York’svery important teacher



I suppose — if youlike to rankthings as a measure of theirsignificance — youcouldsay Chuck Hopkins is the most important teacher in the world.

He’dbedeeplyembarrassed if yousaidit, of course, and finditodious for minimizing the role of diversity. But nevertheless, itdoesgive a sense of the challenge heisfacing.

He isresponsible for creating a system to train the world’s 59 million teachers in how to promotesustainability.

He has been appointed to the chair established at York University in Toronto by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the purpose of « reorientingteachereducation to addresssustainability.’’

Establishment of the chair was in response to the finding at the EarthSummit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 thateducationwas key to achievingsustainability world wide.

A secretariat for the project has also been established at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, headed by RosalynMcKeown, director of the university’s Centre for Geography and Environmental Education. McKeown has moved to Toronto for a year to workwith Hopkins.

Fundamental to everythinghehopes to achieve, says Hopkins, is the realizationthatneeds are differenteverywhere on the globe. In some areas, where the averagelength of time studentsspend in schoolisonly four months, the primaryneedis to improve basic education. In other areas the needis for a more sophisticatedunderstanding of economics. In all areas, values underlie and shapeeducationalsystems, and theydeterminewhatcanbetried.

To accommodatesuchdiversity, Hopkins and McKeowndecidedthat all initiatives would have to be « locally relevant and culturallyappropriate.’’ That ruled out decreeing solutions from on high.

Instead, they have persuadededucational institutions in 35 countries to develop local plans. Hopkins and McKeownwillthen use each plan as a case study, saying to institutions around the world: Here are 35 examples of whatcanbedone. Please use them as a source of ideas and inspiration to createyourown programs.

To illustrate how interwoven are the needs of communities, and the impossibility of addressingeducationwithoutalsoaddressing social, economic, and cultural issues, Hopkins referred me to LalitPande, director of the UttarakhandEnvironmental Education Centre in AlmoraIndia.

Almorais about 400 kilometresnortheast of Delhi, near the western border of Nepal, and about 150 kilometressouth of the border with China.

In an e-mail, Pandedescribed how providingdaycare — preschool centres, he calls them — was the key to developingsustainability programs, becauseit gave women the free time to participate.

There are about 300 villages involved, hewrote. « Women have to accomplish not onlyhouseholdchores and childrearing, but farmwork and the collection of fodder for cattle, wood for heating and cooking, and water for domestic use, fromcommunity land.

« All thistakes 15 hours a day. The problemisfurtheraccentuated by deforestation and land degradation, population increase, and male migration in search of jobs.

« The first interest of the womenwaschild care, freeingthem…to go to the forests and look aftertheircrops. (We) encouragedthem to form village committees to manage the preschool centres, with a little guidance and teacher training from us.

« The committeesalsoprovided a platform to discuss issues like the management of forests and grasslands, access to safedrinking water, sanitation, health and education, and social issues likealcoholismamong men. Thus, the child care centres, besideslaying a foundation for environmentaleducation in preschoolchildren, became centres of social change, communityinvolvement, and gendersensitization.

« Stronglymotivated, thesewomen are mostconcerned about the quality of life in their villages, and their futures. In otherwords, about theirsustainablecommunitylives.’’

It’s a wonderful story, and I don’t know of a better one to demonstrate how economics, the environment, and humanwell-being are inseparablyintertwined.

NEXT WEEK: The educationaltool kit

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