Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Education for Sustainable Development : TV Interview

(Part One)

We're going to meet with Gihan Soliman and she's an educational expert. She's going to talk to us about the relationship between education and sustainable development and she's going also to tell us about what's called cross curricular activities.
You are an educational consultant and you previously talked to us about the importance of connecting education to sustainable development, could you elaborate more on that and tell us about the relationship between sustainable development and education.

Alright, education is the key for sustainable development as the UNESCO declared 2000.
Sustainable development is a pattern of economic growth that takes the protection of environment into consideration, to fulfill the needs for the current generation, and also to preserve the rights to the natural resources for the coming generations, which is the "sustainability".
Speaking on the economy, you should also take into consideration the biodiversity, the protection of the living organism on earth , the natural protectorates that we have now, the natural resources, the water pollution, the clean energy and issues like that. Now if you exclude that while educating kids; what are you teaching them? are you teaching them pure science?

Which they already sometimes hate !

 Well they usually do ! well as a kid.. why am I studying the periodical table? why  am I studying all this science? why am I studying math? and the answer usually is to get high scores to qualify for college; to get a good job, but not the joy and the pleasure of studying and practicing science and adding (value) to the community. and here is my point of view - and it's (the concept) not new! The new is that I'm coordinating for it; I'm taking action! I'm calling people to get together to fulfill this vision. So while we're teaching our kids we need to relate the information we're teaching to the real life and to (the) protection of (the) environment. If we don't protect …. Well, the common notion is that the care for environment is for the sophisticated people, the well-educated, and the cultured but actually as I told you it relates directly to the economy. I mean if you take the coral reefs, one square kilometer of coral reefs will have yield of 15 tons of sea food if you're talking about the animals in the zoo how much they get to the economy, let aside the tourism, the eco–tourism , the water, if you're discussing the availability of fresh water to the rich to the poor and everybody; so again it gets back to the economy. So it's not a sophisticated need although it relates also to value of beauty (aesthetics)*, the green color, the blue, the sand, the color(s) of nature; we need to see beautiful things around, that's a right too, but if we're taking priorities, we're discussing economy! We're talking about green economy, if we don't make the educational reform required for sustainable development,  we're gonna soon lose independence  and I'm not talking about armed forces and weapons and everything .. well, at a time, a shirt treated with the Nano-technology will be able to pick waves, record conversation and take pictures, how are we gonna deal with that! I mean the owners of this technology whether nations or organizations or regimes or whatever are going to be able to rule the world, we're just gonna buy our food. So if we do not stop now and head for change and aim for educational reform, we're gonna lose everything and this is gonna be very soon.

(Part Two)

This is very important point that you're raising and perhaps it relates to the issue of quality criteria or standards introduced by some universities and schools in recent years but actually, most teachers and university professors have complained that the quality criteria or standards are not real, are not actual just something you need to do on paper to get approval for or certified or whatever, is this true?

OK, I would say yes! And I hope no one gets mad at me! I went through the experience of being a reviewer with the National schools then I quit, I'm telling you as everybody else says, it's getting into a compilation of papers and files, at one of those schools I saw the kids were made to "sit in groups" ALL THE TIME . I mean they had to turn like that to be able to see the board. They wanted to fulfill the standards, sorry to meet the standards and fulfill the criteria for accreditation by obeying blindly what is written on the paper so that was – I asked - that was "cooperative learning"! Well I tried to explain that cooperative learning needs to take some part of the time. Kids are being tortured by being made to sit like that! So again, the problem is - speaking scientifically - the standards are built on basis of the American Standards. The translated standards 2007 were the basis for the national quality standards and you know they're totally two different systems. The American system is not related to the government and there are no national curriculum.. there is "standards"; "national standards" but not a national curriculum, so if you wanna do the same here and apply the same standards here, it's disastrous. So what happens is that the people at those schools are just trying to satisfy those reviewers. They will get those files done, well written - the Egyptians are very good at that - writing files and reports, but actually it's not happening; "quality education" is not happening, because quality will fulfill the students' needs to learn what is useful for their lives and their future(s) . It takes curriculum relevance! Which is not happening. The curriculum relevance is not happening!

Why isn't it not happening? Do we need more coordination among ministries, governmental agencies the ministries of the ministries of educations and other ministries?

Of course we do ! Of course we do; because this is how curricula are designed, usually either by translation of foreign books or by exporting foreign books themselves like in the international schools, the textbooks are ready made for you so why look here and there, at the same time the information need for the teachers to relate this curriculum to the environment are not there, databases are not available, we do not know for example how many living organisms are there in Egypt! The map is not available and each authority is presenting its own information separately so together they don't make sense and no one is linking all these things together, and so the next step is as you said is for coordination, for the availability of information, for getting all the powers together but before everything we need to have a unified vision towards reform.
And who's responsible for drafting this vision? Is it our responsibility us as citizens, the government, who?
Well we need to push as citizens for this to happen but when it happens it takes everybody, decision makers as I told you before it takes the experts, the educational experts  whether in the national system or the international system, it takes the community itself; it takes the people to know that change needs to happen and how this change is going to happen.

Part 3
….. how can you work on taxonomy for example if you do not know the history of the scientists who made this taxonomies through the ages, so you're studying history and at the same time you're studying science. Again there is the nano-technology. There is the nano science and the technology they get together to form the nano-technology. You get the laser for example and how it affects everything, like saving the cultural heritage for example. So we have to start practicing the cross-curricular activities with a certain theme that relates to the environment protection again, like for example, if you take water as a theme  or water pollution then the social studies teacher will be talking about the River Nile, the water in Egypt and the international treaties related to this subject, and then the chemistry teacher will be talking about purifying water techniques, and then the biology teacher can be talking about taking samples of water, examining the water in the lab and then the whole theme gets together and the students know how to make use of the information they're toiling (for) and exerting efforts to learn and to memorize.

I believe one important thing is raising awareness and you have told us that you lead several awareness campaigns to raise awareness among children tell us more about it.

Well to be honest, we participated in campaigns, we did not do it (all) on our own, because in a campaign if you're not along, you're not heard well, so we participated in campaigns with other NGOs like Balady Port Said and the Community Service NGO in St. Kathrine. We were asking for the elimination of water pollution especially in Port Said area because the pollution there is huge. It's a very serious issue there and people are getting really sick. Fish are dying. We're losing the treasures of fisheries there and so we made a campaign .. we called it Egypt's Waters Warriors and we published that in an international paper in Macedonia and we keep reporting water problems in Egypt as part of our campaign, we were with children at the schools and adults and everybody in the street asking or calling that "Our Environment is Our Life"

We were earlier chatting about what happened after the revolution regarding education could you tell us something about it ?

Well as I told you, the revolution is now calling for change and people are ready for change, the problem is that it takes a lot of coordination as I told you ( would you remind me of?..)

We were talking about exactly, coordination among several entities and you said that this started to happen after the revolution in a way that did not exist before.

Now we have the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, the support of the Ministry of Environment through individuals like the head of the training unit in the Agriculture Ministry, not through protocols and formalities but they are supporting us, they attend our forums and meetings, they will speak in our conference and we need the support of the Ministry of Education, we are ready for providing training. Before; we were focused on building the model, I mean if you're talking about a vision that people cannot see, then you're doing nothing; you're wasting time and effort! The focus was to build the model. We worked with schools that asked for our consultancy. We worked with them and built that model and we documented everything those events for two years (World Water Day, the activities, the cross-curricula activities, and we made forums for raising awareness; about food security, about healthy food, about nano-technology, even scientific illustration: we were giving free workshops by a prominent scientific illustrator, and so we make that as a model and then the next step is cooperating with the different ministries and as I told you we need to "recycle human resources" not to start from scratch, to customize these curricula instead of building them up from scratch, we don't need that because the pure science is there, the information, the knowledge
We don't need to re-invent the wheel!

That's true, we are not re-inventing the wheel. We are not coming up with something new, we're just coordinating for reform, we have the experts that when (they) sit together they're able to build the model that everybody needs (curricular design) and we are ready for training teachers, we do that already but I mean  with the national teachers, with the national school teachers; we would do that .

Do you coordinate with local agencies like the national council for motherhood and childhood? Do you coordinate with the Ministry of Trade and Foreign investment? We need to prepare the kids for the future so what kind of coordination?

Yes you're right about the authorities that you've mentioned as being part of the change, but we have not dealt with them yet. But the conference is a call for coordination and we are going to call everybody, just everybody who is concerned, and I guess - like - all authorities are concerned if we're changing the educational system and raising the awareness of the people, we need everybody, and they need us too as representing the community. And so we're making the call just for everybody and the outcome of the conference will be information for everybody. Open source; a website that has the input of the experts when they sit together and start working together and also the school will create model lessons and we're gonna train them (here in Egypt), it's going to be for free but we're not gonna  be able to reach for other countries in the region right now, but they are being called to attend as well. So we're gonna offer a training the teachers are going to able to create, and the students as well will be able to create databases about places in Egypt and the Arab region where students can go and learn things about the environment and the cultural heritage, you have place in Egypt …. Someone told me that he made a Google search on the museums and they were like 6000 and most of them are for free, now do we have a map for that? we don't !! Do we have a map that would help teachers to relate science to biodiversity? We don't !! So this is what we need to come up with at this conference and this can only be the start. We don't know how people are going to respond but it can be the beginning and we're gonna go on with it, and again we do it as self-sustainable (project). Well if we get fund fine, if we don't then it's (still) going to go on because it is held by the concerned people and stakeholders, people with interest in making Egypt a better place and making the region a better area for us.

Ms. Gihan Sami Soliman, educational consultant and president of International – Curricula Educators Association, thank you very much.

Thank you that was my pleasure. 

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