A sustainable society will be one in which all aspects of civic and personal life are compatible with sustainable development and all government departments at all levels of government work together to advance such a society. Education plays a dual role, at once in both reproducing certain aspects of current society and preparing students to transform society for the future. These roles are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
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However, without commitment of all of society to sustainable development, curricula have tended in the past to reproduce an unsustainable culture with intensified environment and development problems rather than empower citizens to think and work towards their solution. The role of formal education in building society is to help students to determine what is best to conserve in their cultural, economic and natural heritage and to nurture values and strategies for attaining sustainability in their local communities while contributing at the same time to national and global goals.
To advance such goals, a curriculum reoriented towards sustainability would place the notion of citizenship among its primary objectives. This would require a revision of many existing curricula and the development of objectives and content themes, and teaching, learning and assessment processes that emphasize moral virtues, ethical motivation and ability to work with others to help build a sustainable future. Education for sustainability calls for a balanced approach which avoids undue emphasis on changes in individual lifestyles.
This draws attention to the economic and political structures which cause poverty and other forms of social injustice and foster unsustainable practices. It also draws attention to the need for students to learn the many processes for solving these problems through a broad and comprehensive education related not only to mastery of different subject matters, but equally to discovering real world problems of their society and the requirements for changing them.
This kind of orientation would require, inter alia , increased attention to the humanities and social sciences in the curriculum. The natural sciences provide important abstract knowledge of the world but, of themselves, do not contribute to the values and attitudes that must be the foundation of sustainable development. Even increased study of ecology is not sufficient to reorient education towards sustainability.
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Even though ecology has been described by some as the foundation discipline of environmental education, studies of the biophysical and geophysical work are a necessary — but not sufficient — prerequisite to understanding sustainability. The traditional primacy of nature study, and the often apolitical contexts in which is taught, need to be balanced with the study of social sciences and humanities. Learning about the interactions of ecological processes would then be associated with market forces, cultural values, equitable decision-making, government action and the environmental impacts of human activities in a holistic interdependent manner.
A reaffirmation of the contribution of education to society means that the central goals of education must include helping students learn how to identify elements of unsustainable development that concern them and how to address them. Students need to learn how to reflect critically on their place in the world and to consider what sustainability means to them and their communities.
They need to practice envisioning alternative ways of development and living, evaluating alternative visions, learning how to negotiate and justify choices between visions, and making plans for achieving desired ones, and participating in community life to bring such visions into effect. These are the skills and abilities which underlie good citizenship, and make education for sustainability part of a process of building an informed, concerned and active populace.
In this way, education for sustainability contributes to education for democracy and peace. Reorienting the curriculum towards sustainable development requires at least two major structural reforms in education. The first is to re-examine the centralized mandating of courses and textbooks in order to allow for locally relevant learning programmes.
Local decision-making can be facilitated through the reform of centralized educational policies and curricula, and the formulation of appropriate syllabuses and assessment policies. This type of syllabus can provide centralized accountability, while allowing schools, teachers and students to make choices about the specific learning experience, the relative depth and breadth of treatment for different topics, the case studies and educational resources used, and how to assess student achievements.
A second major area of structural reform is the development of new ways to assess the processes and outcomes of learning. Such reform should be inspired by what people want from their educational system, as well as what society needs.
The period of profound change in which we are living needs to be taken into account by educational systems, which were, for the most part, designed to serve a society which is fast becoming history. Learning needs to be seen as a lifelong process which empowers people to live useful and productive lives. The reorientation of education along these lines — and in anticipation to the extent possible of future needs — is fundamental for sustainable development, including its ultimate objective not only of human survival but especially of human well-being and happiness.
Similarly, there also needs to be a revamping of the methods of credentialing students. The various ways in which students are judged testing, report cards, evaluations and the basis for awarding diplomas at all levels need to reflect the reformulation of outcomes of learning towards sustainability. What does reorienting education towards sustainability mean in practical terms?
This is the question that educators immediately want to know. Does it mean adding courses to an already overweight curriculum? Will it require new teaching approaches and methods? New physical facilities, equipment and textbooks to be purchased from an already severely pinched budget? Is it something that can be achieved in a month, a school year or several years?
While the reform of education in this direction is still more talked about than put into practice, there are examples emerging which shed light on how to move in this direction. One example is that of the Toronto Canada Board of Education which recently undertook a reform of its curriculum through a massive community consultation.
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Thousands of parents, students, staff and members of the public contributed to full day community consultations aimed at exploring how education should respond to the demands of a changing world. The education that parents and the community wanted for their children was in many respects hardly revolutionary or even surprising.
The six graduation outcomes specified were: literacy; aesthetic appreciation and creativity; communication and collaboration; information management; responsible citizenship; and personal life skills, values and actions. These differ from most traditional curricular objectives in that they are broader and more closely related to the needs and organization of life than to the requirements and structures of schooling.
The essence of the Toronto reform is that the curriculum is no longer focused exclusively on the traditional core subjects of language, mathematics, history, etc.
Mathematics, for example, now includes the skill of comprehending extremely large and extremely small numbers — e. Much of the success of the Toronto reform is due to the fact that it was not — and was not seen to be — an effort to change education to meet goals set by an elite or unduly influenced by outside pressures.
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The impetus to change came from within. The new curriculum had equal or greater academic rigour, but far greater relevance to life outside school walls. What it demonstrates is that education for sustainable development is simply good education, and that good education needs to make children aware of the growing interdependence of life on Earth — interdependence among peoples and among natural systems — in order to prepare them for the future.
Toronto had one great advantage in implementing its curriculum reform: well- educated and well-trained teachers. In reality, what students learn is not necessarily what is written in the syllabus; it is what the teacher delivers in the classrooms. By far, the most frequent cause of curriculum failure is inadequate teacher training. In Toronto the development of the curriculum itself constituted an informal type of training in which thousands of teachers were involved.
This was followed up by more formalized sessions and by systematic provision for teachers to upgrade their qualification through university courses and other forms of training. In general, reforms aimed at sustainability will require much more of teachers than do traditional curricula. Students will have to be more actively involved in individual and collective activities.
This will require teachers to play new roles which, in turn, implies a need for increased training and support. Educational reforms, like the movement towards sustainable development itself, requires holistic and systematic thinking; piecemeal approaches will not suffice and can not produce the required results. It must, of course, be recognized that curriculum reform can take place in different ways and on different scales. If schools are granted greater autonomy, as proposed above, significant reforms could take place within schools or even classrooms, rather than at the national, provincial or district levels.
Certain of these reforms would be aimed at changes in particular lessons or courses rather than for the curriculum as a whole. Such reforms would not be sufficient to fully orient the curriculum towards sustainability, but they could nonetheless be highly valuable. It is also necessary to recognize that schools and school systems in many developing countries are struggling under enormous burdens. They have insufficient resources to implement their present programmes of study — often only four or five textbooks are available for a class of fifty or more — and no means to aim at the more ambitious objectives that were possible in Toronto and in other industrialized countries.
This inequality in educational resources and, hence in opportunities, is itself one of the major causes of unsustainability. If schools are to be a means to the reform of society, it is then essential that society at all levels — local, national and international — invest adequate attention and resources in its schools. It is clear that the roots of education for sustainable development are firmly planted in environmental education.
While environmental education is not the only discipline with a strong role to play in the reorienting process, it is an important ally. In its brief twenty-five year history, environmental education has steadily striven towards goals and outcomes similar and comparable to those inherent in the concept of sustainability.
In the early s, the emerging environmental education movement was given a powerful boost by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in , which recommended that environmental education be recognized and promoted in all countries. The influence of the IEEP — and the national and international activities which it inspired — has been widely felt and is reflected in many of the educational innovations carried out in the last two decades.
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That work was inspired largely by the guiding principles of environmental education laid down by the Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental Education held in Tbilisi in , which followed a comprehensive preparatory process which included the International Workshop on Environmental Education held in Belgrade in to draft the concepts and vision which were later taken up by governments in Tbilisi. These encompass a broad spectrum of environmental, social, ethical, economic and cultural dimensions. Indeed, the recommendations of the Rio Conference, held fifteen years later, echo those of Tbilisi, as is evident in the following quotations from the report of the conference:.
These principles were successfully translated into educational goals and, with greater difficulty, into schoolroom practice in many countries. Over a period of more than two decades, it developed a highly active pedagogy based on this premise. In the early grades, in particular, the emphasis was upon learning the local environment through field studies and classroom experiments. By starting in the primary grades, before the process of compartmentalization that marks secondary and particularly higher education sets in, students were encouraged to examine environmental issues from different angles and perspectives.
The influence of environmental education in promoting interdisciplinary inquiries can be seen at all levels of education. A course on environmental economics, for example, looks to anthropology for insights and source material. It studies the decline of ancient civilizations — e. Equally valuable lessons might be drawn from tribes and groups that faced challenging environmental conditions, but survived against difficult odds by developing an awe, love and respect for nature. In many such cultures, the environment was placed in the sphere of the sacred and used according to a set of well-defined rules that, whatever their origins, served to prevent the over-use and exhaustion of natural resources.
Innovative work has also been done in the field of environmental health by relating illness to environmental stress and ways of life. In brief, the record of the environmental education movement is one of resourcefulness, innovation and continuing accomplishments. Lessons learned from environmental education provide valuable insight for developing the broader notion of education for sustainable development.
A basic premise of education for sustainability is that just as there is a wholeness and interdependence to life in all its forms, so must there be a unity and wholeness to efforts to understand it and ensure its continuation. This calls for both interdisciplinary inquiry and action.
It does not, of course, imply an end to work within traditional disciplines. A disciplinary focus is often helpful, even necessary, in allowing the depth of inquiry needed for major breakthroughs and discoveries.
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