A report on the lessons learnt about the contribution of education to sustainable development over the decade between the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). The report has been prepared by UNESCO in its role as Task Manager for Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 and the International Work Programme on Education, Public Awareness and Sustainability of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).
World Summit on Sustainable Development Johannesburg, 26 August – 4 September 2002
Education for Sustainability From Rio to Johannesburg:
Lessons learnt from a decade of commitment
Education for Sustainability
From Rio to Johannesburg: Lessons learnt from a decade of commitment
A report on the lessons learnt about the contribution of education to sustainable development over the past decade, since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the ‘Earth Summit’) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The report has been prepared by UNESCO in its role as Task Manager for Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 and the International Work Programme on Education, Public Awareness and Sustainability of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).
UNESCO, Paris, 2002
Most people in the world today have an immediate and intuitive sense of the urgent need to build a sustainable future. They may not be able to provide a precise definition of ‘sustainable development’ or ‘sustainability’ - indeed, even experts debate that issue - but they clearly sense the danger and the need for informed action.
They smell the problem in the air; they taste it in their water; they see it in more congested living spaces and blemished landscapes; they read about it in the newspapers and hear about it on radio and television.1 For thousands of years human societies have proved that living sustainably — as healthy and happy individuals, within caring and stable families and communities, and in harmony with the natural world — is possible. The long-term sustainability of indigenous economic and cultural systems is the result of indigenous systems of education which established a human and natural ecology totally at one with each other. The Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero in 1992 helped educators around the world realise that education must be reoriented to once again reflect such a vision of sustainability, one that links economic well-being with cultural traditions and respect for Earth and its resources.
Almost universally value, indigenous peoples respect and love the land as a mother, treating it as sacred, believing that people, plants, animals, water, the land and the sky are all part of the same on-going cycles of life. These beliefs and the knowledge that flows from them has been passed down through the generations through a wide range of cultural practices, including direct instruction, stories, dances, ceremonies and art as well as networks of sacred places. All are part of indigenous approaches to education that link people to the land through culture — and through culture to the land. Unfortunately, indigenous knowledge and wisdom have been undermined by the experience of colonisation, industrialisation and globalisation. By and large, indigenous priorities and systems of education have been supplanted by the somewhat narrow view that the environment and culture are valuable only in so far as they are economically productive. The consequent disregard for the land and culture has meant that knowledge, values and skills for living sustainability have been underplayed in contemporary education.
Certainly, knowledge about the Earth, its plants and animals, the functioning of ecosystems and the ways people use resources, is taught in schools and colleges in science, geography and social studies. Nature documentaries are among the more popular programmes on television while visits to museums, science centres, environmental reserves and other sites of non-formal education are expanding.
However, there is a widespread problem with the way that the environment and sustainable development are presented in such formal and non-formal programmes. Few attempts are made to link the health of people to the health and sustainability of ecosystems; and students and community members are rarely asked to reflect upon the impacts of their activities and those of their families and wider society on the functioning of ecosystems. In formal education, studies of society, the economy and the environment are usually within separate disciplines with little regard for developing practical skills for practising sustainability. For this reason, Agenda 21 called for a reorientation of education.
Agenda 21 – A Manifesto for Education Reorienting education towards sustainable development requires a new vision for education. Chapter 36 of Agenda 21, on Education, Awareness and Training states:
36.3. Education, including formal education, public awareness and training should be recognized as a process by which human beings and societies can reach their fullest potential. Education is critical for achieving environmental and ethical awareness, values and attitudes, skills and behaviour consistent with sustainable development and for effective public participation in decision-making. Both formal and non-formal education are indispensable to changing people's attitudes so that they have the capacity to assess and address their sustainable development concerns.
To achieve this vision, Chapter 36 called on governments, international agencies, businesses and civil society groups to:
make environmental and development education available to people of all ages
integrate environmental and development concepts, including those of population, into all educational programmes, with analyses of the causes of the major problems
involve schoolchildren in local and regional studies on environmental health, including safe drinking water, sanitation, food and the environmental and economic impacts of resource use.
Following the Earth Summit, the Commission on Sustainable Development appointed UNESCO to be its Task Manager for Chapter 36. UNESCO was to accelerate reforms of education and coordinate the activities of all stakeholders in education through a wide-ranging Work Programme. The seven objectives of the Work Programme were to:
clarify and communicate the concept and key messages of education for sustainable development
incorporate education into national strategic and action plans for sustainable development
educate to promote sustainable consumption and production patterns in all countries
promote investments in education
identify and share innovative practices
raise public awareness.
Several activities were listed for each objective and those who might be responsible for each, e.g. governments, relevant United Nations bodies and/or NGOs, nominated. UNESCO’s role has been to provide professional and technical support for governments of member states and to help disseminate the innovative policies, programmes and practices of education for sustainable development that were being developed by all stakeholders. UNESCO has had both internal and external roles to play in its responsibility as ‘task manager’.
The organization as a whole has been mobilized to address education from the perspective of sustainability and, with the endorsement of the UNESCO's General Conference, has aligned its work according to the priorities laid down in the CSD work programme. Indeed, along with poverty eradication and the promotion and fair use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), sustainable development is now seen a key theme across all UNESCO activities. UNESCO has also been a catalyst for clarifying key ideas, disseminating guiding principles, and sharing experiences across countries by convening international conferences and regional workshops, in developing demonstration projects and sample curriculum and training materials, and in creating an international network of schools2 committed to the principles of peace, human rights, equity and conservation.
UNESCO is also facilitating the international Education for All (EFA) programme that aims to develop and implement national education action plans, enable capacity development in early-childhood, primary and science education, and catalyse new approaches to family education as well as citizenship, peace, multicultural and environmental education. UNESCO has also developed partnerships with many UN agencies, including UNFPA, WHO and ILO to promote population education, WHO to develop new approaches to health education, FAO to advance education in rural areas and promote food security, WHO and UNAIDS to combat the pandemic, UNICEF, UNHCR and major NGOs to assist in the reconstruction of education in crisis and post-conflict situations, and many more.
The challenge of sustainable development is a difficult and complex one, requiring new partnerships — among governments, academic and scientific communities, teachers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), local communities and the media. All are essential to the birth of a culture of sustainability. Within governments, for example, education for sustainability is of direct concern not only to ministries of education, but also to ministries of health, environment, natural resources, planning, agriculture, commerce and others. New policies, programmes, resources and activities can be reported from almost every country, a sure and encouraging sign that education is beginning to be seen as a significant aspect of national sustainable development policies.
The role and importance of major groups in implementing Chapter 36 have also increased significantly since Rio. The UNESCO NGO Liaison Committee, representing about 350 professional NGOs in the field of education, has set up a special commission to mobilize its members in support of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. So too have major regional and international associations of higher education, including the International Association of Universities, which have joined with UNESCO to form a Global Higher Education for Sustainability Partnership. The Education and Youth Caucuses of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) have sought to work with other CSD caucuses to build support for education for sustainable development. The contributions of all these major groups have done much to help clarify key lessons about the contribution of education to sustainable development over the decade since the Earth Summit.
UNESCO has prepared this report on these key lessons in its role as ‘task manager’ for Chapter 36 of Agenda 21, the action plan agreed to by all governments at the Earth Summit, and the International Work Programme on Education, Public Awareness and Sustainability of the intergovernmental Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD).
Key Lessons An exhaustive coverage of all the educational initiatives that have blossomed in the decade since the Earth Summit is not possible in a report of this size. However, brief cases of innovative programmes and successful outcomes are included in the boxes throughout this report. These are used to illustrate the some of the key lessons that have been learnt about education for sustainable development over this decade. The key lessons explored in the following chapters are:
Education for sustainable development is an emerging but dynamic concept that encompasses a new vision of education that seeks to empower people of all ages to assume responsibility for creating a sustainable future
Basic education provides the foundation for all future education and is a contribution to sustainable development in its own right.