Director-General addresses Valedictory Session of the Fourth International Conference on Environmental Education in Ahmedabad, India

Director-General addresses Valedictory Session of the Fourth International Conference on Environmental Education in Ahmedabad, India
  • © UNESCO/M. Ravassard

On 28 November 2007, Mr Koďchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, addressed the Valedictory Session of the Fourth International Conference on Environmental Education at the Centre for Environment Education in Ahmedabad, India.

Also present at the session were: Dr A. A. Boaz, Director-General of the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP); Professor M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation; Professor Kartikeya V Sarabhai, Director of the Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedabad; and Professor Hopkins, who holds a UNESCO Chair relating to Education for Sustainable Development at York University, Canada.

The three-day meeting was a follow-up to three previous international conferences on environmental education organized or co-organized by UNESCO in Tbilisi (1977), Moscow (1987) and Thessaloniki (1997). The event attracted around 1,500 participants from nearly 90 countries.

In his address, the Director-General focused on the importance of the meeting to UNESCO’s action in education for sustainable development (ESD). He drew attention to the Organization’s role as lead agency and international coordinator of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), highlighting how UNESCO had developed a framework for implementing the Decade that was broad, inclusive and responsive to the interests and needs of the different stakeholders, in particular Member States. “Member States must be firmly in the driving seat”, the Director-General underscored.

Mr Matsuura then went on to outline what he saw as the ten major themes that, from UNESCO’s perspective, had emerged from the Conference. First, was the importance of environmental education to ESD and the DESD. “The Decade can only be enriched by the contributions of environmental education through research, education and training, advocacy and networking”, Mr Matsuura said.

Second, was what the Director-General described as the “palpable sense of urgency for the right decisions to be made and the right actions to be taken in a timely way”. This, he said, “is not alarmism but realism”, drawing attention to the work of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in boosting international understanding of the urgency of the situation.

The third theme Mr Matsuura highlighted was the need to harness all teaching and learning modalities. This means that non-formal and informal approaches to environmental education and ESD should be recognized as just as important as the formal education system, and that those responsible for delivering these different forms of education need to be respected.

“Teachers are the cornerstone of effective ESD programmes”, said the Director-General, introducing the fourth theme: the need to prepare teachers in the area of environmental education and ESD, and ensure that they draw on local inputs, contexts and values.

The fifth theme related to the importance of unpacking the category “learners” in order to devise and implement suitably targeted approaches, and to look carefully and strategically at what we really want different types of learners to learn and for what purposes.

Turning to his sixth theme, Mr Matsuura spoke of the importance the Conference had given to research into ESD and to the effective dissemination and utilization of research results. “Given the scarcity of resources, it is essential to determine a research agenda with priorities of focus and emphasis”, he said.

The seventh theme regarded the importance of work under the DESD on monitoring and evaluation and on the development of indicators. Participants had recognized the progress made in these areas, though as Mr Matsuura pointed out “there are significant methodological and capacity development issues here that need to be addressed urgently”.

Eighth, was the dynamic relation between the global and the local, and the very different ways of engaging with ESD, from school-based initiatives through municipal agreements to national government strategies.

The need to transcend boundaries was the ninth theme – be these the boundaries of sectors, study, gender, religion or nations. These, the Director-General said, “are artificial constructs that constrain our common humanity”. In this regard, he described ESD as “a great vehicle for respecting our differences and building a common vision”.

The final theme was that of the importance of youth: both literally – as taken to refer to the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of young people; and metaphorically – referring to the spirit of creativity, experiment and openness needed to achieve sustainable development.

Mr Matsuura concluded by saying that these ten points, together with the Ahmedabad Declaration that was adopted during the Valedictory Session and the recommendations that arouse from the plenary and working sessions, would “provide very good guidelines for UNESCO’s action in education for sustainable development over the next ten years, as well as for the activities of our partners”.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokeswoman
  • Source:Flash Info N° 185-2007
  • 05-12-2007
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