Education for Sustainability - Call of the World

Ravi Singh

In today's fast paced life, students too have joined the run -running from school to tuitions. They usually have one tutor for each subject. Students seldom have any time left for them. There is also a TV time to be squeezed into the already packed schedule. A child if asked where milk comes from might just reply, from the milk packet. S/he has moved far away from the basics. Environment Education was an approach to take children closer to nature and orient them with the natural processes in an open biology classroom. Today, we talk to them and to the general public about Sustainable Development as the only alternative to reducing our human footprint.

Education, public awareness and training are recognized as a process by which human beings and societies can reach their fullest potential. Education apart from being a human right is a prerequisite for achieving Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development began to emerge on the international agenda as early as 1972. The focus of many definitions of Sustainable Development is seeking a better quality of life. The process of achieving sustainability remains a negotiated one. It is clear that major environmental problems cannot be solved from a narrow scientific perspective, but require stronger links between environ­mental issues, socio-political and economic contexts in which we live. This shift from traditional ways of thinking and acting upon environment a l problems has significant implications for how society needs to progress towards Sustainable Development.

For many years, en v i ron men t a l education has been trying to develop knowledge about the environment and to establish concerns for caring towards nature. It has also grown over time to respond to the needs of the society in addressing environmental issues. Governments with support of civil society have made numerous legal commit

Ments and Agreements Along with civil society, governments agreed to Agenda 21, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) and to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015. These and more agreements commit governments to take responsibility with the support of other social actors to initiate actions to change and move society towards Sustainable Develop­ment. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly on December 20, 2002, adopted by consensus, a resolution establishing a United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). The resolution designates the ten-year period as 2005-2014, and proclaims UNESCO as the lead agency to promote the decade. The DESD offers an opportunity to advance

progress made inhuman resource development, education and training to support sustainable futures.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a “dynamic concept that encompasses a new vision of education that seeks to empower people of all ages to assume responsibility for creating and enjoying a sustainable future” (UNESCO). ESD has its roots in the fields of environmental education and development education. It is not a new concept but extends our current thinking and practice in light of the increasing importance of Sustainable Development. It involves learning about issues and acquiring the knowledge and understanding, values and dispositions, skills and aptitudes that will enable young people to participate and work towards solutions to local, national and global issues.

ESD motivates, equips and involves individuals and social groups in reflecting on how we currently live and work, in making informed decisions and creating ways to work towards a more sustainable world. ESD has crystallized as a result of international agreements and the global call to actively pursue Sustainable Development. Education, with the objective of achieving sustainability varies from previous appro­aches to environmental education. We must exami ne the curr e nt acad e mic and p rof e ssion al expe ri en c es acr oss the disciplinary spectrum and compare the knowledge, skills and processes that are being learned and argued in the “real world”, with what is being taught in our schools. Traditionally, environmental problems are viewed as knowledge problems. Present day teaching focuses on presenting the scientific facts and concepts and illustrating them in experiments in a way that enhances students' understanding. The aim is to foster well-informed students, with scientific knowledge about environ­mental problems and their causes. But often, fails to understand that knowledge alone does not increase students' capacity for effective action.

We also believe that environmental problems are related to the lifestyle of the people. It is thought that human beings should organize their life and society in accordance with a scientific knowledge of nature and the environmental situation. An environmentally friendly development is seen as the solution to current environ­mental problems. The basis for this is acaual link between knowledge of environmental problems, environmentally friendly values and behaviour. We need to encourage dialogue and critical conversation among students about the issues of sustainability. We need to ensure that students are able to critically consider different alternatives and actively participate in a democratic debate about environmental issues and associated societal changes.

ESD focuses sharply on developing closer links among environmental quality, human equality, human rights and peace and their underlying political threads. Issues such as food, security, poverty, sustainable tourism, urban quality, women, fair trade, green consumerism, ecological public health and waste management as well as those of climatic change, deforestation, land degradation, desertification, depletion of natural resources and loss of bio-diversity are primary concerns for both environ­mental and development education. Matters of environmental quality and human development are central to education for sustainability; it is based on the premise that we cannot have environmental quality without human equality. It brings into question the old assumption that economic growth in itself leads to a better quality of life. It opens a debate about how we want to live. It increases their understanding of the interdependence of all life on earth, and the consequences of our decisions and actions, both now and in the future.

For such a vast trans-disciplinary type of knowledge generation, different perspectives on a problem come together in a joint learning process during which new knowledge is shared and challenged in an interactive way. If students understand sustainability as an aspect of their social and ethical responsibility, they will become citizens who see themselves as connected to the natural world and to other humans.

They will have the capacity to facilitate the development of activities that sustain rather than degrade. If students develop only a superficial understanding of the knowledge areas we teach, they will be less likely to be able to use their learning to make choices in life. Particularly, when students are trying to integrate material from a broad range of sources, active involvement is the best way to challenge them to find interesting and original ways to structure the integrated material.

Any disciplinary context can challenge the student to develop the critical thinking skills, practical knowledge and values required to analyze the complex interdepen­dence of social, cultural, economic and political activities associated with sustain­ability. Examining issues from a wide range of perspectives when addressing sustain­ability encourages students to engage in the right kind of knowledge creation, rather than just the repetition of previously memorized information. This typifies the constructivist approach to education, centered on the creation of meaning by students, rather than the presentation of knowledge by a teacher. Giving students the tools for this type of learning means they are also better prepared to engage in lifelong learning activities. Reorienting the way we think about the environment, Sustainable Development and education in general is critical if ESD is to be an effective tool for engaging people in negotiating a sustainable future.