The Education Working Group (EWG) meeting at the last ECEN Assembly acknowledged that only transformative education will enable the human community to meet the challenge of the global ecological crisis. As stated in the CEC Report of the Spring European Council which approved the EU's integrated energy and environment strategy, â€œWithout a change of mind and heart, technological solutions or political negotiations to protect the climate will not achieve their goalsâ€. The EWG highlighted three levels of church life where such transformative education could be promoted:
- in the life of local congregations,
- in the engagement of church leaders with those shaping educational policy and strategy,
- and in the training of future church leaders.
As a contribution to this last, a conference was held in cooperation with the International Baptist Theological College (IBTS) in Prague last August, a college which is attempting to develop and live as an eco-seminary. The outcome is a booklet, The Place of Environmental Theology: A Guide for seminaries, colleges and universities to be published this summer jointly by the Whitley Trust, UK, and the IBTS. It draws heavily on UK experience, but also incorporates examples and perspectives contributed by the participants from other parts of Europe, east and west.
The EWG also pointed to the potential of engagement with events and initiatives associated with the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DSED). Again, this can take place at different levels of formal and non-formal education. For instance, at the level of Higher Education. In early 2007 there was a first international meeting, in Amsterdam, on 'Implementing Education for Sustainable Development in Higher Education Institutions' under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). In a paper 'Cultural Shift or Accommodation ? A snapshot of education for sustainable development in English higher education', Stephen Sterling and Bill Scott, two of the UK participants, conclude that there remains confusion about the difference between merely accommodating issues of sustainability in curricular content on the one hand, and on the other EfSD as a more holistic response involving continual change (including pedagogic change and renewal, interdisciplinarity and appropriate policies at the level of the institution). Theology and Religious Studies have an important contribution to make to the understanding and encouragement of this more holistic response involving cultural change.
One way in to this is through the Regional Centres of Expertise (RCE) for EfSD which are becoming one of the major thrusts of the DESD programme. These are networks of existing formal and non-formal education organisations, with a core aim to contribute to the transformation of current education and training systems in order to meet local / regional goals of sustainable living and livelihood. The churches could enter into very fruitful partnerships through these RCEs. More detail is given on the website of the United Nations University: www.ias.unu.edu (go to Education for Sustainable Development and then RCEs).
Ruth Conway, ECEN Education Group leader