It goes without saying that Bangladesh has witnessed significant strides made towards sustainability and climate awareness in its development pursuit. Several key sectors in our country have evolved to be experts in the field of climate change and are now well-equipped to address the challenges related to the changing climate. The Government of Bangladesh has demonstrated considerable progress in establishing essential policies and regulatory frameworks to achieve climate-resilient sustainable development. Similarly, the NGOs and academia are actively generating knowledge to develop innovative and localised solutions for addressing climatic challenges at the community level. This makes Bangladesh one of the global leaders in community-based adaptation solutions.
As certain sectors become more advanced in tackling climate change, it becomes imperative to enhance the knowledge of climate change and mainstream sustainability into all sectors of society. It is time to realise that the journey towards the Sustainable Development Goals is not only for the government alone but is one that requires the support of the citizens of Bangladesh. Achieving sustainability, in terms of economic prosperity, social inclusivity, and environmental safeguarding, is a collective responsibility.
Education sector garners a pivotal role in catalysing the minds for the journey ahead - by equipping the next generation with competencies and skills essential for a changing world influenced by dynamic climatic conditions. The educational landscape in Bangladesh is now undergoing a profound transformation where sustainability is becoming one of the core components in many academic institutions, especially universities, aiming to secure a place on the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. Specific courses or modules dedicated to environmental education have also gained popularity in schools and early education, followed by practical exposure through hands-on learning and outside-the-classroom activities such as field trips. Despite these efforts, only a handful of educational institutions and organisations are actively integrating sustainability, calling for a collective effort to make sustainability education a standard practice across the nation.
Standardising and mainstreaming sustainability in education remains a challenge for Bangladesh, where qualified educators, finances, and technology remain major constraints, but offers the opportunity to work towards building a conscious society. To identify the way forward in standardising sustainability education in Bangladesh, a round-table discussion was held at the 6th CSD Annual Conference on Sustainable Development in October 2023, bringing together various representatives to start an inclusive dialogue among diplomats, NGOs, INGOs, educational start-ups and businesses, teacher trainers and educators from national and international educational institutions.
According to the discussants, while environmental knowledge is a fundamental tool, the curriculum must extend beyond it. The intention of integrating innovative and holistic approaches to sustainability education is to ensure that the knowledge gained in classrooms will be transformed into real-time actions. It becomes crucial to integrate development of behavioural traits, where the students can learn and develop a genuine sense of ownership rather than feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility. Character development emerges as a vital component, instilling values of empathy, and respect for the environment and society.
The famous Japanese tradition offers a great example - Japan's pristine cleanliness stems not just from knowledge but from ingrained habits and values from school. The practice of cleaning and keeping their classrooms clean nurtures a sense of ownership and emphasises that caring for the environment is a shared endeavour. In this case, students are not only passive learners but active contributors in this shared responsibility.
Different strategies can be employed to enhance social and behavioural competencies among children. Live experiences, exposure to nature, incorporating stimulation of imagination and creativity, and literary and performing arts - all can be used to build a connection with nature. In an ever-changing world influenced by climate change, it is essential that the students are learning the skills of tomorrow. These skills can be adaptable to the unpredictable nature of climate change, technological skills to adjust to new developments, or critical thinking skills to analyse and address complex environmental issues. Climate change may also present ethical dilemmas at times, requiring the future generation to possess the capacity to make ethically sound decisions.
Beyond classroom walls, the community plays a pivotal role. Focusing on skills development needs a collaborative approach to bridge the gap in resources, expertise, and funding from external organisations or businesses. Similarly, reaching out to the parents will ensure that the lessons from the classroom are also resonating in their homes, creating a holistic environment of sustainability.
Educators can help foster a sense of empathy and responsibility towards the environment for future generations, but this requires training and support as well. Providing comprehensive support to educators, such as capacity building in classroom management, effective communication, and creating a positive learning environment, can significantly improve the effectiveness of the lessons. However, a more controlled teacher-student ratio along with the cultivation of sustainability skills among educators themselves needs to be established before imparting knowledge to students.
With the aim to nurture sustainable minds through education, inequality in accessing education still remains a challenge based on gender, poverty, or living in underdeveloped and climate-vulnerable regions of the country. According to the National SDG 4 Strategic Framework addressing quality education, Bangladesh is working on establishing a standardised education system, ensuring free and compulsory education for all children while aligning with their educational and societal needs. However, a standardised environmental or sustainability- education curriculum is about building a future generation - not just to merely equip them with knowledge but with deep-rooted values attuned with the principles of sustainability. As we embrace broader educational practices and holistic approaches, we can collectively foster the skills and mindset to make sustainability a way of life for future generations.
Sameera Zaman is a lecturer and research associate at the Centre for Sustainable Development (CSD), University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB). She can be reached at [email protected]
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