Integrating development into the education system

This realisation scenario has clearly begun to consume many prominent researchers in southern Africa and elsewhere, because the answer could determine how drastically countries’ policies need to integrate issues of sustainable development in their systems, according to an education expert. While education experts remain uncertain when such a point might occur, Juma Shabani says it is urgent that policy makers facilitate and foster links and develop strategies among stakeholders at every level to strengthen capacity in education for sustainable development. The debate has been intensifying with Shabani, the director and representative of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Harare Office, emphasising the need for a new vision of education that promotes knowledge and skills needed for a sustainable future as well as changes in values, behaviours and lifestyles. “The overall goal of the Decade for Education for sustainable development,” he says, “is to integrate the principles, values and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning in order to encourage changes in behaviour that will create a more sustainable future in terms of environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society for present and future generations. UNESCO’s Shabani was speaking at the national consultative workshop on the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development in Harare last Tuesday. Quoting from Koichiro Matsuuro, the UNESCO director-general, Shabani said: “We have no longer a choice; either we adopt behaviours that respect sustainable development, that is we stop polluting the environment, allow for the renewal of natural resources and contribute to the improvement of well-being of all, or sooner or later, we sign our death warrant.” Issues of ESD have slowly begun to claim centre stage in the past few years. From The 1972 UN Stockholm conference on Human Environment, through the 1992 Earth Summit ‘ Agenda 21 that placed a high priority to the role of education in promoting development that respects the environment, to the 2002 Johannesburg Summit that extended the concept of sustainable development to encompass social justice and the fight against poverty, there has been the realisation that education lies at the heart of approaches to sustainable development. The experts reviewed the UN guidelines on the integration of ESD in education policies in the realities of Zimbabwe’s education system and its overall context with the objective of developing elements of a national plan for the implementation of ESD-related activities. Within the scope of ESD, UNESCO stressed that sustainable development is a process of learning how to think in terms of “forever” and about learning how to make decisions that consider the long-term future of the economy, ecology and well being of communities. The meeting agreed that in order to realise all these, and to eradicate poverty, what was required was “thinking outside the box”, a change in local values and the development of a global ethic stressing sustainable lifestyles. This will largely depend on the extent to which different players ‘ as individuals, group of individuals from different sectors ‘operating at different levels and from different knowledge and skills backgrounds, work together to make it a reality. Officially opening the UNESCO-funded workshop, the secretary-general of the national commission for the Harare office, J. J. Mhlanga, impressed to the participants that UNESCO, as the lead agency for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, is in the process of re-orienting education to link it to the Millennium Development Goals, United Nations Literacy Decade and Education For All Dakar Framework of Action.

March 2006
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