LETTER | The pandemic has created the largest disruption of the education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents. Closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94 percent of the world's student population, and up to 99 percent in low and lower-middle-income countries (United Nations, Policy Brief: Education during Covid-19 and beyond).
Last year, the UN secretary-general António Guterres called upon governments to "build back better" after the crisis, including our learning systems. With the closure of schools, the pandemic has exposed disparities in education, flaws in remote learning, the digital divide, cost, and the essential role schools play in student health and wellbeing.
The pandemic has also shown a clear manifestation of our broken relationship with nature. It has highlighted the deep interconnection between nature, human health, and wellbeing and how unprecedented biodiversity loss threatens both people and the planet's health.
Given that education is the main driver of progress across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to ensure what people learn is genuinely relevant to their lives and the planet's survival.
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is recognised as a model to achieve SDGs as it re-evaluates what, where and how we learn. It cultivates the skills, knowledge, values and attitudes that encourage learners to make informed decisions and actions on global issues such as climate change.
ESD also teaches us the beauty and importance of interconnection between nature and beings, exposes the issues and challenges of nature and how it affects human beings, promotes relevant skills and appropriate or differentiated behaviours, and drives us to seek options and alternatives to evolve within the principle of sustainability continuously.
The world needs better education to deal and manage with the growing concerns over a healthy planet at all levels. Young people are the leaders, voters, decision-makers and consumers who will inherit the human-made system and the world from the current generation. The right education system and its consequential impacts need constant re-evaluation to address future crises like Covid-19.
This year marks the 10 th anniversary of the ESD programme in WWF-Malaysia. Over the years, we have engaged with thousands of students to create champions of sustainability. Through various initiatives, we strive to build a generation of young leaders who understand that humanity's health depends on nature's wellbeing. They are exposed to critical thinking, anticipating future scenarios, and collaboratively making decisions - competencies that matter in a time of crisis.
Our education should focus beyond providing basic skills and knowledge. It should encourage people to think, innovate, and propel actions for the world and humanity. The problems that we create today can only be solved if we recognise it as a problem with solutions at the local and global levels. ESD empowers learners to transform not only themselves but also their communities. We should take this opportunity to mainstream ESD on a mass scale to improve our learning system to build a world in which humans live in harmony with nature.
SOPHIA LIM is executive director/CEO of WWF-Malaysia.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.