Rather than assuming New Zealand's educational sectors and institutions will be active and effective contributors to the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD) the authors ask instead: ‘Are New Zealand's school and university sectors actually in a position to respond programmatically to the UN initiative?' The paper first reviews past efforts to introduce environmental education and education for sustainable development either directly or indirectly in the New Zealand school curricula and in university courses and degrees. The sobering conclusion is that by 2004 the gains could at best only be described as partial, limited and marginal, and certainly not transformational. The paper then reports on the first year of the UNDESD related activity in New Zealand. Again, the efforts have been minimal and the impacts negligible. The New Zealand evidence suggests that until understanding of the constraints of existing educational frameworks is taken seriously, prospects are slim for anything other than rhetorical and cosmetic adjustments in educational curricula and educational outcomes. This realization means early political effort associated with the decade should be concerned less with grand visions and the content of local projects and more with removing institutional obstacles and impediments to creating a ‘sustainability mindset'.
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