THE Covid-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions to education systems worldwide, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries. Closure of schools and other learning centres have impacted 94% of the world’s student population, with up to 99% in low and lower middle income countries, according to the United Nations in its “Policy Brief: Education During Covid-19 and Beyond”.
Last year, UN secretary-general António Guterres called on governments to “build back better” after the crisis, including our learning systems. With the closure of schools, the pandemic has exposed disparities in education, flaws in remote learning, cost of the digital divide, and the essential role schools play in the health and well-being of students.
The pandemic has also shown a clear manifestation of our broken relationship with nature. It has highlighted the deep interconnection between nature, human health and well-being, and how unprecedented biodiversity loss threatens both people and the planet’s health. Given that education is the main driver of progress across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to ensure what people learn is genuinely relevant to their lives and the survival of the planet.
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is recognised as a model to achieve SDGs, as it re evaluates what, where and how we learn. It cultivates the skills, knowledge, values and attitudes that encourage learners to make informed decisions and actions on global issues such as climate change.
ESD also teaches us the beauty and importance of interconnection between nature and beings, exposes the issues and challenges of nature and how they affect human beings, promotes relevant skills and appropriate or differentiated behaviours, and drives us to seek options and alternatives to evolve within the principle of sustainability continuously.
The world needs better education to deal with and manage the growing concerns over a healthy planet at all levels. Young people are the leaders, voters, decision-makers and consumers who will inherit the human-made system and the world from the current generation. The right education system and its consequential impacts need constant re-evaluation to address future crises like Covid-19.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the ESD programme in WWF-Malaysia. Over the years, we have engaged with thousands of students to create champions of sustainability. Through various initiatives, we strive to build a generation of young leaders who understand that humanity’s health depends on nature’s well-being. They are exposed to critical thinking, anticipating future scenarios, and collaboratively making decisions – competencies that matter in a time of crisis.
Our education should focus beyond providing basic skills and knowledge. It should encourage people to think, innovate, and propel action for the world and humanity. The problems we create today can only be solved if we recognise them as problems with solutions at the local and global levels. ESD empowers learners to transform not only themselves but also their communities. We should take this opportunity to mainstream ESD at a mass scale to improve our learning system to build a world in which humans live in harmony with nature.
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