Earth Charter Netherlands gathering on Education: Lessons Learned

On 20 January, Avans College and the Earth Charter Netherlands meeting on values-based education was full of (life) lessons and insightful dialogue. At the meeting Avans announced its decision to become an official Earth Charter Endorser.

Some 80 participants gathered at Avans (Higher Educational Institute) coming from different schools and sectors. A very special welcome was given to Professor and Earth Charter Education Center Faculty Sam Crowell who attended the meeting, which was organized by Earth Charter Netherlands (EC NL), NIVOZ, and AVANS.

Alide Roerink (EC NL, Earth Charter Friends of the Netherlands, and ECI Council Member) moderated the event and this report was written by Lynn Zebeda (Earth Charter Friends).

Read on for the messages that our great speakers and audience brought along and also don’t forget to watch our video-impression of the day.

Professor Johannes Witteveen (Former Minister of Finance and Sufi foreman)

“A few billion people in countries like China and India are rising to our level of welfare, with all the technology that we have. This is important, yet presents a heavy burden on the environment. To counter this, there is way too little action and too much talk. We need to take much bigger steps.

One step is a heavy tax on CO2 pollution. With the current carbon trading system, we have made the price so low that it does not work. To create a functioning carbon tax, we need international cooperation.

To support international cooperation, we also need a change at the level of education. We need a state of mind that supports cooperation. Students should see that across the globe, we have so much in common. And that, just like in our daily lives, if we want to have harmonious international relationships we need to sometimes give something up, to get something else in return. We need to help each other and give when possible.

To get this done, we have to sacrifice some material interests. In order to be open to that, the importance of the spiritual aspect of life should be encouraged in schools. There is not only the material world, there is also the spiritual world behind it and that gives meaning to it. Children and students should be inspired, as it helps generate an attitude, a way of living that will make them happier and make others happier too.”

The dialogue with the audience that followed beautifully summed up the spirit that Professor Witteveen shared: act, now, together. More discussion followed about students and their mental health problems. The need to learn to breathe, connect, and ground oneself were mentioned. We are all energy. Students often have a materialistic mindset. But that is learned behavior, and if you can learn it, you can unlearn it. Especially if one is taught to always ask ‘why’.


To this, the professor reacted: “It is natural that in the beginning of your life you want to achieve something in the material world. But that doesn’t exclude you from seeking contact with the spiritual world. That will give you better balance, will make you more able to not hurry in this faster and faster world, and find a more natural rhythm. We need both action and reflection.”

Nickel van der Vorm, director NIVOZ

“The sea is the same everywhere. If you close your eyes at any beach on the world, you will hear the same sounds of waves rolling. This has been the same forever, since the creation of the seas. This purity of nature surrounds you while sailing at sea. That brings me to the better state of my being. Yet the colors, the shapes, are different everywhere.

NIVOZ is a do-tank on education with a mission based on the thought that the current paradigm of education is long past its due date. Children become uninspired and unmotivated, only capable of following. Current education also doesn’t help them to find out who they are and what purpose they have. They become disconnected and indifferent, rather than connected.

Who was your favorite teacher? What characteristic did that person have? What are the words that pop into your mind? Audiences, always, everywhere and across any ages, will say that the teacher was inspiring, a storyteller, supportive, and challenging.

We know what it takes to be a good teacher in its many forms and different contexts. The constant factors are connectedness, responsibility, and trust. Trust in yourself and in your students.

Connectedness and responsibility are also important pillars of the Earth Charter, which states that with increased knowledge, freedom, and power comes more responsibility. Article 14 in the Earth Charter states: “Integrate into formal education and life-long learning the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life.” I think we need to get rid of the word “formal” – these values need to be brought into the education and upbringing of children as a whole. We need to change the order: don’t start with knowledge, but start with values and add acting. It is in our actions that values materialize and knowledge becomes purposeful.

What education brings must be experienced as purposeful. Students and teachers are not client and provider – they are full partners. The mission in education is to bring purpose through connectedness and responsibility. That starts with the responsibility of you and me.”

In the dialogue with the audience, the audience mentioned that it is still necessary to take into account current norms. However, the moment you can share responsibility for learning with your students, make children co-responsible for their own development, a lot changes. Then you become an institute that provides chances.

We can redefine learning as the process in which the values of learning are connected to the values of the community. By nature we are cooperative – by culture we become competitive. The Earth Charter could serve as a very useful base for formal and non-formal education in that sense – connectedness is the key to success.

Rob de With and Laura van Otterloo (AVANS Hogeschool)

The next speakers-duo is a beautiful example of partners in learning.

Rob: “Avans wants to bring students to where they can be excellent. Using creativity and by showing them what is possible.”

Student Laura: “In my second year, I started a company called Bioversity. It started during a school project, where students were challenged to think outside the box to create a new product. I learned that 40% of rice is thrown away. This means that a lot of water and other resources that are used in production are wasted. As an entrepreneur, I want to create more awareness about environmental impacts for both consumers and companies. Start with a cup so you can measure the amount of rice, so you don’t waste any. My motto: don’t just stand there!”

After this, Earth Charter endorsements were officially signed by Peter Hollants, director of the AVANS Academy: “The Earth Charter is a mirror to see what you’re doing. Some of the reflections that I see in that mirror will hopefully reach our Academy. Is what we are doing with the Earth right? Sometimes we don’t have the time to discuss such important issues with our students. But we don’t have to make it difficult. We can do things by being inspired ourselves. And by making the students co-responsible for their studies. If they are not, how can we make them responsible for the world we live in, five or ten years down the line? Practice what you preach – that is why I’ll sign this endorsement. Make your own choice, to realize the values and principles for sustainability in education.”

Clementine Degener (Hogeschool Rotterdam)

“I participated in the October ’14 Earth Charter Masterclass on Education. There, I re-met myself as a teacher. For me, it is all about the dialogue that you start with students. My personal story has become bigger and more important.

When I got back to work, I started writing a letter to my colleagues and director with the story I want to tell. We have built our city on oil, but such use of resources also has its shadow side. We can write a new story for Rotterdam – being proud of who we are and what we are doing. For a new future.

We are now going to build a new education program with this in its vision. We are slowly getting into the education and minds of people.

A story like this gives you trust and strength to continue. That’s the hardest thing: to keep it alive. How do you make sure that it sticks? First of all, you have to think very big – that’s the most important thing. But then: act very small. That’s the only way to achieve some things. And throughout all of this, never stop to ask questions. Our students are very idealistic, but they are not frequently enough asked what their ideals are. Why do you want to do what you want to do? Let them think about that.”

Sam Crowell (Earth Charter Center for Education Faculty, California State University)

Sam is connected to the California State University and is part of the faculty for the Earth Charter Center for Education in Costa Rica under its UNESCO Chair for ESD.

“Learning is about internalizing. If we are just given information and reproduce that, we are not actually learning. There is an old prophecy that is found in Central- and South America: that of the condor and the eagle. The condor signifies the heart, the intuition and the spiritual elements of life, our soul and sense of purpose. The eagle represents science, tools, technology, reason, and the ability to make decision based on those. The prophecy says that every 500 years, one of these takes prominence. We have long been in the era of the eagle. Is it now time for the condor? The prophecy says no: it is now time for the condor and the eagle to fly together. The mental, intelligence, reasoning, deliberative ideas, science, need to somehow fly together with the heart and intuition and the spirit that wants to make the world a better place. Change and transition may happen in this way.

The purpose for higher education is to provide experience and imagination. You can get information always – it won’t go anywhere. The entrepreneurial spirit that we talk about, however, is one of the most powerful motivators and creative urgency that we have. The joy that comes out of coming up with new ideas and imagining a new future has enormous creative potential. Businesses, universities, and societies flourish when they feel they have a creative ethical purpose to bring forward into the world.

When we talk about interconnectedness, we go right back to the simplicities of the Earth Charter. I like the concept of simplexity: we live in a complex world with complex systems – whether open, closed, adaptive, etc. – and yet there are only very few simple laws that hold everything together. Out of that comes an amazing array of complex behavior and natural systems. It is easy to get caught in complexity, but we can go back to those simple laws.”

Ruud Lubbers (Earth Charter Commissioner, former Prime Minister of The Netherlands)

“At a moment in time, more than 20 years ago, indigenous people at a UN conference suggested: “Let’s go for an Earth Charter.” A Charter that unites our values. A small group of people, including me, said that would be a good idea. Let’s explore. I am grateful to see that the Charter is being picked up by others and passed onto new generations through education.

Around the world, in almost all countries, people have lost confidence in their governments. They think that we have to create a new reality. It starts with one. There is hope.”

Ruud Lubbers also spoke also spoke at the Future Fields Event on the Circular Economy at AVANS, the same day.