United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Director-General sends message to World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development in Bonn

On 31 March 2009, UNESCO opened a three-day World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) hosted by the Government of Germany in Bonn.

The Conference brought together around 900 participants – including over 50 ministers or deputy ministers – from across the world to review progress under the UNESCO-led United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Ms Annette Schavan, German Federal Minister of Education and Research, opened the Conference alongside Mr Nicholas Burnett, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, who delivered a speech on behalf of Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. Ms Graça Machel, former Minister of Education and Culture of Mozambique, gave a keynote presentation and Her Royal Highness Queen Rania of Jordan sent a message by video to the opening ceremony.

“In a world trying to come to grips with a major financial and economic crisis, with environmental degradation and climate change, with social tensions and conflict, there is growing global consensus that the international community must unite to prepare for a better common future. This consensus was anticipated by the decision of the UN General Assembly to create a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), running from 2005 to 2014, in recognition of the critical role that education plays in development. But it is not just any kind of education. It is about learning for change and about learning to change. In particular, it is about the content and processes of education that will help us to learn to live together sustainably”, Mr Matsuura said in his address.

The Director-General introduced the UNESCO World Conference on ESD as an occasion both to review progress made since 2005 and to identify priority areas of focus for the remaining years of the Decade. Referring to the findings of the draft Global Report on DESD implementation, together with the outcomes of a number of recent ESD meetings held in Bordeaux, Gothenburg, Nairobi and Tokyo, Mr Matsuura urged participants to focus on three main themes.

First, was the importance of partnership. “Closely linked to the idea of sustainability is the concept of inter-dependence, which demands that we work together to overcome shared problems. We sometimes talk loosely of ‘multi-stakeholder partnerships’ but ESD is one of those areas where such partnerships are essential”, the Director-General said.

Second, was the key role of teachers and educators, who Mr Matsuura described as “the cornerstone” of effective ESD programmes. “There are over 60 million teachers in the world today and countless numbers of non-formal educators. They work at the ‘local’ level but are called upon to deal with ‘global’ issues. To make education relevant and real to learners, they must draw upon local inputs, contexts and values. Hence, we need to remember that teachers are individuals, part of educational and learning institutions, part of a community, and part of a society, and that they need to be supported in their work”, the Director-General enjoined.

Third, Mr Matsuura argued the need for a broad understanding of the ESD approach, not limited to particular topics or curriculum contents, but offering “a larger vision of what are the purpose and objectives of education, what is the relevance of education, what is the environment within which learning takes place, what kinds of values and principles are imparted and what types of skills, competences, behaviours and attitudes are generated. ESD has something important to say to all of these considerations, which coalesce around the question of quality”.

The Director-General also underscored the need for ESD to inform all levels and modalities of learning, from basic to higher education, from community-based learning activities to professional development and training.

“ESD is a process of learning how to make decisions that consider the long-term future of the economy, ecology and the equitable development of all communities. Building the capacity for such future-oriented thinking is a key task of education. […] I would like to stress that each of us is an agent of change and that we can individually and together contribute to creating a better world. All of us have responsibility, whether at the local, national, regional or international level, for the implementation of the Decade. But I do not wish to make this duty sound like a burden because it is quite the reverse – it is a way to express our creativity and our capacity for innovation as well as to enjoy working and living with others in common cause”, Mr Matsuura said in conclusion.

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Author(s): Office of the Spokesperson - Source: Flash Info N° 051-2009 -  Publication Date: 02-04-2009

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