Information from the “Tbilisi + 30 Conference”, 24-28th November 2007, Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedabad, India
From Tbilisi to Ahmedabad
Since 1977, UNESCO and UNEP have undertaken the organisation of international events dedicated to environmental education (EE). The Tbilisi Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental Education was the first international, high level event to address EE. The Tbilisi declaration recommended the need to develop EE through development of awareness, knowledge, attitudes, skills and participation through formal and informal, life-long education integrated into all areas of study. This, it was said, would foster change in behaviour among populations leading to the reversal of environmental degradation. Subsequent international conferences have been held at ten year intervals. In 1987, the same year as the Bruntland Report defined and raised the visibility of sustainable development (SD), UNESCO-UNEP organised the International Congress on Environment Education and Training in Moscow. EE was discussed in the frame of education for sustainable development (EDS), and the congress focused on improving strategies to fulfil the goals of the Tbilisi conference. In 1997, the Thessaloniki Conference on Environment and Society: education and public awareness for sustainability emphasised SD, the recognition of traditional and indigenous knowledge and the importance of understanding the differing national contexts within which EE and ESD take place. In Ahmedabad, 2007, as part of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, the 4th International Conference on Environmental Education urged immediate action for a world in crisis and insisted EE be relevant, responsive and accountable and to support ESD. The declaration asked us all to re-think the values by which we live, and to teach sustainable living by our own example.
The conference was co-organised by the Centre for Environment Education, UNESCO, UNEP, and the Government of India, and gathered together 1200 people from 56 countries from governmental, non-governmental, business, media, UN agencies and higher education sectors. It was held in the context of joint UNEP and UNESCO decade for Education for Sustainable development, and marked the 30th anniversary of the first UNEP/UNESCO organised Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental Education, held in Tblisi in 1977.
The mission of the conference was to provide a platform for “sharing of experiences and best practice and the exchange of ideas and information about ongoing and planned initiatives in the field of Environmental Education (EE) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).”
The main points concerning environmental education for Universities can be grouped into three main areas of action.
Pedagogical approaches and student/staff development
Campus greening and active learning
The necessity was stressed for universities teaching environmental education to “practice what they preach” by devoting resources to campus greening and implementation of EMAS at universities.
The importance of active learning was emphasised in order for education to serve as a transformative process, transforming knowledge into behavioural change. The impact of the “shadow curriculum”, (informal learning from the university site and halls of residence) was emphasised as an important support for teaching sustainability. Some examples of good practise were presented, for example the Australian National University environmental management programme linking curriculum, research and sustainable campus operations. www.anu.edu.au/anugreen
In the United Kingdom, the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges serves as a forum to bring together estate managers, community outreach staff and academic staff to share and foster good practice. The Association champions not only sustainable practice at universities but also the importance of this as a learning and teaching opportunity. http://www.eauc.org.uk/education_for_sustainable_development
Ethical content of education
Education for transformation was not only discussed in terms of active learning but also in terms of developing a stronger ethical content, making education for sustainable development a personal issue among university students and staff. The Earth Charter Initiative was cited as a driver for values-based education. The UNEP/UNESCO activity, Youth Xchange, was presented. Youth Xchange is a project communicating sustainability issues to young people (15-25). The project encourages change through bringing issues of sustainable consumerism very close to the personal experience of young people. http://www.youthxchange.net/main/home.asp
Staff development and communication
During the conference, there were repeated calls for staff skills and awareness development for teaching sustainability. The Green Teacher project, established by the Centre for Environment Education, seeks to address the need to equip teachers in India with the skills needed to meet the new government legislation that demands all schools and universities to include environmental education in the curricula. http://www.greenteacher.org/
The need for a multidisciplinary approach to examining curricula and communication among teaching staff at all levels was emphasised. This could serve two purposes 1) to ensure consistency in curricula as students are presented with very different and potentially confusing messages in their studies e.g. being taught about mining processes and benefits, and on the other hand hearing a strong message not reduce exploitation of the world’s resources 2) enable teachers to find out the overlaps in their curricula and opportunities to integrate sustainability concepts in a consistent way.
Mainstreaming environmental education
Many times during the conference, educators expressed the need to create a compulsory module for all students on environmental education/education for sustainable development (EE/ESD). There were also calls for developing courses in different fields for those who studied a particular field to be able to study a postgraduate conversion course
There was a strong message throughout the conference that higher educational institutions have the responsibility to reach out beyond the student community into the local community. This was discussed in terms of investment, through community programmes in EE/ESD, in positive change in quality of life for the local communities that live around and work in the university.
Communities of Practice
Don’t reinvent the wheel
Many institutions have developed innovative pedagogical activities so it is not necessary for institutes to struggle alone to create activities – given the environmental crisis the world is facing, education institutes must take responsibility and act fast. Discussions about the differences between environmental education and education for sustainable development should not get in the way of developing educational programmes with innovative pedagogies to facilitate change in behaviour of staff and students at universities.
Regional Centres of Expertise
The Regional Centres of Expertise (RCE) initiative developed by the United Nations University, Institute of Advanced Studies was Being part of a Regional Centre of Expertise is an opportunity to gather together regional actors with a shared concern about education for sustainable development (schools, universities, local government, nature parks, NGOs, museums, media etc) in order to make a strategic plan about providing missing services and contributing to long-term goals of ESD such as environmental stewardship, social justice, and improvement of the quality of life. http://www.ias.unu.edu/research/regionalcentres.cfm