Learning is the key

July 30, 2012

ESD conference to take place in Ankara in November

By Kerem Okumus and Pinar Akpinar

BY THE BOOK: An Ankara grade-schooler reads from a classroom lesson. Photos: REC Turkey

The concept of sustainable development (SD) basically entails three main features: comprehensive, long-term approaches towards solving environmental problems; promoting social cohesion and economic well-being; and minimising global inequality. But what is really necessary to make this concept a reality is a long-term commitment to create high levels of general public awareness about SD; and much of this awareness should take place within the education sector. Education for sustainable development (ESD) is widely considered a key instrument for addressing today's global challenges. ESD engages civil society and public and private institutions by transferring ownership to society at large in order to help countries build a path to long-term sustainability.

ESD is an emerging concept that has been endorsed by many countries and international organisations around the world, but it is thus far only partially integrated into environmental education programmes. What ESD actually entails is the integration of educational philosophy, a methodological framework and educational practices that are consistent with the three pillars of the SD vision. It encompasses various perspectives related to human development, such as poverty alleviation, ethics, democracy, justice, security, human rights, health, social equity, cultural diversity, economy, environmental protection and natural resource management. In order to reorient existing education practices and improve access to formal, equal-opportunity education and lifelong learning, ESD aims to engage all actors working within the education sector.

Listed below are the eight official international references within the ESD framework.

  • Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) (2005-2014), designated and led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): emphasises equal opportunity for education and the importance of education for instilling positive values of social cohesion for a sustainable future.
  • Regional Strategy, led by United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE): facilitates the introduction and promotion of ESD while inviting UN member states to develop and incorporate ESD into their formal education systems and all other relevant subjects, such as non-formal and informal education.
  • Conclusion of the EU Council: recognises ESD politically and has become a part of the EU acquis commaunitaire; stresses the importance of lifelong learning and defines its essential perspective for achieving a sustainable society.
  • EU Sustainable Development Strategy: defines the role of education as a key factor for promoting SD dimensions.
  • Strategic Framework for European Cooperation in Education and Training (ET 2020): aims at supporting EU member states in further developing their educational and training systems, while setting forth a clear mission to ensure sustainable economic prosperity.
  • Europe 2020 Strategy: acknowledges that higher levels of education are necessary to help European citizens to cope with socio-economic, demographic, environmental and technological challenges while achieving sustainability for the EU.
  • Skills for Green Jobs (2010), published by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training: defines the role of education with regard to its contribution to resource management and a low-carbon economy by improving existing capacity and developing skills for green jobs while integrating SD into national policies.
  • National Action Plans: serve as a core element of strategy implementation and are prepared accordingly to fit identified strategies and assist the implementation of ESD at national level.

Over the past decade, lifestyle changes and increased levels of consumption have posed new, significant challenges for sustainable development. Thus there are major environmental challenges which are necessary to address, along with social challenges such as poverty alleviation and access to education. One key ESD starting objective is to boost the capacities of policy makers and other relevant stakeholders in order to realise strategies and actions efficiently and to better cope with today's national and global challenges. Most stakeholders working on education and environmental topics need multifaceted support services to internalise ESD practices. A participatory method should be included, aimed at providing dynamic dialogue between all key actors working in education and training. Furthermore, know-how and environmental and social information that is necessary for developing SD and ESD approaches in line with international commitments and the aforementioned initiatives, shall be provided to the stakeholders in order to take effective decisions.

ROOMS FOR IMPROVEMENT: Schools provide the best environments for learning about sustainable development.

Like other developing countries, Turkey has gone through an unprecedented period of economic growth, which has led to changes in lifestyles and consumption levels. Moreover, Turkey has no long-term strategy and clear policy framework in place for ESD to meet international/EU membership requirements and institutionalise a long-term sustainable development path for the country. National studies are limited in scope, focusing mostly on different, small-scale project initiatives that are mostly carried out on an organisational basis. A conceptual framework on SD and its key themes is not addressed in formal and non-formal education. An institution-wide approach is noticeably lacking -- that is, a policy, regulatory and operational framework that supports the promotion of ESD. In Turkey, ESD methods and instruments for formal and non-formal learning are not yet in place for assessing changes in knowledge, behaviour and practice.

For the purpose of carrying ESD one step further nationally, public awareness raising and networking and raising the political profile of the topic are some of the important initiatives undertaken by REC Turkey. An ESD situation report on Turkey is being prepared and will be submitted for discussion between national and international stakeholders participating at a conference organised by REC Turkey and funded by Bosch Home Appliances. The First National Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), with the partnership of Turkey's Ministry of National Education and Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation, will be held on November 15, 2012 in Ankara. For more information about the conference, please visit www.ske-turkiye.org.