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UEEC TFJD143-17-67599 July 13, 2005 21:54

The Decade of Education for Sustainable

Development: Challenges and Opportunities
in México
Edgar González-Gaudiano, Advisor to the Minister of Public Education,
Government of Mexico Regional President for Mesoamerica of the IUCN Education
and Communication Commission

UEEC TFJD143-17-67599 July 13, 2005 21:54

Applied Environmental Education and Communication, 4:1–3, 2005

Copyright © Taylor & Francis Inc.
ISSN: 1533-015X print / 1533-0389 online
DOI: 10.1080/15330150591004805

The Decade of Education for Sustainable

Development: Challenges and Opportunities
in México
Edgar González-Gaudiano, Advisor to the Minister of Public Education,
5 Government of Mexico Regional President for Mesoamerica of the IUCN Education
and Communication Commission

The international implementation plan for the 6. Human rights

Decade of Education for Sustainable Devel- 7. Inter-cultural understanding and peace
opment (DESD) identifies four elements for 8. Sustainable production and consumption 30
5 the achievement of sustainable development 9. Cultural diversity
through education: 10. Information and communications technolo-
1. Recognising the challenge (learning to
learn) What is the meaning of this for Mexico and,
2. Collective responsibility and constructive so- particularly, what are the implications for the 35
10 ciety (learning to live together) Ministry of Public Education?
3. Acting with determination (learning to do) Agenda 21 recognised that profound
4. The indivisibility of human dignity (learning change in lifestyles, in development styles, and
to be)1 in styles of thought and nowledge were funda-
mental to achieving sustainability. All of these 40
These four structural elements make refer- changes are related to educational processes
15 ence to desirable principles of basic education, designed to raise public awareness, informed
the realignment of current educational pro- citizen participation, and the development of
grammes, the raising of public awareness, un- decision-making skills applicable to all matters
derstanding the meaning of sustainability, and affecting quality of life. However, funding for 45
training. The principles in turn refer to objec- such an approach to education was not forth-
20 tives that define the goals and areas of action coming and complaints began to be heard,
that it is hoped will be dealt with during the such as the opinion voiced at the IUCN World
Decade, namely: Congress for Conservation (Montreal, 1996)
that “education was the forgotten priority from 50
1. Eradication of poverty Rio.” In the 10 years between Rio de Janeiro
2. Gender equality and the World Summit for Sustainable Devel-
25 3. The promotion of health opment (Johannesburg, 2002), the foreseeable
4. Environmental conservation and protection climate remained largely unchanged. Environ-
5. Rural transformation mental education has featured as a priority in 55

1 The four kinds of learning mentioned in parentheses

Address correspondence to Edgar were also the structural elements proposed by the Delors
González-Gaudiano. E-mail: Commission, which prepared the 1996 report on Learning: The Treasure Within.
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institutional speeches and declarations, but very zenry capable of stimulating an analysis of what
little funding has been provided to establish a is going on with respect to our concerns and 105
strategy and a plan of action in keeping with the desires for social change. And, if sustainable de-
importance it was given in the rhetoric. velopment implies new and different thought
60 In the education field, environmental edu- processes, it requires creativity, flexibility, and
cation has been seen as just one more verbose critical reflection in order to influence the sys-
form of education, as is also the case of mul- tems of public participation in decision making. 110
ticultural education, education for democratic Evidently, this empowerment could never come
thought, and human rights education: emerg- about by simply including more course materi-
65 ing fields, precariously established, perceived as als and didactic activities in different school syl-
passing fads that exist on the periphery of edu- labuses because, although it implies qualitative
cation and in the folds of the social attitudes of modifications in schooling, it transcends such 115
our times, but which, according to the “makers considerations to become a prerequisite for our
of education in the country,” do not manage to transformation into a knowledge society.
70 impact the mainstream of educational debate One problem that derives from all of this
and yet dare to challenge the system for a space is that in Mexico, and in other parts of the
in an already over-burdened school curriculum. world (Latin America and the Caribbean, and 120
In Mexico, environmental education and certain Spanish and Canadian institutions), we
related fields such as training and communica- have been giving environmental education the
75 tions have merely played a supportive role and same twist, with a socio-critical approach cur-
have been called “instruments” for environmen- rently being sponsored for education for sus-
tal management. That is to say, they are seen tainable development; therefore, simply substi- 125
as tools that help achieve environmental goals tuting the concepts, in addition to losing hard-
(renovation, conservation, etc.), in themselves won political assets, would add to the confusion
80 considered essential ends and, therefore, supe- of those who have become more and more in-
rior to education’s role in the creation of social volved in this field over recent years.
values, attitudes, and aptitudes. From a pragmatic standpoint, and in the 130
Why this talk about education for sustain- knowledge that the DESD represents a window
able development now? of opportunity to strengthen some of the pro-
85 Precisely because it is hoped that we can cesses and practices slowly established in Mexico
transcend the limited role that has been given to with great difficulty and precious little institu-
environmental education, to date, in the broad tional support, certain groups are beginning to 135
context of developed countries and many oth- talk about environmental education for sustain-
ers, including Mexico. Too often, the meaning able development or environmental education
90 of “environment” has been reduced to “nature,” for sustainability, which, as a matter of fact, was
and “environmental education” to elementary agreed upon at the International Environment
schooling. and Society Conference, Education and Sensi- 140
This is why the resolution for the Decade tization for Sustainability held in Thessaloniki,
speaks of the Dakar Plan of Action of Educa- Greece, 1997.
95 tion for All, because sustainability is no longer The Decade is faced with two additional
only linked to ecological policy but also to the problems: The first is the conceptual opaque-
struggle against poverty in search of greater so- ness regarding the nature of sustainable devel- 145
cial equality that affords better opportunities to opment and consequently ESD. This does not
the most vulnerable social groups (women, in- permit a clear definition of target groups, prac-
100 digenous peoples, young people, etc.). Educa- tical strategies, and the scope of projects. UN-
tion for sustainable development is conceived ESCO’s definition of ESD comprises 10 topics
as education in values, civil and ethical educa- that have to be dealt with, even though in re- 150
tion that seeks the formation of a critical citi- ality it is a case of disjointed communities of
UEEC TFJD143-17-67599 July 13, 2005 21:54


educators that have gone through their own a) An inter-ministerial commission should be
process, their own struggles. This brings us to set up to agree upon the adoption of insti- 190
the second problem, namely, that generally only tutional individual and group measures that
155 environmental educators are aware of ESD and would include initiating a nationwide call to
are discussing it. Truth be told, although other all federal entities to throw their weight be-
groups of educators, defenders of human rights hind this major undertaking in an effective
and gender, students of multi-cultural issues, coordinated manner. 195
and so on, have found out that they are involved b) A national policy should be developed with
160 in the Decade, at least in Mexico, they do not the different social groups and sectors for
seem to feel included. Furthermore, the seem- the creation of Environmental Education for
ing neglect of environmental education in dis- Sustainable Development that would involve
cussions of ESD may undermine some of the the most diverse spaces of public life. 200
advances made, on a regional level in environ- c) A national fund for Environmental Educa-
165 mental education, such as laws and specialist or- tion for Sustainable Development should be
ganisations and journals. set up with contributions from public, pri-
In the meantime, and to take advantage of vate, and social sectors.
the institutional opportunities that the Decade d) Other education fields such as sustain- 205
may offer, the Ministry of Public Education has able consumption, peace, population issues,
170 considered environmental and sustainability is- health, and water conservation and energy
sues as a backbone in the design of its National savings, among others, should be taken into
“Education for All” Programme. Moreover, it account in the creation of Environmental Ed-
has set up a high-level internal group compris- ucation for Sustainable Development. 210
ing 14 directors of the Ministry’s different agen- e) A support network should be set up that
175 cies, under the coordination of the Interna- would get the entire academic commu-
tional Affairs Directorate, to draw up an insti- nity involved: universities and institutes of
tutional plan of action in this respect that may, higher education, research centres, and pro-
when the time is right, fit in with the plans drawn fessional organisms and colleges. 215
up by other sectors. It is producing a television f) Different ways should be explored to make
180 series with educational goals in mind on a vari- use of the mass media to maximise the impact
ety of topics in conjunction with the Ministry of of Environmental Education for Sustainable
the Environment and Natural Resources. In ad- Development in the public’s daily activities,
dition, a National Commitment to the Decade placing emphasis on matters of employment, 220
of Education for Sustainable Development has public security, and the struggle against cor-
185 been signed by all local governments, principal ruption and unaccountability.
business organisations, churches, academic in- g) Mechanisms of international collaboration
stitutions, and civil society organisms. Nonethe- should be agreed upon, making special men-
less, it would be desirable, as part of the DESD, tion of those of a regional nature: North 225
2005–2014, that: America, Latin America, and the Caribbean.