This is the second post in a two-part series about advancing sustainable living as part of a CSR strategy
To achieve long-term sustainability we need an informed and motivated general public. By making sustainable choices, average citizens can have massive impact on some of the biggest issues plaguing our planet. Our last post focused on changing existing consumer behaviour and some of the ways corporations are working to show consumers how both their purchases and actions can have a positive (or less negative) impact on a sustainable future. An even greater impact could be made by weaving sustainable living into the very fabric of society. And that starts with education.
Unfortunately, at a time when instilling sustainability values is most needed, education in general is under siege from budget cuts, systemic underfunding or outright apathy in some regions. To help children and the adults they will become to make sustainable choices, we need well-informed teachers and an educational system that will support them.
The importance of education
Why is education so important for sustainability? UNESCO says it well: “Education helps people make decisions that meet the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations. Education for sustainable development is fundamental to changing values, attitudes and behaviours.”
But in many parts of the world, education is severely underfunded and some children are still denied basic primary schooling. One of the Millennium Development Goals is to achieve universal primary education by 2015, an initiative that would require an additional 1.9 million teachers globally. Even in the developed world, governments struggling with huge debt burdens have forced schools to do more with less when they should be doing the opposite. Instead of being valued as drivers of a strong economy, teachers are often overburdened with large class sizes and limited time and resources to teach effectively. It doesn’t have to be that way.
A wonderful example of teaching as a respected profession exists in Finland. There, teachers are highly regarded much as medical doctors and lawyers are in North America. They are given a high level of autonomy which appears to greatly influence the success of their students. High school isn’t compulsory in Finland, but 93% of students graduate compared with 76% and 77% in Canada and the U.S. Education is seen as a right, schools are funded equally regardless of the affluence of their communities, and education from preschool through university is free of charge to all residents.
The OECD suggests that students get most of their information about environmental issues at school. The triennial PISA survey conducted by OECD compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finnish students have ranked at or near the top in all three competencies since 2000 and rank among the highest globally for environmental literacy. While there could be many factors that contribute to this, Finland’s commitment to education likely has a strong influence.
Education needs to become a priority in our society if we are to ensure a sustainable future. Both teachers’ salaries and the quality of resources they have available are in need of increased investment to support their efforts in building student character, resilience, confidence and determination. In teaching students sustainable living and development concepts, children become powerful agents of behaviour change both now and for the future. When they are adequately supported by informed teachers and a solid curriculum, they can have tremendous influence within their own households, where key lifestyle and purchasing decisions are made. And they will carry these concepts and behaviours forward as they mature and become adult members of society.
In an ideal world, all governments would recognize the value of educating children. But with already low or declining government funding for education in many countries, some say corporations should be stepping up to the demands for quality education and provide the money needed to support the change they wish to realize in the world. Someday students will be employees, customers and members of society at large, enabling, or not, a shared vision of sustainable growth.
This is not about branding or marketing. Let it begin in earnest at the pre-primary and primary levels and continue throughout the formal education life cycle. Our schools need a massive infusion of funds. No strings attached. No corporate interference in the curricula. As in Finland, we need to adequately train teachers, provide them with the resources that they need, and then give them the autonomy to provide high standards of learning that meet the needs of their students and society.
Innovative solutions to big problems require educated minds and resilient, confident thinkers. Only by investing in our schools today can we ensure that our future leaders and citizens are up to the challenge.
What are your thoughts on corporate investments in education?
Image via Flickr user .Live.Your.Life