Without education, there can be no sustainability
At the World Economic Forum 2018 meeting in Davos, Prime Minister Narendra Modi identified climate change as one of the major challenges to civilisation. He said, “ We are exploiting nature for our greed today. We need to ask ourselves if this is our progress or regression”. The consequences of climate change are beginning to show. Unplanned development; irresponsible exploitation of natural resources leading to indiscriminate industrialisation, urbanisation, and deforestation; and unscientific changes in land-use patterns have resulted in increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.
To me, sustainability and sustainable development are all about a fine balancing act between our competing needs and our desire to progress with a focus on protecting the environment. It is our collective responsibility towards our future generations to build a sustainable lifestyle. Ancient Indian philosophy has always stressed on the uniquely human connection between the divine and nature. Almost all our religious texts like the Mahabharat, Ramayan, Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita speak of the need to treat nature in an ethical manner. Sustainability refers to the continuity of the world for the next generation with regard to its social, environmental and economic dimensions. Sustainability, as an interdisciplinary concept, regards sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We need to teach our students that sustainability is all about maintaining continuity.
Education is vital to understanding sustainable development. In the new education policy, we have focused on an eco–social approach to learning with due weightage to value-based education. It’s important that education should not only be sustainable and comprehensive, but must also evolve on a continuous basis to meet the challenges posed by a dynamic environment in order to make our evolution more pragmatic.
We’re reaching a critical juncture in the field of sustainable development. The world’s population has witnessed unprecedented growth in the past century. Today we are more than 7.6 billion and the number is still growing. This rapid growth brings with it several policy challenges. However, the good news is that by the next year, India will become one of the youngest countries in the world with 64% of its population in the active working group. Accompanied with major demographic shifts resulting from rising life expectancy and falling fertility, India’s current population is more than 1.3 billion. By 2050, it will be 1.6 billion, making it one of the youngest nations in world. It is now estimated that in another five-six years, we will most likely surpass China to become the most populous country on the earth with more than 1.4 billion people. The fact that India represents one-sixth of humanity places additional responsibility on us.
With the new education policy, we are ensuring that it connects well to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goal on education and other related goals such as building an inclusive society. We must keep in mind the fact that India occupies less than 2.5% of the world’s surface and sustains a whopping 18% of the world’s population. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be inhabiting regions with absolute water scarcity. We will also witness a shortage of food, minerals, and natural resources.
The earth can sustain many more billions, provided all those people make logical decisions and choices regarding resource production and consumption. How do we achieve this? We have to convince individuals, families, organisations, policymakers, elected representatives and governments to make the right choices. We must understand that the power of education within the context of sustainable development is enormous. This issue was given centrestage when the United Nations General Assembly declared the United Nations Decade on Education for Sustainable Development from 2005 to 2014. The good part was that this decade helped nations realise that education is an indispensable input to achieving sustainable development.
As educators, it’s our duty to raise the visibility of education as a fundamental element of sustainable development initiatives. Implementing education for sustainable development is a multi-disciplinary endeavour, which requires both administrative support and strong political will. Changing our overall behaviour patterns now will ensure the well-being of future generations. Education is not only transformative, it also ensures a better flow of information and knowledge, so that it can change people’s values and behaviour, and encourage them to adopt more sustainable lifestyles. It can also break the cycle of inequality, poverty, malnutrition illiteracy, and disease that affects so many people across the world.