Written by Hayette Bellakehal, Global Schools Advocate and Mentor from Algeria
"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." — Plutarch.
In spite of the poignant occurrences of floods, wildfires, and earthquakes, numerous educational institutions fail to revise their curricula to align with present-day events and accurately represent the ongoing situations within their nations. Particularly, learners from least-developed countries lack the awareness and adaptive capacity to face these challenges.
As an educator and a Global Schools Program (GSP) Advocate, I believe that we can encourage and instill leadership character within learners to hopefully become an active part of the solution-making process. And from this article, I want to convey just that. I want to use this moment to reflect on my journey and the lessons learned from implementing sustainable education and mentoring teachers from least-developed countries.
What to Expect When Introducing Sustainability Into the Classroom?
When starting their sustainability journey, many educators may encounter resistance to change, which can be expressed by local communities, school staff, and even parents (of students). The fear of disrupting established practices and conventional curricula can be a significant obstacle to incorporating sustainability into existing programs. After all, sustainability and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) are complex and multifaceted concepts that encompass environmental, social, and economic dimensions. To comprehensively understand and address sustainability challenges, an interdisciplinary approach is often necessary.
Additionally, as all educators know, their profession often requires a combination of resilience, adaptability, and creativity to overcome its inherent challenges One such challenge is effective collaboration, which can prove difficult due to several factors, such as time constraints, differences in teaching methods, and the simultaneous need to meet educational standards while ensuring a successful implementation of ESD. Thus, many teachers may feel overconsumed and frustrated as they grapple with these obstacles.
However, we must not forget that the way teachers respond to problems can have a remarkable impact on their learners. That’s why teachers must be well-prepared to respond to these challenges. When teachers approach challenges with a problem-solving mindset and untapped leadership, they model life skills for their students. After all, students often see their teachers as “role models,” and they can get inspired to adopt similar coping strategies in their lives, contributing to their lifelong learning.
A Blueprint for Success: Finding and Implementing Solutions
At this point, we must ask ourselves: What can we do to overcome all these challenges? What are the solutions we can implement?
Firstly, the teacher’s individual effort is invaluable without a supportive institutional culture that values interdisciplinary work. This includes leadership support, policies that promote interdisciplinary programs, and a willingness to invest in such initiatives. Teachers can meet the expectations of the community by clearly communicating the importance of ESD to the learners’ professional careers and academic potential.
Similarly, the lack of resources, technology, and limited funding is an equally important constraint to animate ESD activities. However, that does not mean it is impossible to implement it. At the Global Schools Program, teachers have access to diverse resources such as teachers’ training and updated materials in pedagogical practices. Using these types of resources can help educators achieve their goal of promoting sustainability.
Going back to the relationship between students and teachers, as educators, our close connection with students makes an invaluable opportunity to generate and harness solutions that can fully embrace and incorporate the learner's viewpoint in education. This closeness provides insightful details on individual learning preferences, a key element in remaining flexible and adaptable when teaching. Likewise, empowering students' voices in learning can strategically maintain their enthusiasm but also cultivate curiosity, especially among the ones who may face challenges adapting to diverse learning methods and approaches within an interdisciplinary teaching team.
Finally, if educators want to be successful in their journey, they must be able to embrace diversity and respect. Mostly because cultural beliefs about human’s relation with nature vary globally. In some cultures, the occurrence of environmental crises is explained by the acts of sorcery and witchcraft. Society’s embrace of these beliefs can sometimes hinder resilience initiatives and any progress towards a more sustainable future. Teachers who are culturally sensitive can avoid unintentionally causing offense or discomfort when discussing sustainability topics. For instance, they can frame discussions and activities in ways that respect cultural norms and traditions, creating a more inclusive and receptive learning environment.
Final Thoughts: A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step
The journey of Education for Sustainable Development in the context of the Global South is one filled with challenges and opportunities. However, it is our duty as educators and GSP Advocates to ignite the flames of curiosity and awareness in the minds of our learners, the future generation, especially in the face of pressing environmental and societal issues. In the pursuit of creating a more inclusive and receptive learning environment in the Global South, we must remember that change begins with a single step. By addressing these challenges with determination, creativity, and cultural sensitivity, we can kindle the flames of sustainable awareness and leadership in our learners, fostering a more resilient and environmentally conscious future for all.