Ministry of Education, Guyana

Tuesday, 01 November 2016 15:39

Education For Sustainable Development

Article Index:

2.0 Background

2.1 Achieving Sustainability
Sustainable development as a concept was articulated in ‘Our Common Future’ (popularly referred to as the Brundtland Report) – the major outcome document of the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), as development which ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ – ‘Intergenerational Equity’ - (Brundtland Report, 1987, p. 43). Sustainable development is a balance struck among eco-system health, economics and improved social wellbeing and justice to prevent the exhaustion of the resources necessary for the continuation of life on planet Earth. It is about achieving and maintaining ecological balance through an understanding of how the environmental, economic, social, cultural and political factors interact. Sustainability is really the study of the interconnectedness of all things. For example, the unhealthy state of our world today is in direct proportion to our inability to see it as a whole. Additionally, the effects of unsustainable actions – the anthropocentric approach to economic development - usually have the greatest negative impact on poor populations, which in turn unwittingly force them into unsustainable behaviour.

A sustainable society is one that can persist over generations; one that is visionary, flexible and wise enough not to undermine either its physical or social systems of support. Sustainability transition is the process of coming to terms with sustainability in all of its ecological, social, ethical and economic dimensions. It is about new ways of knowing and acting; of being more humane in a world threatened by self-centeredness, but nevertheless one that is progressively seeking cooperation. This means that we need to better understand our environment, in the integrated sense, in order to be able to embrace this transformation. The best tool for doing this is science and technology through the process of research as well as the development of appropriate technologies. The investment made in these areas becomes an imperative hinged on a new national economic mind-set and environmental sensitivity. However, the present economic trajectory and principles, which emphasises excessive accumulation and consumption in a finite world, are in direct contravention of sustainability.

The excess accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which has resulted from the unabated use of fossil-based energy in human activities is warming the planet to potentially lethal levels, acidifying the oceans, producing more violent storms, sea surges and brushfires, with a loss of human life and property, as well as the disruption of ecological systems. As such, this human-enhanced greenhouse effect - which has resulted in a 40% increase in carbon dioxide concentration since the pre-industrial times (IPCC, 2013) - is one of the greatest problems facing the world. One mitigation measure is to preserve standing forests, like those of Guyana, which are sources of carbon sequestration.

In 2005, the United Nations Decade of ESD (DESD) was launched to enhance the role of education in promoting and realising sustainable development. At the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 (Rio+20), the international community agreed to a:

UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. There is now a growing international recognition of ESD as an integral element of quality education and a key enabler for sustainable development. (Road Map for Implementing the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development, UNESCO p. 9).

UNESCO defines Education for Sustainable Development as:

…including key sustainable development issues into teaching and learning e.g. climate change, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, poverty reduction and sustainable consumption. It also requires teaching and learning in a more participatory fashion that motivate and empower learners to change their behaviour and take action for sustainable development. Education for Sustainable Development consequently promotes competencies like critical thinking, imagining future scenarios and making decision in a collaborative way. (ESD, UNESCO, 2015 p. 1)

Education for Sustainable Development is a matter for all members of society, starting at the earliest stages in education. Therefore, a small, developing and economically challenged country, like Guyana, with a low population density, has to evaluate its resource base, and choose a development path which maximises the returns on investments that produce the greatest sustained improvement in human well-being. Guyana is blessed with extensive natural capital, in particular its intact ecosystems. However, the development of its human capital is inadequate to sustainably harness the abundance and variety of these natural resources.

His Excellency, President Brigadier David Arthur Granger, in his speech to the United Nations on September 25, 2015, stressed that a unity of effort is essential to confront the difficult but necessary choices in order to realise the goal of sustainable development. This commitment came at a time when the international community is charged with implementing a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that is action-oriented, global in nature and universally applicable. He also stated that Guyana is committed to having inclusive and equitable quality education, and to promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The implementation of this Policy will help guarantee Guyana’s achievement of the 2030
Sustainable Development Goal 4 Target 4.7 which states that:

‘by 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity’.

Education is key for the achievement of each of the seventeen (17) Sustainable Development Goals. ( Yet in the Caribbean, provision of education fostering sustainable development is inadequate. UNESCO’s selection of Guyana to pilot the development of an Education for Sustainable Development Policy is a crucial step toward achieving sustainability.

2.2 UNESCO and the International Context

The history of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) links to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), where 178 Member States agreed on a framework for action in ‘Agenda 21’ – Chapter 36, recognising that education, training and public awareness are critical tools for the transition to sustainable development, calling for ‘reorienting education toward sustainable development’ (UN, 1992: paragraph 36). UNESCO was assigned as task manager for chapter 36.

Parallel articles on education, training and public awareness were agreed in the three Rio Conventions (the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC], the UN Convention on Biological Diversity [UNCBD] and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification [UNCCD]), with programmes of work agreed to by Member States. Agenda
21’s principles and underpinning frameworks continue to guide conceptual thinking and planning for ESD, from the global level through regional actions and local Agenda 21 initiatives.

The launch of the Decade for Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) in 2005 marked the beginning of 10 years of an explicit global movement toward improving and reorienting education systems toward sustainable development, building on earlier commitments to ESD in Agenda 21. Through the adoption of Resolution 57/254 in 2002, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) declared DESD to take place from 2005 to 2014 and tasked UNESCO as the lead agency. The DESD called on ‘governments to consider the inclusion of measures to implement the Decade in their respective educational strategies and action plans’ (UN, 2002). UNESCO Member States agreed to this commitment, with Japan, Sweden, Germany, and Denmark, among others, championing and supporting the work through extra-budgetary funds to UNESCO (UNESCO, 2013a, p. 5).

UNESCO framed its efforts to promote ESD within an International Implementation Scheme (IIS) (UNESCO, 2005a), approved by Member States to facilitate collective ownership of the DESD, and to connect various global initiatives to promote education (UNESCO, 2005a), including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Education for All (EFA) and the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD). The IIS was based on the four major thrusts of ESD, and seven strategies:

2.2.1 Four major thrusts of ESD

  1. Improving access and retention in quality basic education
  2. Reorienting existing educational programmes to address sustainability
  3. Increasing public understanding and awareness of sustainability
  4. Providing training to advance sustainability across all sectors

2.2.2 Seven strategies for ESD

  1. Vision-building and advocacy
  2. Consultation and ownership
  3. Partnership and networks
  4. Capacity-building and training
  5. Research and innovation
  6. Use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  7. Monitoring and evaluation

Source: UNESCO (2005a).

This Policy takes into consideration these four major thrusts and seven strategies and applies them through its identified Goals, Objectives and Pillars.

Uganda, Ireland, Kenya and Sweden have applied the aforementioned recommended thrusts and strategies, and we have drawn on their experience in this document.

The UN was instrumental in framing global policies for ESD. UN forums have provided leadership, driven global cooperation, and shaped the international discourse. The UN, its organs and programmes are mechanisms for setting agendas, creating a global architecture for responses, and deploying implementation tools and mechanisms to inform and encourage broader audiences to act. Through these, the UN Member States come together to agree on common goals and objectives, and codify norms in the form of resolutions and declarations as well as conventions and treaties. Within the domain of ESD policy, the UN provided a platform for the inspiration, goal-setting and capacity support necessary to guide Member States in the development of ESD. It is in this context that UNESCO has selected Guyana as a pilot country, with support from Japan Funds in Trust, to provide this model for Education for Sustainable Development in the Caribbean Region.

2.3 Guyana’s Context and Vision for Sustainable Development

Vision: A country where everyone has the opportunity to the acquire knowledge, skills, values and attitudes necessary for a sustainable future and for positive societal transformation.

Guyana is committed in its attempt to address Education for Sustainable Development. Several agencies are engaged in the work that relates to climate change and biodiversity education. However, these efforts have not sufficiently addressed ESD since they were implemented without an existing broad-based ESD framework. This Policy creates the ESD framework that follows the UNESCO thrusts and strategies for ESD.

In 2009, Guyana made a significant attempt to address sustainable development through the launch of its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), built around the sustainable use of its forestry resources.

Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy aims to achieve two goals:

  1. ‘Transform Guyana’s economy to deliver greater economic and social development for the people of Guyana by following a low carbon development path; and
  2. Provide a model for the world of how climate change can be addressed through low carbon development in developing countries, if the international community takes the necessary collective actions, especially relating to REDD+ ‘(LCDS, 2013 p. 1)

For sustainable development to be fully appreciated and achieved, all citizens must embrace an education emphasising sustainability. Guyana’s unique natural capital is its base for sustainability and must be understood. “Guyana is a tropical country situated on the north- eastern coast of South America between one and nine degrees north latitude and fifty seven and sixty one degrees longitude. It is bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by Suriname, on the south by Brazil, and on the west by Venezuela.” ( Guyana is approximately 215,000 km2 in terrestrial area with a population of about 750,000. English is the primary language, and there are six major ethnic groups: East Indians, Europeans, Africans, Amerindians, Chinese and Portuguese.

‘Guyana has five distinct geographic regions: the Low Coastal Plain, the Hilly Sand and Clay Region, the Highland Region, the Forested Region, and the intermediate and inland Savannahs’ ( The Low Coastal Plain is predominantly clay, varying from about 8 to 65 km in width. This stretch of land is approximately 1.5 metres below sea level at high tide. It is protected from the sea by a series of earthen or boulder dams and concrete dikes (sea wall)’ (Green and Emanuel, 2007). The area supports most of the population and is used for agriculture (mainly rice and sugar cane) and other economic activities. The other geographic regions are mostly populated by the indigenous people who rely heavily on natural resources for their livelihood and sustenance. These regions also support mining (mainly for gold, diamonds, and bauxite) and logging activities.

Guyana has a diversity of natural resources. The coastal waters possess abundant fishing and shrimping grounds. With the exception of the coastal belt, all of the other regions are sparsely populated and are predominantly intact. These regions consist mainly of lush tropical forests and savannahs, with significant levels of biodiversity and minerals. Agriculture and mining are the major economic activities of the country. There is significant investment in the timber industry. Since 1994, there has also been steady expansion in the fishing, manufacturing, service, construction, mining, quarrying and tourism industries.

Most importantly, Guyana is classified as a High Forest Cover Low Deforestation (HFLD) country. Covered by approximately 85% intact forest, which acts as a carbon sink, and a small population, Guyana is a net carbon sequester. However, unsustainable practices such as illegal logging with inadequate reforestation, primitive mining and overfishing in hinterland regions must be corrected, and education for sustainable development infused. Remedial actions must be taken to educate all those responsible.

As such, Guyana sees education as both a means to and an end of our sustainable development. Education occupies a prominent role in the post-2015 development agenda, and at a national level, we must work toward the realisation of a vision where all of our citizens have equitable access to high-quality education and learning opportunities, and where education is positioned as the key intermediary through which we lay the foundation for an inclusive and socially cohesive society. (Guyana’s Budget Speech, 2015).

The formal education system of Guyana has at its lowest level early childhood education, followed by primary, secondary and tertiary (technical/vocational education and training (TVET), teacher training and university). There are 333 nursery schools, 440 primary schools and 110 general secondary schools under the management of the Ministry of Education. There are 6 Special Education Schools that cater to students with special physical, sensory and mental needs, and for others who are socially disadvantaged or in especially difficult circumstances. Guyana is divided into eleven education districts to facilitate the management of formal education by the Ministry of Education. Ten of these education districts correspond with the administrative and geographical regions of the country, while the capital, Georgetown, is treated as a separate education district. The Chief Education Officer (CEO) is the professional head of the education system. Three Deputy Chief Education Officers (DCEOs), one each of Administration, Development and Technical Education, assist the CEO. There are also four Assistant Chief Education Officers (ACEOs) with functional responsibility for nursery, primary and secondary education, and an inspectorate unit. Each ACEO functions at the national level within his or her sphere for responsibility.

The Principal Education Officer, Georgetown, and the Regional Education Officers are responsible for monitoring and supervising all educational activities within their respective education districts through the Regional Education Departments. The teams for the administration of these departments include District Education Officers. The number and types of schools that fall within the boundaries of the education districts, as well as their demographic make-up determine the number of District Education Officers assigned to a department. To mainstream ESD within the formal education system, institutional capacity building in ESD at all levels within the education system is necessary.

2.4 Current features of sustainability in Guyana’s Educational System

2.4.1 Biodiversity and Climate Change

The Ministry of Education, with international support, is engaged in piloting the infusion of climate change and biodiversity education in all levels within the school system. Conservation International – Guyana (CI-Guyana) has collaborated in the recent past with the Ministry of Education through the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD) to complete a number of strategic initiatives. These include the development of a video series on climate change and biodiversity for secondary school students (Grades 9-12); drafting a climate change and biodiversity resource book; and completion of a study for inclusion of climate change and biodiversity education at the primary level (Climate Change Education Progress Report, 2012).

In addition, UNICEF supported the development of a video on climate change titled
‘Our Earth is Heating Up? Let’s Take Action Now’ for the Nursery Level (age 3 years to 5 years nine months). Reviews by primary school teachers indicate this is also useful for the primary level (age 5 years nine months to age 11 years nine months). At the primary level, teacher training workshops targeted the use of the Inquiry Based Science Education (IBSE) approach in teaching climate change. Several IBSE lessons were developed for Grades One to Six for Science and Social Studies. These lessons are presently being piloted in sixteen primary schools throughout the country. They were developed in collaboration with technical expertise sourced through UNICEF. A recent review of the pilot has revealed the need for additional school-based training and the provision of resources to support effective lesson delivery.

The Guyana Mangrove Restoration Project (GMRP), which led to the recent formation of the Mangrove Restoration and Management Department at the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI), has collaborated with NCERD to implement the public awareness and education component of the National Mangrove Management Action Plan. This plan aims to mitigate climate change (carbon sequestration through mangrove reforestation and forest preservation) and adapt to its effects (sea defence, biodiversity). Several resources for schools on the sustainable coastal zone protection through mangroves were developed. These included a video titled “Holding Back the Sea” and a teacher’s resource manual for secondary schools in Guyana – “Mangroves: Our Natural Sea Defence”. The establishment of the Mangrove Visitors’ Centre, Victoria, East Coast Demerara, led to numerous field trips by primary and secondary school teachers and students. This is a good example of learning from the environment which bridges formal, non-formal and informal learning.

The Protected Areas Commission (PAC) has included biodiversity education in school programme tours and the nature school zoo camp. Projects include designing of a nature-based education centre within the Guyana Zoological Park and Botanical Gardens, with focus on biodiversity, environmental education and conservation. Other plans include nature paths, interpretive signing, fountains and picnic areas for families to learn about and appreciate the value of the natural environment.

Though the Ministry of Education has taken a proactive role in the infusion of climate change education with international support, one of the institutional constraints identified in the Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development Case Study of Guyana is the limited horizontal and vertical integration among and within public and private sector agencies.

2.4.2 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

‘The purpose of science in the context of sustainability is to understand and clarify the dynamics of what is required to prevent ‘the human system’ – individual and collective, physical, social, economic, cultural and psychological – from destroying the environment on which it depends (Maiteny and Parker, 2002 p. 15). ‘Technology seeks to provide instruments and means for achieving particular human aims, wants and purposes in line with the prevailing norms and values of the society concerned’ (Maiteny and Parker, 2002 p. 24). Additionally, engineering will be required in the application of scientific knowledge and to make adjustments in its operations to accommodate sustainability. Education in mathematics teaches critical thinking for addressing the issues of sustainability and making adjustments for it.

The understanding and use of the scientific method integrate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This integration is essential to the development of sustainable solutions for schools and communities. Therefore, education in the scientific method allows students to be more mindful of their lifestyles and the ways in which they contribute to issues of sustainability, while equipping them with the tools to fix this. Guyana has participated in the Sagicor Visionaries Challenge (SVC), the aim of which is to encourage secondary school students to utilise STEM, in whatever way they can, to develop effective, innovative and sustainable solutions to challenges facing their communities or schools. This is intended to stimulate national awareness and enthusiasm among secondary school students, teachers and parents as we seek to enable tomorrow’s leaders to build a more sustainable Caribbean. This approach facilitates the participation of all citizens and stakeholders in sustainable development driven through education.

The establishment of STEM clubs as “challenge labs” and experimental spaces opens up new pathways of thinking and acting, and especially invites youth to engage and lead in a multitude of ways.

2.4.3 UNESCO’s Global Micro-science Experiments Programme

One approach used by UNESCO to make a difference in science education is its Global Micro-science Experiments Programme which provides developed and developing countries alike with new teaching tools. This Global Micro-science Experiments Programme is an affordable, hands-on science education project that gives primary, secondary and tertiary education students the opportunity to conduct practical work on a micro-scale in physics, chemistry and biology, using micro- science kits that require small amounts of resources and energy. These kits are

accompanied by manuals for both teachers and students which detail the experiment procedures in clear and concise language for the most effective utilisation of the resources. The implementation of the UNESCO Micro-science Experiments Programme was intended to address the dire shortage of science laboratory space and equipment in many poor developing countries.

In 2011, Guyana was selected as a pilot country by UNESCO to implement its Global Micro-science Experiments Programme. The Micro-science Programme was merged with the Inquiry Based Science Education (IBSE) approach. IBSE mirrors the scientific method. This implementation promotes the development of competencies such as critical thinking, imagining future scenarios and decision- making in a collaborative way. This approach fits well with Education for Sustainable Development which seeks to deliver quality education and promote lifelong learning through the ESD learning pillars.

As a result of the successful implementation, Guyana’s model is being adapted and expanded with great success by other Caribbean territories such as Belize, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago.

The above initiatives in education show that Guyana has already begun to work toward Education for Sustainable Development, and thus, is not starting from a zero point with this Policy. This Policy provides the framework for the integration, expansion and monitoring and evaluation of these initiatives. As factors that influence sustainability change, Education for Sustainable Development would also require change. Monitoring and evaluation of these changes becomes vital. This process of monitoring and evaluation would identify areas for improvement which will lead to the review of this Policy for appropriateness and suitability over time.

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