Minding the future

September 28, 2012

RBF funding spearheads REC quest to launch 5-year ESD programme

By Nathan Johnson

The REC has received a generous pledge of financial support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) for an ambitious framework programme focusing on the Western Balkans. A primary long-term aim of the programme is to educate children on how to act in ways that create a better environment, both for themselves and for future generations. Another long-term goal is to strive for educational reforms that will improve education for sustainable development (ESD) in target countries.

SEEKING SUPPORT: REC Executive Director Marta Szigeti Bonifert (2nd from left) takes part in an ESD fundraising event at the Polish Embassy in Brussels. Photos: REC archive
The RBF also supported the REC in launching a comprehensive international fundraising campaign, both in the United States and Europe, in order to raise awareness and funds for the framework programme. These funds were used to hold more than 30 individual high-level meetings in Washington D.C. and New York. Most of the interested agencies and foundations were exposed the REC and its activities for the first time. Meetings included representatives from the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Geographic Education Foundation, USAID and the World Bank. In addition to meetings in US, an event for international donors was held at the Polish Embassy in Brussels. There were also several bilateral discussions with officials from ministries and country experts from Western Balkan countries.

Long-term vision

Envisioned for implementation over a five-year period, "Education for Sustainable Development in the Western Balkans: Turning Education into Action for a Sustainable Future" is the result of a Joint Ministerial Statement on ESD issued in Belgrade in October 2007. The ministers concluded then that: 1) the region lacks a strategic and coordinated approach to ESD; 2) environmental and sustainable development concerns are not currently an integral part of regional curricula; and 3) educators are insufficiently qualified to teach ESD.

Perhaps the most significant ESD-related challenge is to move beyond the mere formulation of laws and policies towards the development of actual educational tools and methodologies. The REC's Environmental Education Topic Area, with RBF assistance, is responding to this challenge to put ESD into practice in schools systems throughout the Western Balkans, namely (in order of anticipated implementation): Serbia, Kosovo (as defined under UNSCR 1244), Montenegro, Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

According to the framework programme strategy, work begins with the formulation of a national expert working group on educational standards. Within this group, national experts will analyse existing educational standards of primary school curricula with regard to concepts of sustainable development. After reviewing the standards and assessing various strengths and weaknesses, the experts are then in a position to identify and recommend areas of adjustment to relevant national authorities.

Sharpening tools for sharpening minds

Since 2001, the REC-developed Green Pack multimedia educational toolkit has been introduced in 18 countries in Europe and Asia, involving the training of more than 30,000 teachers in its use and reaching approximately 3 million students. While the Green Pack targets students between the ages of 11 and 14, the more recently introduced Green Pack Junior aims to "provide teachers of children aged between seven and 10 with simple and accessible materials promoting sustainable development."

Following the assessment of various school curricula, the expert working group will, in turn, analyse the contents of the Green Pack and Green Pack Junior to determine the level of consistency between the toolkits and relevant ESD standards. In fact, comprehensive analysis is to be carried out for each topic included in the toolkits and for each subject in the primary school curricula. If the Green Pack toolkits lack specific connection to educational standards, the former will then be upgraded and adapted to meet existing standards.

There are two key benefits to this approach. First, by aligning Green Pack materials with specific knowledge requirements within national criteria, there is increasing likelihood that Green Pack usage will be required for use within national school systems. Second, widespread institutional use of the Green Pack provides teachers with a clear understanding of and familiarity with its contents, which leads to more effective knowledge transfer to students.

"The Green Pack has succeeded in translating technical messages of scientists and politicians into messages that can be used as a part of the school curriculum," says Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. "By spreading facts and issues behind the concept of sustainable development, the Green Pack promotes the understanding that there needs to be a better balance between nature, society and the economy, and by doing this it helps promote mutual understanding between very different stakeholders."

The REC has also developed an educational tool to serve the public outside of a traditional classroom setting. The Citizens Pack, according to its promotional material, serves as a prototype for "educating individuals and local communities on the role they can play in fundamentally shifting the relationship between human beings and their environment from one of exploitation to one of symbiosis." The Citizens Pack targets older members of families and households who need to make environmental choices each day at home, at work, or when travelling or shopping.

Setting ESD in motion

TEAMING UP: A Serbian-language training seminar for teachers, held in Gracanica, Kosovo (as defined under UNSCR 1244), attracted 20 participants.

There are four main ways in which the REC's five-year framework programme aims to provide practical support for ESD activities in the West Balkans region. First, obtain necessary support from governmental institutions and professional bodies for the implementation of new ESD programmes and strategies. Second, develop and further upgrade specific ESD tools for national schools systems based on previous work carried out in the region. Third, strengthen the capacities of teachers and educators through training, the sharing of experience and cooperation. Fourth, raise public awareness and promote cooperation and sustainable lifestyles through the dissemination of information via mass media.

RBF contribution for the duration of the project however, is contingent on the REC's securing complementary funding from other sources. The scale of activities envisioned will, of course, depend on the success of additional fundraising efforts.

These early negotiations provide a unique opportunity for peaceful communication between programme participants and for fostering mutual tolerance through shared concerns and challenges. It is a complementary hope that the meetings can also pave the way for greater collaboration between Serbian minority groups within Kosovo (as defined under UNSCR 1244) and the Kosovar people.

REC and RBF: A shared vision

"[West Balkan economies] have not been built sustainably...and we can see what this means for [countries of this region] trying to integrate themselves into the European Union," says Haki Abazi, Director of the Western Balkans programme area for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. "The region's countries, ministries and governments need to understand that the classical way of development won't come, and even if it does come it won't be healthy."

Along with New York City and Southern China, the Western Balkans region is one of three "pivotal places" in which the RBF is engaged in efforts to advance social change that contributes to a more just, sustainable and peaceful world. It is in order to provide a consolidated response to the needs of the Western Balkan countries in the framework of shared sustainability-related goals that the REC and RBF have teamed up "to build a culture and practice of sustainable development.

The proposed programme is also in line with RBF's aims to contribute to participatory and inclusive approaches to the design and implementation of strategies for sustainable development, to support educational reforms, and to include sustainable development concepts and practices as part of school curricula throughout the Western Balkans region.

"We need to go back to triangular approaches where social capital, environmental care and economic development are in sync with each other," Abazi continues. "This must be connected with democratic processes...such as participatory democracy where citizens are part of decision-making processes on environmental challenges. Our hope is to bring these societies closer to European Standards and closer to sustainable futures."