EARLIER this month, the Italian government announced that next year it would become the first country to institute a mandatory course on climate change and sustainable development in all public schools.
‘The entire ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the centre of the education model,’ says Italian Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti, according to news reports.
‘I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school.’
When kids show up at school in Italy next September, a climate-change-related course will occupy about an hour a week (or 33 hours per year) of their class time.
The Education Ministry will develop the curriculum with the help of scientific experts.
Other subjects, such as geography, maths and physics, will also be seen by students through a sustainable development lens, the idea being that the citizens of the future need to prepare for a climate emergency, Italian officials say.
This novel move by Italy, hopefully. will be adopted by other nations. However, to be sure, the idea of incorporating sustainable development into education is not a new one.
Indeed, Unesco anchored a noble worldwide movement known as the ‘Decade of Education for Sustainable Development’ (ESD) from 2004 to 2015.
The decade’s overall goal was to integrate sustainable development principles, values and practices into all aspects of education and learning.
The effort encouraged behavioural changes to create a more sustainable future - environmental protection, economic viability, and a just society for present and future generations.
The decade promoted a global movement to reorient education to address the challenges of sustainable development.
The United Nations University in Tokyo complemented Unesco’s effort by initiating a global network of ‘Regional Centres of Expertise’ (RCEs) to promote ESD and address local sustainable development challenges through research and capacity development. Launched 14 years ago, there are now 170 RCEs around the world today, testifying to their relevance.
International recognition of education as the key enabler for sustainable development has grown steadily, recognised in three major UN summits on sustainable development — The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, and the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro.
Other key global agreements that recognise the importance of education include the 2016 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
Education is arguably at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which articulate ways of meeting the global challenges to the survival of humanity. Education is explicitly mentioned - to ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development. And is understood to be an important means to achieve all the SDGs.
The scope of ESD was broad and its potential effects far-reaching — to reorient education to impact the way people think about sustainability.
However, how much has been achieved? Have the concept and its principles been accepted and practised by the international community at the local level, where it matters most? Ongoing global warming and the unprecedented pace of biodiversity loss sadly provide the answer.
Yoko Mochizuki, an education specialist attached to the Unesco Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development in New Delhi underlines the difficulty of achieving ‘transformative education’, which would include steps ‘to combat climate change and unleash actions and investment towards a low carbon, resilient and sustainable future’.
Mochizuki notes that advancing policy-driven education initiatives on a worldwide scale implies a homogenised perspective on what constitutes good and appropriate lifestyles and living.
‘Promoting global initiatives always run a risk of masking enormous differences in human resources and ignoring diversity of human desires.
‘One permanent question is who decides desired change and how desired change can be produced. It is also critical to keep in mind that many people today are not able to defend their legitimate interests, let alone their inalienable human rights,’ she says.
That said, the universal scientific consensus on climate change and biodiversity loss could not be more clear.
We all have a part to play to mitigate the consequences.
Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, in town recently to attend a meeting of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Malaysia chapter, noted his appreciation for the Italian Initiative and spoke of ‘how important it is for all communities to focus on the education-related targets within the SDGs, emphasising that children must be trained to be global citizens and for teachers to understand the value of making children connect with the environment’.
Malaysia’s educational and government communities need to don thinking caps and devise effective ways to inspire the younger generation to live within environment guardrails that their elders have so far failed to respect.
Setting the example would be a good start.
Source:Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid's Column @NST
MPN @ MEDIA SOSIAL