Education, Ethics, & Values for Sustainability; Transformative Teaching and Learning with the Earth Charter

Written by Earth Charter Intern: Lorna Battista

Principle 14 of the Earth Charter: “Integrate into formal education and life-long learning the knowledge, values and skills needed for a sustainable way of life.”

Education is a crucial aspect of implementing successful long term sustainable development projects, and this course worked to give participants both the knowledge and the tools for integrating the principles of sustainable development and global citizenship into their various fields. The Earth Charter was used to position the course around broad values-based principles, providing a methodology that could be applied to different types of curriculums and ages. The course was geared towards educators, with material that can be easily adapted. Taught by Mirian Vilela, the Executive Director of the Earth Charter International Secretariat, and Dr. Sam Crowell, a professor emeritus from California State University, the course was set at the beautiful Earth Charter Center for Education for Sustainable Development in Costa Rica. Both myself and Solomon Muyundo are summer interns at the Earth Charter and students at the University for Peace, and we took the course to observe the educational side of sustainable development and to see what elements we could take away to adapt for our own disciplines.19665347_10158854722370328_4587160648425308301_n

This masterclass was designed to introduce material through interactive lessons, activities and participation from the group. Working with people with such varied backgrounds really made the class much richer, with participants coming from all around the world (from Costa Rica, US, Romania, and Turkey) who work in a range of educational fields. The essential lessons of the course were embedded in activities designed to allow for self-expression and narrative, simultaneously presenting material and showing examples of diverse teaching approaches. One of the goals of the course was to work on how to embed the values and ethical dimensions of the Earth Charter into different types of curriculums, adapting it to different levels of structure and requirements. For participants such as Solomon and myself, who do not have an extensive background in education, the course provided us with concepts and terms that are applicable in many fields.

The course leaders provided us with important background information on the Earth Charter, current UNESCO and 19656977_10158854721945328_2113915449297718086_nUnited Nations projects on education, and the implementation of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to these straightforward topics, Mirian and Sam pushed the discussion towards general issues of equity vs. equality, how people develop different filters for viewing the world (and how that changes their approaches to education), and the importance of an emotional connection to learning. Holistic methods were another important element, with participants discussing the values of authenticity, having a clear vision, taking ownership, and using effective capacity building. Both Solomon and I gained an increased understanding of the importance of systems thinking in sustainability, as the balance between holistic and reductionist approaches is especially important in this field.

Throughout the five-day course, we were both impressed by the passion and vision that many of the other participants displayed through discussion of their various projects. Everyone exhibited creativity and commitment through their ideas of how to incorporate the Earth Charter into curriculums ranging from middle-school science classes and high school literature to environmental summer camps and non-profit social organizations. While neither Solomon nor I have plans to go into education, knowing how to use a framework such as the Earth Charter is an important lesson when going into the field of global sustainable development.19905063_10158912980215328_4306092215353197918_n