Policy Researcher, Education and Learning for Sustainability, Integrated Policies for Sustainable Societies Area / Programme Officer, Capacity Development, Programme Management Office, IGES
Dr. Paul Ofei-Manu previously held research positions at Miyagi National University and was senior assistant researcher at the University of Ghana. Current research areas include multi-country studies on Education for Sustainable Consumption (ESC), quality education and the SDGs, capacity assessment in DRR and also in SD/ESD implementation as well as DRR-climate change adaptation linkages.
Vol.4 October 2014
Focusing on “Quality Education”
for Sustainable Society
“UNESCO World Conference on ESD (Education for Sustainable Development)” (*1) to consider a better future for our planet, will be held this November in Okayama and Nagoya, Japan. Future strategies will be discussed while reviewing the outcomes of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) (2005-2014) which comes to an end this year. In the fourth interview in our series, we talk with Policy Researcher, Paul Ofei-Manu, who proposes “Quality Education” as a high priority agenda. He tells us about actions taken so far and various future challenges of ESD.
---This year is the last year of DESD. Can you tell us what efforts have been made on ESD over the last 10 years?
The DESD was set up to embed education for sustainable development in all areas of education and learning. This is because education is a human right and is considered central in achieving social development and ensuring human well-being. ESD aims to equip us with the know-how and skills to develop our societies in a sustainable manner. This includes the abilities to acquire new knowledge through individual and cooperative endeavours and to think critically especially when making individual lifestyle choices, and for taking action collectively in families, schools, communities, countries, as well as on the world stage.
Over the past decade, we have seen the successful implementation of ESD initiatives, programmes and strategies. These have covered the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of sustainable development from local to international levels, and in formal (school) and non-formal (outside of schools) education sectors.
For example, at the local level, ESD has been successfully practiced in many communities to address sustainability issues that are culturally and socially relevant to those communities. At the national level, governments have taken measures to integrate ESD elements into national educational policies and guidelines, as well as into curricula and assessments particularly in the formal education sector. Policy documents at the regional and international levels can provide a snapshot of the current state of ESD in the regions, and this has helped to guide the regional implementation of the DESD. Another important milestone is the emergence of Regional Centres of Expertise (RCEs). Each Centre acts as a key player in mobilising and facilitating engagement in ESD collaborative initiatives at the local level and then links up with other RCEs at the international level.
However, no specific blueprint was put in place at the onset of the Decade to assess the progress of ESD implementation so these results are only anecdotal.
---Your research focus is on “Quality Education”. Can you tell us something about this? We would also like to know what some of the challenges will be in the future.
Since the launch of several education programmes a decade and a half ago (e.g. Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals), there have been significant increases in the number of children enrolled in schools. However, the focus on enrollment and memorisation methods has led to inadequate academic results. This has also overshadowed other important aspects of education like adequate teacher training and improvements to the curriculum. The result is that students are performing poorly in spite of an increase in enrollment rates. In addition, current education systems are failing to provide students with the needed skills and knowledge they need in order to adapt to a future of uncertainty and sustainability challenges.
I would say that quality education is the cornerstone to achieving sustainable human development because it takes a more holistic and comprehensive approach to education with respect to "What people learn, How people learn, Where and with whom people learn and In what context people learn". Quality education results in the ability to analyse, synthesise and evaluate complex information for decision-making, planning and problem solving, and these are much better predictors of economic growth rates than average school enrolment. Quality education also has the added value of lower resource costs compared to quantitative improvements, helping to make appropriate educational institutions and programmes available and accessible to everyone. It ensures that educational content and teaching processes are relevant, good quality and capable of adapting to the changing needs of learners and society.
One challenge we face is how to develop ways to accurately measure the educational/learning outcomes of quality education. In addition, there are countries that are already struggling to make quantitative improvements such as increasing student access, enrollment and attainment, and we need to persuade such countries to take up qualitative improvements as well.
---You are from Ghana. Please tell us the educational situation and how ESD is seen in Ghana in comparison with Japan.Paul:
People say that the ‘conventional’ education system in Ghana is one of the best in South Saharan Africa, and its tertiary education is considered particularly excellent. Enrollment at primary school stands at around 84% (compared to 100% in Japan), and with regard to “quality” education, Ghana ranks 87th and 46th globally at the primary and tertiary levels respectively. However, there is a significant gap in the level of education students receive due to income disparities. Serious challenges exist in the areas of material and human resources particularly trying to find adequate and competent teachers, and ensuring conducive learning environments. ESD is slowly appearing in the “lexicon” of education in Ghana particularly in tertiary institutions, although education related to climate change adaptation is better known. In contrast, ESD in Japan is one of the most active and advanced in the world, with implementation occurring at all levels and sectors of education. The Japanese government has been very active in the issues of ESD including proposing the implementation of the Decade (DESD) and has promoted ESD both domestically and internationally through its numerous agencies while also providing substantial funding for its implementation.
--- Thank you very much.
- *1: Education for Sustainable Development means including key sustainable development issues into teaching and learning; for example, climate change, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, poverty reduction, and sustainable consumption. （Sourced from UNESCO website)