Sustainability in the education sector is a multi-faceted concept, like in any other sustainability-driven sector. Primarily, the education sector broadly comprises government and private educational institutions (schools, coaching institutions, and colleges), ed-tech companies, and non-profit organizations. So, this article talks about the importance of sustainability in the education sector from three broad perspectives. These can also be interpreted as the impact on the Triple Bottom Line or 3 P’s – People, Planet, and Profit. Being sustainable or following the path of sustainability in the education sector would imply the coherence of the companies’ operations and activities for education in-line. This will also have a social impact, environmental impact, as well as its financial sustainability.
Sustainability practices in the education sector, from a social viewpoint, broadly include ensuring inclusiveness, accessibility, and equitable distribution of educational opportunities. Further, these should be available to all sections of society, regardless of gender, age, race, case, colour, income status, or physical abilities. It includes overcoming the barrier of all sorts of discrimination.
Inclusiveness in the education sector refers to making education available to all sections of society, without any social stigma or challenges of physical ability. “Inclusive education (IE) is a new approach towards educating the children with disabilities and learning difficulties with those without disabilities under the same roof. It brings all students together in one classroom and community, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses in any area, and seeks to maximize the potential of all students” (Singh, 2016).
Accessibility in the education sector refers to the financial, logistic, and technological aspects. In order to make education available for all at affordable costs, it tackles the barriers of economic, knowledge, logistic, and technological backwardness.
The equitable distribution of educational opportunities also concerns the economic gaps among the sectors, followed by social issues like lack of awareness, ignorance, discrimination, and so on.
Further, sustainability in the education sector, from an economic viewpoint, refers to the consistent flow and generation of funds for the education service providers and institutions. The social constraints imposed on the organizations, especially government educational institutions, enable them to provide the services at subsidized rates. Hence, affecting their financial sustainability and profit-making.
Sustainability in the education sector, from an environmental viewpoint, includes: sustainability outreach and practicing in the classroom, awareness about e-waste generation and disposal, especially in the ed-tech companies, and initiating environmental sustainability at the organizational level (Geshri Gunasekera, 2021).
Speaking of sustainability of the models and practices, Ms Norzin Dickyi, Senior Associate Director, Ek Kadam Aur Foundation for Education and Health, a global non-profit organization operating in India and USA, shared: “In the education sector, the organizations largely seek to address the critical gaps in the access to and quality of education. A sustainable model includes achieving the goals through modules and implementation methods that directly respond to the particular context yet have the capacity to be modified and replicated in other contexts. These techniques and practices are easy to transfer and share, and remain open to evolving based on continuous research and feedback.“
Key challenges related to sustainability in the education sector broadly include:
- Accessibility barriers to quality education include the challenges of inclusivity, accessibility, availability, and affordability of quality education for all.
- Financial sustainability challenges for the free-service providers include financial stability, sustainability, and profitability, especially for the free or subsidized service providers like government educational institutions, non-profits, etc.
- E-waste disposal for Ed-tech companies is yet another grave concern. With a booming rise of the ed-tech sector, the challenges of electronic waste generation are hindering the education sector’s environmental sustainability. The gadgets necessary to access digital education, like smartphones and laptops, are adding to the e-waste generation.
- Challenges of sustainable practices in classrooms comprise of lack of practices related to eco-friendly ways of imparting education on-campus. The judicious utilization of resources and environmental sustainability practices on-campus is critical to ensure sustainability.
The Road Ahead
Ensuring sustainability in the education sector is vital to solving the multi-dimensional issues highlighted above. The essential economic disclosures for the companies in the education sector are:
- the financial statements for profitability;
- environmental impact campaigns, mitigation practices, and carbon footprint disclosure for environmental impact assessment; and
- the number, status, skilling and educational reports of the students/learners for social impact assessments.
Proposing the solutions to overcome sustainability challenges through the following recommendations:
- Focusing on financial sustainability with external support like CSR funding, or public funding, for the free or low-cost service providers
- Practicing and preaching a green campus approach to ensure on-campus environmental sustainability
- Developing waste-disposal mechanisms for ed-tech companies mainly through refurbishing and redistributing the devices
- Developing models to incorporate inclusivity, accessibility, and affordability of education without any discrimination (deliberate or not)
The two popular examples of the education sector companies which are claiming to practice sustainability are Blackboard (now known as Anthology) and Byju’s. Both the organizations are financially doing well, and also looking into other aspects of sustainability. Anthology’s core value is to ensure accessibility of education to people with disabilities (Anthology, 2022). Byju’s is running multiple social initiatives to promote education for all, distributing refurbished laptops to those in need, and also consciously keeping a check on its e-waste generation (www.byjus.com, 2021).
Sustainability in the education sector is dependent on multiple factors which can be broadly correlated with the 3 P’s – People, Planet, and Profit. There is high interdependence and interlinkage among the economic, social, and environmental sustainability parameters in the education sector. Positive steps taken to ensure responsible business practices are likely to result in sustainable development in the education sector.
(2021). Retrieved from www.byjus.com: https://byjus.com/educationforall/#section-two
Anthology. (2022). Retrieved from www.anothology.com: https://www.anthology.com/trust-center/accessibility
Geshri Gunasekera. (2021, April 28). salesforce.org. Retrieved from www.salesforce.org: https://www.salesforce.org/blog/incorporate-sustainability-educational-institutions/
Singh, J. (2016, January). ResearchGate. Retrieved from www.researchgate.net: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301675529_INCLUSIVE_EDUCATION_IN_INDIA_-_CONCEPT_NEED_AND_CHALLENGES
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of Center for Research and Implementation of Sustainable Practices or the CRISP Global.
Muskan’s areas of interest include Corporate Social Responsibility, Social Entrepreneurship, and Sustainability. Having an interest in the development sector, Muskan has worked on different development projects over the past 4 years and continues to explore the social sector domain.
Muskan is pursuing her MBA in Sustainability Management from TERI School of Advanced Studies, Delhi. She is working with EkKadamAur Foundation for Education and Health as a Global Manager, CSR and Outreach. She is the recipient of Public Service Award 2021 at the Foundation. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Economics Honours from Atma Ram Sanatan Dharma College, University of Delhi where she demonstrated leadership in different societies and initiatives. She was the President of Enactus ARSD (2019-20), a global, student-led social entrepreneurial initiative.