No sustainable development without educationJohannesburg - A new vision of education for sustainable development was outlined yesterday by UNESCO Director-General Ko´chiro Matsuura, President Gustavo Noboa of Ecuador, President Natsagiin Bagabandi of Mongolia and Education Minister Kader Asmal of South Africa, at a major symposium during the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
South Africa's Ministry of Education, in co-operation with UNESCO and the UNESCO Liaison Committee, a non-governmental organization, organized the two-day symposium, entitled "Education for a sustainable future: action, commitments and partnerships", which continued today.
"Education - in all its forms and at all levels - is not only an end in itself but is also one of the most powerful instruments we have for bringing about the changes required to achieve sustainable development," Mr Matsuura said.
"This new vision of education emphasizes a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to developing the knowledge and skills needed for a sustainable future, as well as the necessary changes in values, behaviour, and lifestyles. This vision requires us to re-orient education systems, policies and practices in order to empower everyone - women and men, young and old - to make decisions and act in ways that are culturally appropriate and locally relevant in order to redress the problems threatening our common future," the Director-General said.
This new vision of education applies to both developing and industrialized countries, said Mr Asmal. "Many national education systems that are presently deemed effective tend to produce individuals geared to individual enhancement and pecuniary wealth maximization," said Mr Asmal. "If we believe that education and learning throughout the world have neglected important areas of values and attitudes, then we have to accept that education for sustainable development throws up significant challenges for developed as well as developing countries."
Mr Asmal then made a plea for concerted action. "Bertolt Brecht and Karl Marx called for the unity of 'head and hand'. Our global challenges enjoin us now to call for the unity of heart, head and hand" he said. "We need to thrust the discourse of education into a new paradigm. But we must do this with a real and substantive engagement of the challenges, so that we can formulate concrete actions, commitments and partnerships. I say this with the full realization of the dangers of false euphoria. Too often have our deliberations resulted in the addition of new terms to the existing lexicon of sustainable development. Constructing this new paradigm is not about coining new terms - seductive as they may be. It is about action."
International action should begin with foreign debt relief for developing countries, said President Noboa of Ecuador. "It is inhuman that developing countries must spend about half their budgets on international financial obligations. The resources spent on financing the foreign debt should be made available for education and social programmes in order to ease the extreme poverty which is a major cause of environmental damage in developing countries."
The President also urged the international community "to abandon paternalist visions of development. An old Chinese proverb reminds us that instead of giving fish to those who have nothing to eat, we should teach them to fish," said Mr Noboa. "So despite the extremely difficult financial situation facing Latin America, education offers hope for a better future."
Education at all levels - from primary school to university - is a prerequisite for sustainable development, said President Bagabandi of Mongolia. "Education is a decisive factor in building a world where people can discover and further develop their potential and lead meaningful lives. Therefore, it is vital to provide free and high quality primary education for all children."
Distance education and access to the Internet is extremely important in Mongolia, a vast country with a considerable nomadic population. "In Mongolia, the advent of radio and television broadcasting marked a dramatic breakthrough in disseminating information to people in our vast and sparsely populated territory. Today, a similar breakthrough is occurring as we make great efforts to use satellite technologies and the Internet to meet the growing demand and need for public information," said Mr Bagabandi. "Many people in Mongolia and other developing countries would like the information and broadcasts emanating from the major developed countries to focus more on learning and education."
The symposium offers UNESCO a platform to launch three educational partnership projects and present Japan's proposal to the United Nations General Assembly for a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, which could be launched in 2005.
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