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Education for Sustainable Development in Kenyan Universities


Instruction in youth is like engraving in stone. ~Moroccan Proverb

Sustainable Development

The modern world is fraught with numerous challenges ranging from poverty, climate change unemployment, poor housing and health services, to hunger and food insecurity.

It is against the background of these challenges that the United Nations created the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a blueprint to address such challenges and achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030. At the heart of sustainable development is development that meets the needs of current generations, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Education is the foundation of a competent citizenry and workforce. Education shapes how citizens think and act in their lives and, as an outcome, determines a country’s trajectory.

While SDG 4: Quality Education is a goal in itself, it has the muscle and means to facilitate the attainment of all the other 16 goals. This is through embedding the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that empower learners to take informed decisions and make responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society (or education for sustainable development).

It is important to point out that all levels of education have an integral role to play in shaping the minds and hearts of young Kenyans of all ages. This particular journey specifically focuses on universities.

Universities & Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

The number of universities in Kenya has grown exponentially. In the 1990s, Kenya had only four universities. In 2007, there were seven universities.  Today, the 2019 national census disclosed that the country has 30 public universities, 30 chartered private universities and 30 universities with Letter of Interim Authority (LIA). The same census showed that 3.5% of the country’s population (approx.1.7million) has attained an undergraduate degree. From these statistics alone, universities have a key role and responsibility in equipping youth – their students – with the knowledge, skills and values to drive Kenya’s development. Effective nation building is the responsibility of citizens and the state.

In late 2019, the Ministry of Education published ‘A Guide to Mainstreaming Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Global Citizenship Education (GCED) into Kenyan Universities.’

In early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and reminds us that we have to get the basics of development in order; healthcare, social protection, food security, building reliance on local business and industry, environmental protection etc. In late 2021, climate scientists put the world, and particularly developing countries, on high alert to the realities and consequences of climate change. The hard fact is that people rely on the environment (nature) to live – water, air, sun, rain, soil, etc. Society, business and the economy are wholly dependent on the environment (nature) to exist and the past few years have brought this to the fore.

It is a changing world and times have also changed – education must prepare our youth for these changing times and the emerging new world. Education for Sustainable Development allows learners to leverage systems thinking and address arising challenges.

I have worked in sustainability for over 20 years with companies in the private sector. In my mission as a sustainability champion, the biggest challenge I faced centred on internally creating awareness and an understanding of what sustainability is, and why it matters to all of us. This was not unique to the companies I worked with, as my peers experienced the same thing. This led me to questioning whether we were learning about environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society or the nested interdependencies of planet, people, peace and prosperity; before going ‘out into the world’ to join the workforce, start a business; and build our country.

With this in mind, I focused my Msc. Sustainable Development dissertation research on understanding this question. I decided to case study Strathmore University Business School (SBS), one of Kenya’s leading business schools, to analyse how they were mainstreaming Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) based on the Ministry of Education guide, published in late 2019. My research focused on the ESD component only of the ministerial guide, and specifically on SBS undergraduate programmes, based on my particular interest in business and sustainability.

In late November 2021, Strathmore University brought together leaders and stakeholders in university education to discuss how universities can take a greater role in advancing sustainable development in the country through their tertiary education. The research findings highlighted that education for sustainable development is becoming the new normal for university education around the world. But as a new normal, embedding it into university education will not be without its challenges.

As an institutional leader in sustainability, Strathmore University has embedded sustainability thinking into its strategy integrating the SDGs into its strategic direction; in its operations with green buildings; driving research and excellence in climate innovation, via the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre; as well as sustainability leadership and executive education programmes targeting business managers and leaders.

Despite this progress, it was highlighted that more needed to be done to empower learners in their undergraduate programmes and extra-curricular activities with knowledge, skills, values and attitudes for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society.

Strathmore University was the case study for the dissertation research. Importantly, the University leveraged the research findings and insights as a platform and opportunity to share their own progress, insights and gaps with other university education stakeholders to foster partnership and cooperation on shifting university education towards sustainable development and citizenship education for Kenya.

Charting The Way Forward

Through this event, university education stakeholders acknowledged that undergraduate programmes needed to take into consideration contemporary life in Kenya, in a way that prepares youth for their future. It was clear to all stakeholders that new systems of knowledge and ways of thinking were needed for Kenya to achieve sustainable development and its Vision 2030.

It was also evident that universities would face challenges in adapting existing learning and pedagogy, with resources, capacity building, and curriculum change; to mention a few. Additionally, it was also highlighted that further research and insight is needed to ensure that Education for Sustainable Development in local universities is relevant for Kenya’s and Africa’s context in a global world.

University education stakeholders committed to partnering together to mainstream education for sustainable development and global citizenship into their universities. As the African saying goes: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

With only nine years left to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, Kenyan universities are determined to do their part in shaping our country’s and our world’s future.


About the author

Susan Njoroge is passionate about sustainability and authentic communications and sees these as key drivers in all her career and personal growth decisions. She runs a freelance consultancy, Responsible Business Consulting, on sustainability and communications.

Susan has over 20 years of experience in corporate sustainability, corporate affairs and marketing in multinational organisations both in Kenya and internationally.

She recently completed her Msc. Sustainable Development, SOAS, University of London with her research focus on education for sustainable development.

She thoroughly enjoys meaningful conversations, great laughs, reading, learning, and experiencing new places and people.