Sustainable development is that development which will meet the present needs of the community without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Environmental education involves among other things the provision of information, recognizing values, clarifying concepts etc in order to develop skills and attitudes that enable the community to understand and appreciate the relationship between their cultures and their physical surroundings.
At international fora, attempts have been made to promote environmental education. In the year 1975 in Belgrade, the program for international environmental education was started followed by the conference in Tsibilisi in 1977, Nevada 1979, Moscow 1987, ….. Since then the council of European countries has twice called on member countries to advance on environmental education in all sectors of education.
There is required a dominant policy to ensure that the findings of research on environmental science are properly applied to ensure that the world is safe for further development with no further destruction of the natural resources.
It is therefore necessary to involve the players in political, economic and cultural sectors in designing environmental programs. By doing this, we will notice that all these players have turned environmentalists and we can expect a conflict of interest of style in the approach of environmental matters. This is because sustainable development is a contested territory with its ownership disputed by forces with very diverse interests.
Its thus difficult to foresee any slackening of the effort on those who will continue to impose development to suit their ends invoking “modernity, national integration, economic growth and other slogans” (Adams 1990, p199). With challenges as these, education is a must in order to bring these interests groups together and come up with sound policy on sustainable development, infact one that is conscious of future needs.
OBSTACLES TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
There are various obstacles to sustainable development which include:-
1. Lack of awareness on issues involved,
2. Political unacceptability of obvious steps forward,
3. Opposition by groups with vested interests,
4. Inadequacy of institutional mechanism for integrating environment and development.
To overcome these obstacles, there is a feeling among many groups that there is a need to replace the ideas and values that underlie the complex and visible obstacles with a new approach and reshaping of ideas and values. To do this we need not just a modification, but a total revolution of our thinking. This can well be achieved through a well-designed education approach.
ROLE OF EDUCATION
Education plays a major role in enhancing people’s awareness about bio-diversity conservation as well as sustainable development. It leads to actualization of conservation knowledge and skills which in turn help in broadening people’s knowledge about conservation, thus making them functional members of the society.
Education will enlighten stakeholders on various issues relating to sustainable development and bio-diversity conservation. Also education will sensitize them to participate fully in campaigns against any act or development that threaten future sustainability.
Consequently, education empowers stakeholders to take increasing charge of their own developments as key ingredients combined with a clear knowledge of environmental constraints and of requirements to meet basic needs. This enables people to understand their need for and importance of biodiversity for now and in the future. It is this education which will enable us realise that sustainable development confronts not just society, but each of us at the heart of his or her purpose. It invites us to give practical support to the values of social equity, human worth and ecological health. Education questions our readiness to involve ourselves in the struggle for change, it challenges our willingness to contribute in greater measure to the activities of NGO’s and dedicated individuals who campaign on our behalf. Moreover, education asks us to accept that the small beginnings from which so many successful campaigns have started resides within ourselves.
As Laszlo (1989) puts it, “we contemplate changing almost anything on this earth except ourselves,” and this is due to the inner constraints in our visions and values that can only be removed through education. This is because education will explain the need for and importance of attitude and behaviour change in our pursuit for development, as a result we will realise that we owe the future generations what we have today.
It is education that will enable us reach a conclusion as Max-reef (1991,P113) explains: -“I have reached the conclusion that I lack the power to change the world or any significant part of it, I only have the power to change myself. And the fascinating thing is that if I decide to change myself, there is no police force in the world that can prevent me doing so. It is my decision and if I want to do it, I can do it. Now the point is that if I change myself, something may happen as a consequence that may lead to a change in the world”. As such awareness becomes more general, sustainable development will be regarded seriously by the people who really count not just elites but people generally.
Education whether formal or informal has been proved to be a powerful tool in promoting changes in the attitudes and perceptions of people about a resource. A series of conferences under the auspices of UNDP have been held to address issues pertaining to the link between sound natural resource management and sustainable development, environmental conservation and improved human welfare.
Education for sustainable development will not only create awareness of the global crisis but must place it at the heart of the curriculum. It must be “ecological” rather than “environmental” encouraging broad holistic thinking, teaching the need for structural change and promoting the correct application of reductionist thinking to specific technical problems. It will embrace all the means of the change discussed in this paper and alert stakeholders to the feasibility of alternative practices. Further, education will not only inform stakeholders, but also allow them to participate in decision making process about biodiversity conservation and thus promoting change.
Through education, stakeholders will not only become acquinted with one another’s vision about healthy ecosystems but also stimulates them to formulate their own visions relating to biodiversity. It will not only teach them about holism but will require them to think holistically. Holistic thinking is a particularly important means of change for sustainable development because it attempts to figure out the consequences. Holistic approach tries to anticipate the problem “simple” solutions, create and to identify more satisfactory structural solutions. Holistic thinking led one farmer in Kenya, sickened at having to shoot the elephants ruining his crops, to adopt an alternative form of land use, accommodating not only his own interest but also those of elephants, of tourists who wanted to see elephants and of local people who could supplement their subsistence economy with income from tourism.
Education will also help us to see the need of putting people first in all our endeavours in sustainable development and biodiversity conservation. Putting people first means quite simply valuing people for themselves, for what they are rather than for what they can do, or how they can perform in the service of some interest whose ends may be quite radically opposed to the meeting of human need. Putting people first also means empowerment- a process by which those who are or feel excluded from decision making are enabled to participate in it. It involves the transfer of power from those in authority to smaller groups.
In some countries this has to begin with establishing or re-establishing political rights and other basic freedoms. (A recent example is the return to free elections in Malawi and Kenya). Only then can a start be made to provide education and training to raise awareness and allow stakeholders to play an effective role in political process. Empowerment also refers to what Paul Freire, the Brazilian educationist calls “Conscientization” or education for consciousness, by which communities and individuals become aware of the reasons for their poverty and oppression and begin to discuss what they themselves can do about it without enabling action by the authorities.
Ecological education will not only teach about empowerment but will enable stakeholders to fulfil their aspiration by helping them to develop their full range of abilities. By paying equal attention to emotional and intellectual development, education will teach the basic life skills people need to establish identities and grow as individuals. By encouraging creativity, commitment and initiative, it will equip stakeholders to take responsibility for themselves and their future, and to avoid dependency on biodiversity without ensuring its sustainability through sound management practices. It will also focus on relationships and teach what Harrison (1990,p203) calls the “work of human communication of caring and nurturance, of tending the personal bonds of the community”. It is envisaged that well organised education will also enhance our ability to relate with each other, not just on the level of day to day communication skill, but more importantly by acknowledging others identities and rights to a resource.
This education will initiate a process of lifelong growth in awareness and aspiration. An individuals readiness to participate in that process, at however lowly or rudimentary a level, will be more important than acquiring impressive qualifications, for as Paul Freire (1972) points out, we are all “unfinished” human beings with a commitment to improve “unfinished” reality.
Without the opportunity to develop their potential, individuals can not develop fully in discussions and initiatives on which progress to more sustainable development depends. Therefore, properly resourced and directed education will ensure that all stakeholders become the beneficiaries of the care, concern and skills of others.
In a world where the challenge of sustainable development is an imperative, rather than an option, we can not afford to debar people from participating by making them feel failures, whether academic failures as a result of the rigid application of elitist standards, or social or personal failures as a result of inadequate evolutions of both their needs and their potential. Therefore, I envisage that properly resourced and directed education aimed at encouraging the development of sensitivity, awareness, critical thinking, problem solving and active participation in biodiversity conservation campaigns, will enable stakeholders not only to become aware of the issues and be able to act on that awareness, but will be equipped with the skills required to contribute effectively to the debate. They will learn to plan, organise, communicate with others, develop strategies and create alliances with an aim of promoting sustainable development and ensuring biodiversity conservation.