Importance of Education for Sustainable Development

Posted on 29 September 2013

By Ajita Nayar, Education Manager at EWS-WWF
By Ajita Nayar, Education Manager at EWS-WWF

Since the United Nations declared 2005 – 2014 as the decade for Education for Sustainable Development, the subject has been a hot topic in schools.

Converse to the traditional way of teaching, Education for Sustainable Development means adopting a more holistic approach to education with the aim of ‘creating a better world for this generation and future generations of all living things on planet Earth’. This allows every child to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future.

Humans tend to look at development as a needed and normal process, but when this process becomes increasingly dependent on over-exploitation of our natural resources, the replenishment of these reserves and supplies is affected; and managing this imbalance demands assuming a slightly different school of thought.

One way to cultivate this mindset in our youngsters is by encouraging sustainable lifestyles through Education for Sustainable Development. Living sustainably is about changing our attitudes in a way that helps transform our lives into something that doesn’t impact too heavily on our current routines, while using the planet’s resources in moderation.

Education for Sustainable Development incorporates key environmental challenges like climate change into core subjects like math, science and art, and involves modifying the teaching-learning process to a more all-encompassing approach. Students are thus able to relate what they learn in the classroom to their real life actions, and will increasingly be in a better position to take the lead in changing behaviours and adopting sustainable lifestyles, the more this type of education is adopted.

As schools no longer function in isolation, their integration with the world outside has exposed students to different people and cultures’, giving them the opportunity to appreciate what the planet offers, while respecting the need to use resources efficiently and responsibly.

The decade of Education for Sustainable Development is already proving popular with thousands of students across the UAE taking part in environmental education programmes; among them are Be’ati Watani and Eco-Schools UAE, both implemented by EWS-WWF. These two programmes are serving as vital tools for schools to produce environmentally-responsible citizens.

One evident example of how environmental education is helping to shape a sustainable future is from an Eco-School in the UAE recently awarded the Green Flag, a symbol of excellence in environmental performance. These students identified the need for more wall space to spread environmental awareness messages in their school, so they created a huge mobile wall of used cartons piled one above the other! Besides reducing the amount of waste produced in their school and saving school funds, these students put forward the important message within their school community and beyond, of thinking innovatively to make maximum use of available and reusable resources.

Education for Sustainable Development is not only about being environmentally-friendly; it also involves developing life-skills including leadership, communication and management; all of which are extremely important for personal development. By equipping young people with these relevant capabilities in addition to their environmental knowledge, they can excel at living lives which not only further humanity, but that care for and respect our planet’s resources too.

There are numerous examples that only serve to reiterate the benefits of implementing Education for Sustainable Development in schools in the UAE. Students from an Eco-School in Ras Al Khaimah encouraged their head teacher to install water dispensers in the corridors and fellow students to bring a reusable bottle to school; saving both money and plastic. The reason these youngsters did this was simple: because of their belief in the need to lower water usage and waste in their school.

Education for Sustainable Development can help change our future. Continued support from authorities, appropriate policies and laws, responsible action by individuals and communities, and above all a deep compassion for our planet will together serve to alleviate the global environmental crises we face today.
This type of learning goes beyond the school. What a child learns during this process shouldn’t stop there – it must be practiced by the family too. Wise use of water and energy both at home and in the work place must be part of our natural behaviour as parents and care-givers.

Greater efforts must be put in by families and communities to reduce waste, recycle regularly and opt for public transport to demonstrate the importance to our children of living more sustainably. Our homes and communities can be the ideal platform for children to exercise and experience what they learn in the classroom.

Ajita Nayar
© Tiffany Schultz