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  Education for Sustainable Future

It is not just “development” that needs to be redefined...

It has taken a long time to realize that the paradigm of development that largely ignored the environment was a disaster. The journey from Stockholm to Rio, and onto Johannesburg took thirty years. Now, at long last, there is the acceptance that we need to move towards a more sustainable form of development.

It is also being recognized that in order to achieve sustainable development, there need to be policy changes, changes in the systems of work, changes in the technologies we use, etc. What is also getting better recognition is that, for this to happen, we need to use education and communication to raise awareness, capacity build communities to vision and participate in bringing about the change, and equip societies with the kinds of expertise required to make the change.

But what is, perhaps, not as widely recognized is that it is not only the paradigm of development that needs to be changed to achieve sustainability, but that the paradigm of education also has to change in certain fundamental ways. Some of these changes are listed below. The various points are interrelated and form part of a single paradigm shift which is needed as we move towards education for sustainable development.

  • Learning rather than teaching
    This change is fundamental to the way one thinks of education—Education, from being something that society determines for its citizens, or adults decide for their children, will have to become "seeker" oriented. The classical "guru" concept of ancient India where the guru would teach, as strictly as a teacher, but recognize that the pupils would someday seek their own path. Teaching, therefore, needs to be focused on making the student a better learner, rather than filling the student with information per se. And ESD is not only about learning individuals, but learning institutions and societies.

  • Life long and continuous rather than confined to a specified period
    Education was something thought of as an activity you essentially did during the first quarter or so of your life. It aimed to give you the knowledge and skills required for the rest of your life. With the rapid pace of change today, this is obviously not quite enough. Institutions have started a variety of in-service courses. Increasing adult education programmes are available. Non-formal opportunities, and opportunities for community education have increased manifold. But the older paradigm still remains largely intact. In a new world through internet and other emerging educational opportunities, it is likely that certification will no longer be based on "residency" factors. Technology is also driving people to learn new skills. But there are still many who have a diffident attitude towards new learning. "I’m too old" to learn. Distance learning is emerging as a major alternative way for learning. But issues such as access for all, digital divide, are continuing concerns.

  • Multi-sourced and accessed rather than top down, controlled, and orchestrated
    The school and the textbook no longer have the virtual monopoly they had on the child’s mind. Most children have independent access to information, without "gate keepers". Even parents can’t "control" the educational exposure the child has. And this is only going to increase. The teacher now has to "compete" with other sources. The student can verify information given in the class room.

  • Empowering rather than socializing (indoctrinating)
    ESD is about individuals and communities, questioning, visioning and making changes. It is, in that way, contrary to conventional education which is a process of a system meant for fitting people to fit in and not upset the status quo, to a process where people are empowered to change the world.

  • Global and yet locale specific
    Education today needs to give people the global perspectives and connections, at the same time enable them to interpret generic learnings in their local context, and to not only act locally, but see the wider impacts of their actions.

  • Capacity building to build abilities for critical thinking and problem solving
    With the onslaught of information from various sources and ever increasing amounts of data, the issue is often of being able to select and process information, critically analyze it, and take decisions based on this. It is these skills that ESD attempts to develop.

  • Multi-disciplinary approach as opposed to a single new discipline
    Real world problems need integrated, multi-disciplinary solutions while most institutions—from school education on, and including government—are organized sectorally. This compartmentalization starts with school education. An important task for ESD is to break these barriers, and help in seeing connections and the holistic linkages.

  • Sensitive to gender, diversity etc.
    ESD needs to not only be sensitive to, but also support and enhance the celebration of diversity—of cultures, languages, societies, and diversity in the natural world. Sensitivity to gender, equity and other issues, needs to be an integral part of ESD, and it needs to be inclusive of, as against discriminatory on, gender, caste, and other factors.

  • Participatory and based on learning with peers
    Conventional education dictates what and how learners should learn. In an increasingly complex world, people will decide what they need to learn and how best, and when, they need to learn. ESD needs to empower and enable learners to learn when, where, what and how they choose, as opposed to one-directional teacher to passive learner.

The UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is an international recognition of the key role that Education and Communication can play in enabling and enhancing sustainable development efforts, and processes leading towards these. The recognition that education is a critical agent of transformation in terms of changing lifestyles, attitudes and behaviour, in increasing participation in visioning and realizing a sustainable world, and facilitating the use of Communication, Education, Participation and Awareness (CEPA) to foster the change needs in different sectors, needs to be further strengthened. Reflection, visioning and sharing are the crucial elements of ESD.

The International Conference, ‘Education for a Sustainable Future’, looked at these issues generically in the plenary sessions, and discussed the paradigm shift required for ESD. In addition, the links of DESD to other global commitments like Millenium Development Goals, Education for ALL and UN Literacy Decade and how these can work synergistically, were considered. The various workshops discussed the specific Education and Communication related issues in relation to the specific sectors.

Kartikeya V. Sarabhai
Director, Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedabad, India.

This conference has been undertaken with part financial support of the
Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development
Agency (CIDA)