By ASPBAE President, Robbie Guevara
After a week of being transported between the People’s Summit and the official conference in Riocentro, I find myself bed-ridden, having come down with a bad cold. In some way it was a blessing, as it has provided me the opportunity to reflect on the overwhelming number of events, speeches, analyses, critiques, and proposals for a new world. There has been much critique about the weak analysis that informed the main outcome document – The Future we Want, and consequently, a weakened response in terms of the role and kind of education that would be appropriate to address the problems we are all very aware of.
I will not claim to have been able to absorb even half of what I have been exposed to as most of the speeches and presentations were in Portuguese. I am sure I missed out on some of the actual words, but I am also sure that I did not miss out on the passions that were exchanged and how these were received by the audience, in particular during the events at the People’s Summit. Whenever I spoke, they made sure I was translated, but I felt that it is unfair to expect too much from individuals who were willing to do what was called ‘solidarity translation’ to translate everything I wanted to listen to. So there were times when I just sat under the trees listening to the speeches and songs that came from the endless rows of tents at the People’s Summit.
And so, I was disappointed that the main UN organisation responsible for the promotion of education for sustainable development, UNESCO, last night hosted a seminar that was only conducted in English. I was looking forward to what was advertised as an event that would “advocate for continued attention to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), point out synergies between ESD and the international Education for All agenda, and argue for the relevance of ESD to all efforts to achieve sustainable development with a view to post-2015 processes.” A worthwhile agenda, but unfortunately, I was not able to stay for the entire meeting as I had to leave or miss the last bus back to town. However, there were two highlights for me, namely the participation of two young students from Brazil who gave competent responses to the question about the value of ESD and the launch of a Decade of ESD report where two of the key findings are very relevant to us in ASPBAE.
The first finding I thought significant is the recognition of how ESD has become a unifying theme for many kinds of education. While the specific examples identified were more linked to environment, we know from our work that ESD can be a unifying theme for our work with literacy, migration, vocational education, and women’s education. The second is the recognition of how, through ESD, boundaries between the traditional locations and organisers of learning are blurring. There is a greater recognition that ESD happens in the margins between schools and communities, across institutions of government and NGOs, and through informal learning programs that at times may be accredited or simply be about a community learning to respond to a local problem.
If only these findings had better informed the outcomes document, we would have a greater acknowledgement of the importance of non-formal and informal education within the context of lifelong learning in contributing to sustainable development. And that while universal primary education can help to create the foundations of an environmentally literate population of young people, this approach alone, without tackling the issues of access, availability, and equity from a rights based perspective will do little in challenging and changing the dominant models of development which is necessary if we are to achieve an equitable and just society in the near future.
 Link to the report – http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002166/216606e.pdf