youth-led education the rio+10 interview david R. Woolcombe
In co-operation with Green Globe, Peace Child hosted the Millennium Young People's Congress, which brought 850 of the world's brightest young people from every country on Earth to Hawaii in October 1999, to focus global attention on priorities for the new millennium. The kids turned the results of the conference into their book Be The Change!, named after a quote from Mahatma Ghandi who said "You have to be the change you want to see in the world!" This book, in turn, gave birth to the Be The Change project, hosted on the NetAid website at www.netaid.org, which provides micro-funding grants of up to US$5,000 for teenagers to create sustainable development programmes in the local communities around the world. David subsequently developed an international Sustainability Studies baccalaureate for the University of Cambridge Local Leaving Examination Syndicate (UCLLES), the biggest examination board in the UK.
Widely regarded as a world leader in the field of Education for Sustainability (EFS), David Woollcombe is a prime mover in the global effort to seek an effective role for young people in sustainable development.
We were honoured that David agreed to edit the book component of Global Vision's proposed student action kit / educational multimedia package Sustainability: A Global Vision of the Future. The plan was for this book tol be written by a team of Peace Child teenagers from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, with a related series of 10 12-minute videos to be hosted by Marina Mansilla Hermann, the 17 year-old co-ordinator of Peace Child in Argentina. However, we put that multimedia package on hold after declining offers of sponsorship from Shell, BP and EDF, which we considered unsuitable.Instead, we shot a fiim called Be The Change! with 1,000 teenagers from 130 countries at the World Congress of Youth which Peace Child organised in Morocco in 2003. The film is now in postproduction.
DAVID WOOLCOMBE: Peace Child International is a network of some 500 youth eco-groups in 120 countries around the world. We had the privilege of creating the book Rescue Mission: Planet Earth, which was a children's edition – created by children – of the Rio Earth Summit Agenda 21. And we used that as the basis for our campaign to re-orient education towards Sustainable Development, which is a phrase used in Chapter 36 of Agenda 21, which Maurice Strong always thinks is the most important chapter, because it relates to education. There isn't going to be any development at all – sustainable or otherwise – unless everyone is educated. And there is a bad record of failure in this area. In 1990, the UN promised, in a conference in Jom Tien, to provide universal primary education for all by the year 2000, and it didn't happen. There are still 130 million kids in the world who never see the inside of a classroom! And so now they had another meeting and they promised that they will try to do it by 2015. These deadlines keep getting longer and longer, and the idea of education for sustainable development has actually become what we call the "forgotten priority" of Rio, because very, very little has been done towards it.
The reason that it's so important can be illustrated by a story that David Suzuki, the Canadian environmentalist, tells of taking some of his Papua New Guinean friends up Vancouver Sound on a boat. He was pointing out how the timber companies were tearing down virgin forests, and they could see these great gashes on the sides of the Sound. They turned to him and said: "But you always told us, David, that education was the key priority for sustainable development. And yet here are you Canadians – probably the most educated people on Earth – tearing down the forests! What's happening here?" And he had to admit that they're giving kids the wrong kind of education. As David Orr says, "schools in America turn out the best kind of planetary vandals."
We have to re-orient education so that we turn out planetary carers: people who will conserve and repair the environment and look after our natural resources. And that requires, as Agenda 21 said, a re-orientation of education towards sustainable development.
It's a revolution we're talking about here! It's going to require new materials, it's going to require much greater involvement by young people themselves in their own teaching and education, because actually, adults don't know as much and don't care as much about the environment as many young people do. And it's going to require a much better sort of facultative education, where teacher and students together are on this exploratory journey about how you can square the circle between economic growth and prosperity, and the conservation of natural resources and the repair of the natural environment. It's a fascinating subject! Education for Sustainable Development – were it to be properly promoted in schools and handled as curricula – I am sure that within a very few years it would become one of the most popular subjects in schools. And the campaign of Rescue Mission is to make sure that it becomes this.
We seek support from every sector of society: schools, teachers, students themselves of course (we are a youth-run organisation, and it's them that's really driving us forward in this campaign). But most of all, we need the support of governments to say yes, we've made this commitment at Rio, we're afraid we haven't followed it through as well as we should have done, and as we come up to the tenth anniversary of Rio (in 2002), we're going to cease calling education "the forgotten priority" and make it, as the kids at the Millennium Young Peoples' Congress (which we held in Hawaii last year, a sort of young peoples' Earth Summit if you like), the young delegates at that conference, having consulted millions of young people in their countries beforehand in national consultations, agreed that education is the top priority for the survival and development of our planet in the 21st century and the new millennium. And I hope you all support them in meeting that priority. How do you see your involvement with our proposed educational media package, Sustainability – a global vision of the future? I am very pleased to be working with you and the Global Vision team to create these 10 programmes on sustainable development, because I see them as the heart of a whole movement that can go into schools and on to television programmes and so on, and attract young people in the language that they understand, to really study what sustainable development is. It's a very, very hard subject. It's, if you like, the conjunction, the meeting point between physical science and human science. It's allowing on this small planet, human beings to live more comfortably than they do at the moment, while at the same time conserving natural resources. That's a very, very hard trick to pull off! And so we're promoting Education for Sustainable Development as a two-part GCSE examination, based on two existing curricula created by the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate (UCLLES), called "Development Studies" and "Natural Economy." "Natural Economy" actually was an examination based on the Brundtland report which came before the Rio Earth Summit, but it identified the phrase "sustainable development" and explored it in extraordinarily detailed way. So we think that doing these two things together enables young people to look at the issues involved in sustainable development and do what most kids think that school is all about, which is taking exams! Because there have been many many efforts by environmental educators and others, and governments, to sort of tack on Education for Sustainable Development onto other subjects - like they did with Environmental Education: you know, in your English class "go write a poem about a frog", or in your French class "discuss marine pollution in the Mediterranean, in French." That's no what it's about! It should be at the heart and core of the curriculum. Our whole focus is to try and create, for children all over the world, a really fascinating, stimulating course in sustainable development, that young people from all over the world will have a hand in creating alongside their teachers, so that both teachers and students can set out on an exploratory journey to meet this – the greatest challenge of our generation – how to achieve sustainable development. I'm very lucky to work in a youth-run organisation, in that all the people who work with me, for me, around me – or I work for them really – are young. People under that age of twenty-five now form 50% of the world's population, and it's really their responsibility and their challenge to achieve sustainable development in their lifetimes. I think that there's a huge mistake being made by people everywhere, who think that kids really can't contribute to the issues that Agenda 21 / sustainable development brings out. For example, there are kids aged 12 - 13 in Pakistan who are running schools for their peers, to teach them literacy! It's one of the most effective ways of solving the literacy problem that's ever come up. And there are kids who are doing extraordinary things all over the world, in terms of becoming leaders in environmental movements. One of the best of these is the Peace Child / Rescue Mission Co-ordinator for Argentina, Marina Mansilla Hermann. We've had a few co-ordinators from Argentina, and they basically worked from their home town. Now Marina organised the whole of Argentina, and got young people working on sustainable development issues in all the provinces of Argentina. And in fact, when we held this conference in Hawaii, she pulled together the biggest delegation of all: 38 people came from Argentina to our conference. So that's what one 16-year old kid can do! So I think it's really wonderful that this proposed series of 10 videos is going to be hosted by a young person, particularly the young person that you've chosen, who took the Rescue Mission Argentina network from sort of four people and a duck to several thousand people all over Argentina. She's only 16, but she is quite the most responsible and professional person that I've been allowed to work with.