Education, including formal education, public awareness and training should be recognized as a process by which human beings and societies can reach their fullest potential. Education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues. Agenda 21 speaks of: “…nothing less than the complete reorientation of education towards sustainable development.”
Defining the type of education that is necessary to support the move to a more sustainable society is no easy task. Good earth-keeping describes education for sustainability as a process which:
- enables people to understand the interdependence of all life, and the repercussions of their actions and decisions, now and in the future, globally as well as locally;
- increases people’s awareness of the economic, political, social, cultural, technological and environmental forces which foster or impede sustainable development;
- develops people’s awareness, competence, attitudes and values, enabling them to be effectively involved in sustainable development at local, national and international level, and to work towards a more equitable and sustainable future
To be effective, environment and development education should deal with the dynamics of both the physical, biological and socio-economic environment and human development, should be integrated in all disciplines, and should employ formal and non-formal methods and effective means of communication.
Sustainable education should teach several concepts
- an understanding of the interdependence of major systems: such as the relationship between mankind and the environment, the need for sustainable natural, social and economic systems to secure sustainable development;
- an understanding of the needs and right of future generations: for instance the legacy of the past in relation to current levels of social, economic and environmental sustainability;
- an understanding of the value of diversity: for example the reasons for the loss of diversity and the urgent need to protect biodiversity;
- an understanding of the quality of life, equity and justice issues associated with the sustainable development process: such as the reasons for and effects of inequality, exclusion and injustice within and between societies;
- an awareness the Earths carrying capacity: key resources, valuable to people, currently being depleted or degraded;
- an appreciation of the need for precaution: the uncertain nature of knowledge in relation to sustainable development.
While basic education provides the underpinning for any environmental and development education, the latter needs to be incorporated as an essential part of learning. Both formal and non-formal education are indispensable to changing peoples attitudes so that they have the capacity to assess and address their sustainable development concerns. It is also critical for achieving environmental and ethical awareness, values and attitudes, skills and behaviour consistent with sustainable development and for effective public participation in decision-making.