Next year, the World Economic Forum will turn 50. An interesting fact when you juxtapose it with the fact that according to the WWF the earth has lost over 50% of its biodiversity in the last 50 years. Each year the leaders that meet at Davos discuss global risks and yet it appears we have not been able to address what is now the number one risk for humanity, ‘Extreme weather events’ due largely to climate change. Why one might ask, has the ‘Davos Man’ failed to address this? Is it because extreme weather events are likely to impact the under privileged disproportionately? The question remains, how can we address this paradox?
I have now been to Davos on and off for 15 years and the one question that has always been at the top of my mind is, “How can we take the ideas that are discussed at Davos and bring it to the average person?”.
Could classrooms hold the key? After all, it is in classrooms that 3 billion young minds are being shaped today. “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children.”
So it might seem obvious that youth under 25 around the world, and in particular those who are still in school should both influence and be influenced by the conversations at Davos. Yet, I see a huge disconnect. School teachers and curricula continue to use outdated methods, that leave students with an inadequate understanding of the global village we live in. In my interactions in classrooms around the world, I have often found that not even in the most well resourced schools in the most developed countries of the world are teachers able to grasp and communicate this new reality. Why is this the case?
There are many reasons why. It is a fact that most senior teachers today went to teacher training schools 20-40 years ago,
precisely the time frame during which the world has been changing at a rate greater than ever before. For instance, like many of us, even our teachers are driven by the media and politics, that highlight the migration challenges without an in-depth analysis of the role of developed economies. Many in these developed economies believe, problems such as human migration and the poverty that many ex-colonies find themselves in, are self inflicted. Teachers and media alike are quick to highlight issues of equity, corruption, poor governance etc. as the fundamental reasons behind the economic challenges faced by these societies. They are wrong.
In my panel discussion on “Collaboration for better education”, I stressed the need to ‘educate’ youth in developed nations on the devastating economic and environmental impact of two centuries of indiscriminate industrialisation, coupled with crushing colonialism. Unfortunately this part of history is often conveniently glossed over while highlighting the ‘scientific revolution’. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Poverty is the worst form of violence”, but we continue to inflict it on on those that live the most sustainable lifestyles on the planet. The ‘mission civilizatrise’ failed to acknowledge the wisdom of ancient cultures, that managed resources sustainably. This wisdom now needs to be used to educate the ‘developed’ world to mitigate the biggest risk we face today.
We need to work hard to make sure that sustainable development goals or SDG’s become not merely something our children hear about, but transform our education systems to make the SDG’s the very purpose of education.
The goal of sustainability cannot be achieved by addressing environmental risks alone. Without addressing income inequality, migration, gender equity and a host of other issues true sustainability cannot be achieved. All risks are deeply interconnected and the solution lies in a holistic approach. Only then, can we expect things to change not just for our next generation, but for generations to come.