Belarusian educators are catching up to ESD and the Earth Charter

My recent visit to Minsk Republic of Belarus yielded quite a few interesting facts about the realm of education in this country. Decisions from the UNESCO conference on ESD in Bonn Education for Sustainable Development, for example, have not been prioritized by the formal educational system. Additionally, the words “sustainable development” mostly meant the increase of production, the consumption of electricity, water, wood and other natural resource and other economic development.

However, there have always been visionaries and enthusiastic educators who have been engaged in promoting the ideas of Agenda 21 and implementing education for sustainable development in their daily activities. One of those is Sofia Savelava, the new Earth Charter Affiliate in Belarus who works at the Belarusian Academy for professional teacher training. Due to the continuous efforts of Ms. Savelava and her colleagues, along with the shift in formal educational policies after the Bonn conference on ESD, the Academy is putting a strong emphasis on integrating the ideas and principles of sustainable development into its educational programs. This research has logically brought attention to the Earth Charter as the ethical foundation for sustainable development. I was very happy to participate in the launch of the new week-long training program tailored for the top managers of the educational regional organizations responsible for life-long teachers’ professional training.

The Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. Zhukov, challenged the audience with the need to catch up with the UN Decade for ESD that has passed its half-way mark and to work out educational programs, methodologies and curricula that would be in line with the latest achievements of the world educational community. I had the honor of presenting the main ideas of the Earth Charter educational philosophy and its practical use as a tool for ESD. The audience of middle-aged educational managers, with the “old school” background, was sceptical about the ”overly idealistic approach to education” and the perspective of an increased workload for school teachers and university professors, but hopefully the sharing of practical case-studies and materials developed by the Earth Charter Center for ESD (Teachers’ Guide among them) helped to change their opinion. After the presentation I was surrounded by many participants who were interested in details, exchanging ideas and challenging and discussing the main ideas of my presentation. It was a very gratifying experience! The presentation of the Head of the training program came up as a pleasant surprise, as it was based on the Earth Charter and its values-driven approach to education for sustainable development. Expressed by a much respected national educator, it was strong support for the main ideas of my presentation.

Visiting the small village Zditovo, located 300 km west of the Belarusian capital, was a heart warming experience. The secondary school with 128 students, in a village with 960 inhabitants located in unique lowlands area, has been a participant of a two-year project called “Agenda 21 in local schools.” It is being carried out by Sofia Savelava on behalf of the Academy of Teachers Training and the office of UNDP Belarus, with the financial support of the German Aid Program for Belarus. Zditovo School is one of 19 that benefited from this project; it has become a collective leader in developing a local approach to the solution of global problems and calling together villagers to implement their ideas. Since 2008, teachers and students of Zditovo school, led their young and energetic principal Vitaly Zhukovich, have embraced the values and ethics of the Earth Charter. They clearly saw the synergy between their beliefs, actions and the principles expressed in the Earth Charter. Their multiple activities in implementing sustainable development in their school and village communities have been guided by Earth Charter principles.

During the open lesson on the Earth Charter, I presented the Earth Charter video, told the audience about the history, mission and vision of the document and answered multiple questions from senior students, teachers and the first graders as well. The students and the teachers expressed interest in joining the Earth Charter School Network and asked for contacts with similar schools in other countries. To end with, the Earth Charter International Secretariat received a beautiful gift, an Earth Charter Tree of Life, hand-made by several second-graders of wrought copper, rhinestones and clay.

The Earth Charter has finally gained momentum in Belarus due to the efforts of the new country affiliate Sofia Savelava. She is the director and one of the founders of the Youth International Education Club “New Line” (http://www.newlineclub.net; [email protected] ; [email protected]). It is a non-profit, non-governmental organization, a virtual Students’ Club and a youth branch of the “Transformation of Humanities” Association in Belarus. The NEWLINE Club has become an organizational endorser of the Earth Charter and constitutes the leadership team of the first Youth Charter Youth Group in the country. It was established by Dmitry Savelau, a member of the Earth Charter Leadership Team and a co-founder of the NEWLINE Club. For more information about the NEWLINE Club go to http://www.newlineclub.net