Education for Sustainable Development: Key Challenges

education-for-sustainable-developmentThe basic aim of 'Education for Sustainable Development' is to nurture an individual who is capable to solve environmental challenges facing the world and to promote the formation of a sustainable society. The first challenge is to have an ethos in schools that openly and enthusiastically supports the development of ESD (Education for Sustainable Development). This is partly down to the curriculum the school follows, but is mainly as a result of the interest and effort shown by senior management in promoting integration and whole school engagement; a critical element being teacher training. It is also down to the expectations that are put upon schools by education authorities when it comes to ESD.

With trained and motivated teachers, it is far easier to inspire and motivate students. Teachers can often use the environment as a vehicle for teaching certain concepts in their own specific subject. Once teachers have decided that this is something they feel is worthwhile, they will increasingly find ways to do so.

Using environmental issues in student learning shows students the bigger picture, which can significantly improve motivation. By letting pupils know why the work they are completing is important, and showing them where it fits in on a local and global scale, you’re enabling them to see its value.

Another challenge is being able to bridge the gap between what happens at home and what is taught in schools. For example, if a child is learning about recycling at school, but parents are not open to supporting their learning by adopting recycling practices at home, then the child, especially at a young age, receives very conflicting messages.

Schools are busy places and there are increasing pressures on teachers within the workplace. These can create additional challenges such as gaps between awareness and understanding; motivation to and knowledge of how to become more sustainable; individual to collective empowerment; finding time; budget restraints; linking infrastructure change to mind set change and whole community engagement.

However, with a more directed focus and commitment towards ESD in schools, children generally need very little motivation to care for their environment. You just have to give them a voice and they are away! The problem often comes from adults not understanding the bigger picture about caring for the long term future of the planet.

Strategy for GCC Countries

When it comes to educating locals and expats in the GCC, it can be categorized into three parts:

The physical change: looking at how schools, households and businesses can reduce their waste, water and energy and focus on more sustainable resources in general.

The mind set change: this is all about raising environmental understanding, awareness and action programmes throughout the school and business communities through workshops, cross-curricular activities and presentations, so that everybody is on the 'same page', as well as giving students and employees a voice. This leads to a fundamental change in attitudes and the choices people make.

Learning to respect others and appreciate the environment, as well as giving back to society: this is focused around the opportunities to learn beyond the workplace and home, and connect back to nature, as well as help communities in need. In a nutshell, it about being more caring.

Partnerships and action orientated behaviour within all 3 parts are crucially important to their success. Environmental awareness in itself is not enough, simply because awareness without leading to meaningful action and behaviour change goes nowhere.

Using environmental issues in student learning shows children the bigger picture

Using environmental issues in student learning shows children the bigger picture

This approach can be illustrated in the Beyond COP21 Symposium series that I am currently running globally with the support of Eco-Schools. The event consists of themed high impact presentations from, and discussions with, guest speakers on the SDGs Agenda 2030 and climate negotiations in and beyond Paris; individual & community action; pledge- making and practical activities/workshops.

Local sustainable companies and organisations are invited to showcase their initiatives and engage with students from a variety of schools, both local and expat, in each city or region. Successfully run in Dubai twice and with an upcoming event in Jordan, the Middle East region has certainly embraced the partnership approach when it comes to supporting environmental education initiatives that benefit all those involved.

Role of Technology and Social Media

The greatest role it can play is through the spread of information and ideas, as well as the sharing of good practice within the GCC. Sometimes the hardest thing is to know where to start and how to become motivated, and certainly both can help. Also technology can help to source important resources for teachers. Bee’ah’s School of Environment, which I have been recently developing new online resources for, is a very good example of how well this can work.

Please visit my website http://www.target4green.com for more information about my organization and its activities.

Community Engagement in Recycling Initiatives in Qatar

The current state of environmental custodianship in Qatar leaves much to be desired from the national government and other institutions that publicly endorse initiatives with much fan-fare but do not commit to sustained action. My previous piece titled “Environmental Initiatives in Middle East – Challenges and Remedies” illuminated some of these gaps, but did not provide a detailed description of what underpins this trend and possible solutions might look like. Thus, this article seeks to delve deeper into how state institutions and civil society in Qatar may be able to work cooperatively in staving off further environmental degradation, especially with regards to waste management and recycling.

I believe that real success will be achieved through popular buy-in and a paradigm shift towards recognizing the interconnectedness of humans with their surroundings, which can be encouraged through education. Perhaps more importantly, there needs to be a public acknowledgement that all individuals residing in Qatar have a vested interest in pushing for greater environmental protection enforcement and accountability. In a region that is already faced with a lack of potable water and arable land, allowing the existing course to be maintained is not only risky, it is flat-out dangerous to the nation’s survival.

An Uphill Battle, But a Necessary One

Individuals that either live in or visited a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nation, especially a hydrocarbon-rich rentier state like Qatar, are probably quite familiar with the inadequacies of current recycling initiatives. As someone who has visited the country on three different occasions I can tell you that I have searched high and low for something resembling a recycling bin, can, or other receptacle but to no avail, save for a few located in Education City. One might imagine this to be exceptionally jarring coming from the hyper-attentive, green-obsessed Washington, DC where trash and recycling cans typically are placed together on streets and in buildings.

Further adding to my chagrin is the apparent disconnect between high level, widely publicized recycling improvements and the realities (and consequences) manifesting among general society. For example, last year there was much excitement surrounding the announcement of upcoming environmental reforms in July 2014, but it appears nothing further came to fruition.

The article touches upon some of the apparent hindrances for recycling programs and other environmental initiatives: bureaucracy; paperwork; budgetary constraints. I would add to this list based upon personal experiences: general apathy towards recycling; inaccessibility of bins; perception of additional costs to conducting business.

Fair enough – I acknowledge that some of these issues are out of citizens’ and expats’ hands, but that is no excuse for giving up. The predicted 6.8% GDP growth spurred by the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup and hydrocarbon exports will surely put further pressure on an already fragile ecosystem and lead to an uptick in waste production. This is not meant to stoke unnecessary fear, but the equation here is straightforward; more people present in Qatar, more trash will be created from residential and commercial zones. As noted by fellow EcoMENA contributor, Surya Suresh, the nation presently possesses one solid waste facility at Mesaieed and three landfills devoted to particular items, which now seem to be overwhelmed by growing waste inputs.

Possible Solutions: Personal and Community Action

Given this lag in state responses to the existing recycling crisis and future issues stemming from it, readers may be asking what they can do to help. At the personal level, I would encourage Qatari residents, as well as others in neighboring nations, to begin with educating themselves about the current state of recycling initiatives and conducting an inventory of their daily waste generation. EcoMENA website offers a variety of informative pieces and external resources useful to individuals seeking more information.

My latter point about doing a personal inventory is about consciousness-raising about how we each contribute to a wider problem and identifying means of reducing our impact on the environment. Examples from my own life that I believe are applicable in Qatar include counting the number of plastic bags I used to transport groceries and replacing them with a backpack and reusable bags. I also frequently re-appropriate glass jars for storing items, such as rice, spices, and coffee – make sure to wash them well before reuse! It has taken me several years to get to past the social stigmas surrounding reusing containers and to cultivate the future planning to bring my reusable bags with me, but knowing my actions, aggregated with those of my friends and family, positively affect the environment is quite rewarding and reinforces good behavior. Give it a shot and see what happens.

Furthermore, it may be beneficial for the community at large to begin discussing the topic of recycling and what they would like to see, rather than solely wait on state agencies to address issues. Doing so could initially be formulated on a level that many Qatari residents are probably most familiar with: their place of employment, apartment, or neighborhood. After all, if individuals, specifically employers, are expected to bear the increased costs associated with improved recycling then an understanding of what people want is necessary in hopefully resolving issues effectively and with greater community enthusiasm.

Because of the nature of nation-states’ institutions typically being reactive entities and incapable of being aware of every societal problem, it is up to community-level groups to voice their concerns and be committed to change. Organizations such as the Qatar Green Building Council and the Qatar Green Leaders, offer a variety of informative pieces and training services that may help in establishing dialogues between groups and the government. Perhaps this is too idealistic right now, but Qatari residents have organized popular support for other initiatives, notably in the initial pilot recycling program in 2012. Now let us make that a sustained commitment to recycling!

 

References

  1. Andrew Clark, “Environmental Initiatives in Middle East – Challenges and Remedies,” on EcoMENA.org, http://www.ecomena.org/environment-middle-east/.
  2. Doha News Staff, “Official: New, Sorely Needed Recycling Policies in Qatar Afoot,” on Dohanews.co, http://dohanews.co/official-new-sorely-needed-recycling-policies-in/.
  3. Qatar National Bank, “Qatar Economic Insight 2013,” on www.qnb.com.qa  
  4. Surya Suresh, “Waste Management Outlook for Qatar,” http://www.ecomena.org/waste-qatar/
  5. Doha News Staff, “Responding to Community Calls, Qatar Rolls Out Pilot Recycling Program,” http://dohanews.co/responding-to-community-calls-qatar-rolls-out-pilot/.

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