What role does UNESCO ascribe to education in advancing sustainable development?
UNESCO highlights the role of education in terms of achieving a better quality of life for people, and boosting their levels of personal satisfaction, but mostly as one of society’s tools to shape its future.
In order to be able to transform our societies towards sustainability, we need citizens who are aware of the interrelation between environmental issues such as biodiversity and water, economic and social issues such as poverty reduction, responsible consumption, gender equity, or cultural diversity. We need an education that encourages critical thinking and behavioural changes so that people make decisions and take action in favour of the planet’s sustainability.
However, current educational practices have not taught people to lead more sustainable lifestyles. To change society, we also have to change ways of teaching and learning. In this regard, UNESCO promotes Education for Sustainable Development as quality education that ensures the relevance of education content and methodology to teach children and young people to build a model of development that does not only value economic growth.
In 2014, the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development draws to a close. How does UNESCO stand in terms of achievements made and perspectives for the remaining years?
In 2005, UNESCO took on the coordination of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). The goals of this initiative consist of integrating the principles, values, and practices of sustainable development in all aspects of education and teaching.
One of UNESCO’s tasks is to monitor progress in the Decade. To date, two monitoring and evaluation reports have been prepared (2009 and 2012). The first was centred on the context and structures of countries for the promotion of ESD. The report showed that a significant effort is being made to implement actions related to ESD at a policy level. However, the implementation of ESD remains a challenge as the movement cuts across many fields and its viewpoint is holistic, and there is still a dearth of research and development in the area, due to a lack of financing and capacities in the education sector.
The 2012 report focuses specifically on processes and learning in the context of ESD. It provides a window onto the richness of approaches and methodologies that countries and stakeholders have developed since the beginning of the decade, implementing ESD in different contexts and cultures of learning. The report reveals a growing recognition of advances in technology, legislation, and policy, but actions taken so far are not sufficient to achieve sustainable development. Recognition must be accompanied by changes in mentalities, values, and lifestyles, as well as stronger capacities of people if change is to be made.
A notable new trend since the start of the decade is the interest in sustainability in the private sector, and the creation of capacities for a green economy. However, concerns exist that in this private sector involvement, the P of Profit may trump the Ps of People and Planet in the so-called triple bottom line.
As the decade draws into its closing phase, guaranteeing support and evolution in EDS beyond the 2014 horizon will be crucial for UNESCO, its Member States, and other interested parties. EDS will continue to be a topic of national and international debate after the decade has ended, as countries face challenges such as climate change, water shortages and droughts, flooding, and the loss of biological and cultural diversity – issues for which there is no quick fix.
In concrete terms, what actions is UNESCO taking to promote a type of education that contributes to awareness of climate change and its consequences?
UNESCO is working together with Member States to address this issue through the initiative on climate change. This is a cross-sector programme, seeking solutions through the synergy of science, education, culture and communication. Within this framework, UNESCO is implementing the Climate Change Education Programme. The programme’s aim is to help people to understand the consequences of global warming, and to increase basic knowledge of the climate among young people. This is implemented through capacity building in Member States, with a view towards providing education on climate change, promoting innovative teaching methods that can integrate this material into the school system, and awareness raising on climate change, as well as the improvement of non-formal education programmes through leveraging the press, networks and professional alliances.
Concrete examples include the establishment of an information clearinghouse for climate change education, providing a large number of links to teaching resources, research documents, and case studies that can help teachers, students, researchers and decision makers in the education sector.
Visit the website of the initiative
Additionally, in a joint effort with UNEP, UNESCO has developed a guide to climate change and lifestyle, analysing the link and helping young people to weigh up actions that they can take to create more sustainable lifestyles. The guide is aimed at young people (15-24 year olds) and people working with young people such as educators, teachers, trainers and youth leaders.
Download the guide
What incentives or mechanisms does UNESCO hope to develop to enhance the development of technical education in green jobs?
UNESCO is developing an international strategy to support its Member States in deepening the environmental sustainability of technical and vocational education and training (“greening TVET”). Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) provides its students with training for different fields of work and business, such as waste management, construction, industry and agriculture – many of them are fields that consume vast quantities of energy, raw materials, and water. Greening TVET means teaching future technical personnel how to protect the environment while they work. This is crucial in making the transition from emissions intensive and energy-wasteful production and service models towards cleaner, greener systems. In this way, all jobs can become green jobs.
What can we expect from RIO +20?
The United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) that will be held in Rio de Janeiro in June will be the ideal opportunity to redirect the world towards sustainable development. Between 50,000 and 70,000 participants are expected to attend, representing governments, international bodies, NGOs, the private sector, etc. It is hoped that agreements can be reached that will be key in breaking down “business as usual” and that a real commitment to sustainable development will be achieved. Many advances have been made over the past 20 years, since the first Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio; and yet a real commitment, placing the wellbeing of the planet, its species, and its people over and above economic development, is still lacking.
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, recently expressed concern that previous summit negotiations have progressed too slowly. The historic achievements made in Rio in 1992 are not expected from this summit.
Nonetheless, it is important not to lose hope that, with all stakeholders gathered together in Rio, significant results may be achieved this June. UNESCO is taking part in a number of events in Rio+20, working towards education for sustainable development as the basis for the creation of green societies. In terms of education, it must be highlighted that Agenda 21 -- which was approved in Rio in 1992 – mentioned education as an essential tool in achieving sustainability. The Rio+20 draft declaration also mentions education, and it is hoped that this will strengthen countries’ commitment to EDS after the end of the Decade
June 5 was World Environment Day, and June 17 was the Together with the Convention to Combat Desertification, UNESCO Santiago took part in a symbolic act at Liceo A100 de San Miguel, a technical-professional institution with 880 students. A presentation was made on desertification – a highly relevant issue in Chile – and videos were screened, followed by a question and answer activity to find out how much we know about how our daily actions can affect the environment, and what we can do to minimise our impact. Additionally, the students had worked on messages expressing their concrete commitment to the environment. The event ended with a “shout for the earth”. We hope that this event will mark the start of other, similar actions with students in Chile.
• Education for Sustainable Development UNESCO Santiago
• Educación para el Desarrollo Sostenible UNESCO Paris
• Education for Sustainable Development
• Message from UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova for World Environment Day 2012
• World Day to Combat Desertification
Astrid Hollander, firstname.lastname@example.org
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