The United Nations has launched another series of on-line post-2015 consultations, including one on Education for Sustainable Development. The IEF submitted the following contribution on 7 May 2013, based largely on recent statements from the Baha'i International Community, with an additional focus on sustainability.
Contribution on EDUCATION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT from the International Environment Forum
Building a sustainable society will require new human capacities and an enormous expansion in access to knowledge for individuals and organizations. Universal education will be an indispensable contributor to this process of capacity building, and should ensure that individuals and groups in every sector of society are able to acquire knowledge and to apply it to their affairs.
"Education must be lifelong. It should help people to develop the knowledge, values, attitudes and skills necessary to earn a livelihood and to contribute confidently and constructively to shaping communities that reflect principles of justice, equity and unity. It should also help the individual develop a sense of place and community, grounded in the local, but embracing the whole world. Successful education will cultivate virtue as the foundation for personal and collective well-being, and will nurture in individuals a deep sense of service and an active commitment to the welfare of their families, their communities, their countries, indeed, all mankind. It will encourage self-reflection and thinking in terms of historical process, and it will promote inspirational learning through such means as music, the arts, poetry, meditation and interaction with the natural environment." (BIC 1998)
Education for sustainable development should empower everyone to participate in the advancement of society within planetary boundaries. Poverty eradication must go beyond school enrollment to create a society in which the production, diffusion and application of knowledge influences all human activities. This requires interventions at all levels including child-rearing practices that foster questioning; equal educational opportunities for boys and girls; development of independent media sources; bridging language barriers; and the promotion of innovation and scientific research. Knowledge of the local environment, combining science and traditional knowledge, should be linked to global environmental, social and economic challenges and opportunities. People must be free to know, to innovate, to devise solutions to complex problems.
The shift towards sustainability requires profound changes in the minds of people and in the structures of society. The programme of education must be based on a clear vision of the kind of society that we wish to live in, and the kind of individuals that will bring this about. This means reflecting on the purpose of life, stepping out of one's own cultural reality to develop alternative visions and approaches to the problems at hand, understanding the consequences of one's behaviour, and adjust one's lifestyle accordingly.
Schools must become participants in this social transformation. The curriculum should go beyond teaching knowledge and skills, to aim to develop the potential inherent in each student to better their communities and to advance society as a whole. Education should build the level of consciousness and the deep spirit of service and collaboration required to transform individual behaviors and institutions in the direction of sustainability. There are now values-based indicators of education for sustainable development that can make the success of such education more visible and encourage its further development (http://www.esdinds.eu/).
A special focus in sustainability education should be the early adolescent years (say 10-14) when individual characters are being moulded, values adopted, and lifestyle patterns set. Education should include a values component that empowers young people with the capacity to act and the confidence that they can bring positive changes in society. Youth can take on a measure of responsibility to aid the spiritual and social development of those around them, especially ones younger than themselves. In an age consumed by self-interest, reward and personal satisfaction, youth in their mid-teens and twenties can learn to resist the aggressive materialism with which they are targeted and to put the needs of others before their own. Their consciousness of the failings of society can motivate them to work for its transformation, not to distance themselves from it. They will refuse to pass by inequity in its many incarnations, whatever the cost, and will labour, instead, for ideals of justice, unity in diversity, and community solidarity.
Bahá'í International Community. 1998. Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial Considerations Regarding the Creation of Spiritually Based Indicators for Development. A concept paper written for the World Faiths and Development Dialogue, Lambeth Palace, London, 18 February 1998 http://www.bic.org/statements/valuing-spirituality-development/