Science Education and Sustainable Development

By Mayor Zaragoza, Federico | UNESCO Courier, November 1997 | Go to article overview
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Science Education and Sustainable Development


Mayor Zaragoza, Federico, UNESCO Courier


The eve of a new millennium is an appropriate moment for UNESCO and other international organizations to reflect on their missions and the challenges that lie ahead.

Education for all remains the foundation for the achievement of sustainable human development. Basic education will continue to be an absolute priority, as it forms the essential first step towards further learning and plays a critical role in the shaping of values and the development of other necessary life skills. For this reason we must ensure that we enter the next millennium equipped and determined to "reach the unreached" - the world's 850 million adult illiterates and the over 200 million children still deprived of the right to education.

Education means mastering one's own destiny; it means personal sovereignty. It is the key to a genuine participatory democracy, which is closely related to development and peace. It is not just about knowledge; it is also about learning to do, learning to be and above all learning to live together. Education and teachers have an ethical function that must never be forgotten. In this connection, I should like to insist that while a market economy may be acceptable, a market society most certainly is not. What matters is not whether the market is free, but whether people are free.

A continuing process

Education can no longer be regarded as a one-chance affair. It must be seen as a continuing process whereby people are offered learning opportunities at a number of times throughout their lives. This "lifelong" and "life-wide" education for all demands the diversification and expansion of structures, and a better linkage between general and vocational education. It also implies the development of alternative educational opportunities and delivery systems, both formal and informal.

The role and functions of higher education systems and institutions need to be re-examined in the light of the profound transformations occurring in society today. Too often, the model of higher education we see in both the developing and industrialized countries involves an acceptance of old, inappropriate models that have remained largely impermeable to economic, cultural and social needs. We need also to reflect on Article 26.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that "higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit". Yes, merit and merit alone must be the criterion; and once this criterion is satisfied, there should be no limits - of means, age or sex - to access. Higher education must be universally available throughout life to all those who can benefit from it.

Secondary education must be treated as a level in its own right, not simply a means to placing students at the door of the university. Some of the most crucial needs in the educational system as a whole involve summoning individuals of all ages to such modestly paid but highly important work as primary and secondary school teaching. Secondary education must be recognized as pivotal to any education system.

A new strategy for science education

Science education is a key component of all education systems. The unprecedented growth in scientific knowledge and the dramatically increased complexity of this knowledge, together with an ever-increasing demand for high quality, constitute a challenge for science educators at all levels. How to introduce science and its breathtaking advances into limited curricula frameworks, what should be the correct balance between education in the basic sciences and the environment, and the interconnection of science education with education in technology - these are just some of the questions for which answers need to be found. Science education can, of course, only be satisfactory if account is taken of the cultural background and ethical implications of scientific progress.

The universities bear the great intellectual responsibility of identifying new strategies to promote science education and science teacher training, as well as setting and maintaining high professional standards in education for scientific research.

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