the function of the school as a forum of civil society can promote the above-mentioned purpose in a creative, critical and open-minded way. With this pedagogical strategy, there will be no exclusions or divisions between us and the others, between insiders and outsiders, the teacher and the pupils, promoting pedagogy in the community. In such a logic without dualisms, knowledge is co-produced participatively, power is shared and responsibility and autonomy are promoted.

Competent Professionals: Initial training and continuing professional development of teachers is essential to ensure that teachers’ professional competencies are adequate to meet the demands of building citizenship in students in an increasingly changing and globalised world.


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Written By

Eleni Mousena, Trifeni Sidiropoulou and Maretta Sidiropoulou

Submitted: 01 February 2022 Reviewed: 28 February 2022 Published: 16 April 2022