Education serves society in a variety of ways. The goal of education is to make people wiser, more knowledgeable, better informed, ethical, responsible, critical and capable of continuing to learn. Getting a job is of secondary importance. Were all people to possess such abilities and qualities, the world’s problems would not be automatically solved, but the means and the will to address them would be at hand. Education also serves society by providing a critical reflection on the world, especially its failings and injustices, and by promoting greater consciousness and awareness, exploring new visions and concepts, and inventing new techniques and tools. Education is also the means for disseminating knowledge and developing skills, for bringing about desired changes in behaviours, values and lifestyles, and for promoting public support for the continuing and fundamental changes that will be required if humanity is to alter its course, leaving the familiar path that is leading towards growing difficulties and possible catastrophe, and starting the uphill climb towards sustainability. Education, in short, is humanity’s best hope and most effective means in the quest to achieve sustainable development. It is a force of the future to elicit change and communicate ideas and achievements.
THE FORCE OF THE FUTURE
It is widely agreed that education is the most effective means that society possesses for confronting the challenges of the future. Indeed, education will shape the world of tomorrow. Progress increasingly depends upon the products of educated minds: upon research, invention, innovation and adaptation. Of course, educated minds and instincts are needed not only in laboratories and research institutes, but in every walk of life. Indeed, access to education is the sine qua non for effective participation in the life of the modern world at all levels. Education, to be certain, is not the whole answer to every problem. But education, in its broadest sense, must be a vital part of all efforts to imagine and create new relations among people and to foster greater respect for the needs of the environment.
THE FUEL FOR CHANGE
Awareness is a prelude to informed action. In democratic societies, action towards sustainable development will ultimately depend on public awareness, understanding and support. Common information and shared understandings, however, are important not only for mobilizing public support, but also for carrying out work consultative and participatory approaches in all fields.
Public awareness and understanding are, at once, consequences of education and influences on the educational process. A public well informed of the need for sustainable development will insist that public educational institutions include in their curricula the scientific and other subject matters needed to enable people to participate effectively in the numerous activities directed towards achieving sustainable development. The students that emerge from such courses will, for their part, be alert to the need for public authorities to make adequate provision for the protection of the environment in all development plans. Education is particularly important in developing a ‘taste for knowledge’.
Advocates of sustainable development and the environmentalists who proceeded them have learned much about how to communicate effectively. Initially, their emphasis was on ‘getting the science right’ with little thought given to how to communicate findings and make them meaningful to a wide and non-technical public. It was assumed that the facts would speak for themselves. Sadly, it didn’t prove that easy.
It is important to explore the difficulties that arose in order that they may be avoided in the future. There are several sorts of problems: the influence of vested interests, the neglect or inadequacy of communication strategies, the complexity of the messages and the unfortunate tendency of some of the messengers to spend more time squabbling with one another than communicating with the public.