If you’regoing to change the world, and have itembracesustainability, where do youstart?
One of the best places, the nations of the world decidedeightyearsago at the EarthSummit in Rio de Janeiro, iseducation.
The next question is how do you do it? How do youeducate the world’sstudents? To deal withthis far more difficult question, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established a chair at York University in Toronto and, and a little over a yearago, Chuck Hopkins wasappointed to it to find a way of « reorientingteacher training to addresssustainability.’’
Hopkins hadretiredfromhis job as superintendent of curriculum for the Toronto Board of Education, and wasthenserving as a specialadvisor to UNESCO.
He had been one of the mostcreativeteachers in the Toronto school system. He was the founder and first principal of the Boyne River Natural Science School, and alsowas the founder of the board’surbanstudies centre, nowlocated at DanforthTechnicalSchool. The centre, the only one of itskind in NorthAmerica, acts as a facilitator, arrangingfield trips, and assistingteacherswith courses of study for students in primary and secondaryschoolswho are interested in urban issues.
For a time, Hopkins alsowas principal of the elementaryschool on Toronto’s Centre Island. With few students, itwasrunmuchlike an old-fashioned one-room school. However, Hopkins discoveredthatwhenstudentsgraduated, and entered Jarvis Collegiate, theylacked self-confidence in the larger setting, and wereoverwhelmed.
His solution was to takethirty of the students on a school trip to Igloolik, financing the trip with a documentary for television. The followingyear, hetookthem to Iceland. Whentheyentered Jarvis Collegiate, « Theywerejust fine,’’ Hopkins says. The trips gave them the confidence theyneeded, as well as a solideducationalexperience.
Workingwith Hopkins in Toronto, as head of the UNESCO project’ssecretariat, isRosalynMcKeown, director of the Centre for Geography and Environmental Education at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Sincethere are 59 million teachers in the world, the challenge of « reorienting’’ themisawesome. Hopkins and McKeown have decidedthat change must come from the bottom up. All regionsdiffer, theysay, and direction from the top won’twork.
So McKeown, assisted by Hopkins, has written a tool kit — a 71-page guide on how to develop and implement goals for reshapingteaching programs — and they have placed copies withteaching institutions in 35 countries. Each institution willprepare a case study of itsexperience in developing a plan, and at that point, says Hopkins, theywill have 35 differentexamples of local action to inspire the rest of the world.
One educator, Prof. A.N. Makeshwari, chairperson of the National Council for Teacher Education in New Delhi, issoimpressedwith the tool kit thathe has saidhewillmakeitmandatoryreading for the 360,000 new teachersthatIndiaenrolseveryyear. The tool kit isavailable on the Internet at www.esdtoolkit.org.
Hopkins saysitis essential for eachcommunity to developitsown vision of sustainabilitybeforeembarking on an education plan, because plans shouldimplement, not be at oddswith, community perceptions and values.
I asked Hopkins why, afterhewascomfortablyretired, hewanted to take on such a dauntingtask. He hadtwoanswers. « First, hesaid, « an awful lot has been invested in me over the years, and I feel a responsibility to put something back into the system.’’
And secondly, there are tremendous changes coming. The choiceiswhetherwewill have themforcedupon us, hesaid, or whetherwewilldevelop the understanding, wisdom, and education to control our futures.
If the choices are forced on us, I’m sure they’llbegrim — whichiswhyit’sworth the time to take a look at the tool kit. There’ssomething in it for everyone.