Adult Education in the Formation of Environmental Consciousness of the Population. Vilnius, Lithuania.


Address of

President of International Association “Znanie”

Academician E.M. Malitikov

at the Symposium:

“The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations in the New Europe”.

07.10 – 12.10.1997, Vilnius

Topic of the discussion:

“The role of non-governmental organizations in a learning society”.

Speaker on the topic;

“Adult Education in the Formation of Environmental Consciousness of the Population”.

Dear Sirs!

My presentation aims to re-emphasize the importance of international cooperation on environmental education in the light of sustainable development, as called for in Chapter 36 of Agenda 21.

The last decade of the twentieth century has caused concern for many people about the state of the environment. This growing concern has been accompanied by a greater awareness of the problems associated with global inequalities in wealth as well as the disproportionate consumption of resources by different countries.

Until recently, our planet was a big world in which human activities and their impact on the environment did not transcend national boundaries and were confined to general problems (environmental, economic and social). But these conditional distinctions have become blurred. This applies in particular to the various global “crises. Today we are no longer talking about an isolated environmental crisis, a development crisis and an energy crisis. In our time, they are all tied together.

Humanity is faced with a global contradiction between the growing needs of civilization and the inability of the environment and, above all, the biosphere to provide for these needs.

Today there is a whole set of problems that hinder human development. One of these is the unequal distribution of world income among different segments of the population: 1/5 of the richest people on Earth have 82% of world income at their disposal, while the poorest have only 1.4%. This is happening against a background of exponential population growth. In the year 2000 it will be 10.5 billion people. This means that the population has quadrupled since 1945. At the same time, needs are growing exponentially, and resource consumption, and energy, and, of course, emissions. This is the first thing that shows the need for change.

The need for change also demonstrates that countries seeking to escape poverty and destitution see their ideal in the American way of life. But such a pattern does not stand up to criticism. When 4.8 percent of the world’s population (which is the U.S. share) use 1/3 of the world’s energy resources and create 1/2 of its pollution, this cannot go on.

The third circumstance is that mechanisms have emerged on Earth where the emergence of some cause causes the formation and amplification of so-called “manic” structures. The manic structure is easiest to understand from the example of an alcoholic who constantly increases the dosage of alcohol until he gets cirrhosis of the liver.

The second example: mankind was increasing its use of pesticides until it felt them in its drinking water.

Unfortunately, manic structures have begun to appear in such mechanisms on which the future of civilization depends. An example of this is the threat of climate change, as well as the emergence of other global problems.

All these facts cannot pass unnoticed. It has become obvious that the development of civilization within the framework of existing models and strategies has become unsustainable. There was a problem of the very possibility of existence of future generations. The question “what to do” was first raised by the Club of Rome, then the search for a way out of the crisis was continued at the Stockholm Conference of the UN in 1972, the Brundtland Commission in 1987, the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, and a series of subsequent events, in particular the European Ministerial Conference on the Environment in Lucerne in 1993.

As a result, the term “sustainable development” emerged. Sustainable development must be based on economic mechanisms that, on the one hand, lead to the efficient use of the planet’s resources and preserve the quality of the environment, and, on the other hand, satisfy the needs of people and improve the quality of life not only for the present generations, but also for future generations.

Sustainable development, without jeopardizing the very existence of future generations, must meet certain social, economic and environmental requirements.

In the socio-economic aspect it is the fight against poverty and hunger, changing the consumption pattern of natural resources, regulating population growth, preserving human health, promoting the rational development of territories, cities and settlements, international cooperation for the improvement of well-being in developing countries, considering the requirements of the environment in making social and economic decisions.

In the environmental aspect.

Sustainable development implies a wide range of measures aimed at preserving the environment and rationally using natural resources, including air and water conservation,

including protection of the atmosphere, water, forests, combating desertification and drought, conservation of biological diversity, environmentally safe use of biotechnology, safer use of toxic chemicals, and solving the problems of especially toxic radioactive and other wastes.

The first question that this raises is whether sustainable development is possible in principle. Apparently, it is possible, but it presupposes a different way of life, different behavior of people.

In fact, we are talking about the fact that a new, third revolution on Earth is ripe. The first was the agricultural revolution. It lasted tens of thousands of years, the engine was the desire of people to provide themselves with food. The second revolution was the industrial revolution. It lasted, and still lasts, a few hundred years, and it, too, has an engine, capital, and even a mechanism, the market. The transition to sustainable development and the corresponding change in our way of life will be long and will require 2-3 generations of people.

The time frame for change is so short that in fact we are talking about a kind of almost religious idea which could quickly change radically the situation on Earth and change the behavioral spirit of mankind.

So, only sustainable development is the key to humanity’s salvation. Development must first and foremost serve the interests of all humanity, not a small part of it.

To this end, human resources must be prioritized, which in a broad sense means improving the quality of life, including health, human rights, and education.

A special place is occupied by adult lifelong learning, the views on which have changed seriously at the end of the twentieth century. At the beginning of this century there was a renewal of knowledge approximately every 20-30 years and society did not feel very keenly the lack of modern knowledge. This maintained a conservative system of knowledge and education was directly tied to the state’s budget possibilities. It formed the basis of the state’s responsibility to its people for their education.

Today, knowledge is updated every six years due to the rapid acceleration of scientific and technological progress. However, the traditional education that exists in most countries of the world has not kept up with this renewal. As a result, young people, shortly after graduating from higher education, find themselves with outdated knowledge by the age of 25. The next five to six years are usually spent trying to find their place in society, and the most talented and motivated achieve leadership positions. During this period many young people spend all their energy and knowledge in order to occupy a certain social position and, having acquired it, often become leaders without modern knowledge, and some simply intellectual bankrupts in high rank.

The new generation, as a result of the imperfections of the educational system, will face the same prospect. They will be pushed to the margins of life even more quickly by the next generation of young people, saddled with more modern technologies and approaches to solving life’s problems.

Thus, a global social problem is born, which means that each previous generation is leaving life without fully utilizing its educational resource, experience, energy of creation. And this will continue as long as the education system lags behind the speed of knowledge renewal, the effective and productive time of each new generation will be reduced. Therefore, adult education is already one of the most important factors and imperatives for the sustainable development of mankind.

It is no coincidence that the European Community, in the interests of creating a united Europe, makes new demands on the future “Man of Europe. And the most important of these requirements is the creation of a new educational system for the preparation of such a person. It is not only a question of ensuring that future generations receive the same as we have, but much more and better. At the same time, the main task is to create the necessary conditions, prerequisites, laws that allow for continuing education to increase the duration of an active human life, the maximum and effective use of human experience and intellect during his whole life.

We know that in the countries of the European Community a lot has already been done to create such a system of adult education. This is, first of all, the formation in the public consciousness of the attitude to lifelong learning throughout one’s life. It is also the beginning of the process of creating a legal framework, which guarantees the equality of all types of education before the law and the right to education at any age. It is also a growing network of state and non-state educational institutions and structures that accumulate funds for educational activities.

It is these issues and discussed the World Conference on Adult Education, held in July 1997 in Hamburg under the auspices of UNESCO. The Forum was held under the theme “Adult Learning – the key to the twenty-first century.

In its Declaration, the Conference recommended that all governments adopt adult education as a public policy priority and ensure that each citizen has the opportunity to use one hour of daily working time to improve his or her education.

In one of the countries of the world school and adult textbooks do not contain this concept.

Speaking of education, first of all, it is necessary to identify those new elements that should be introduced, but which are currently missing.

The priority task of adult education, as noted in the materials of UNESCO, is to provide man with a set of knowledge and skills necessary for an active, creative and satisfying life in a modern, dynamic society. It is a lifelong development of man as a worker, citizen, individual.

Adult education is gradually internationalized, and to a greater extent than children’s and youth education. This is largely due to a certain similarity of socio-economic processes in technologically developed countries.

To date, there is a certain commonality of views on the role of adult education in achieving concerted progress of the individual and society, and approaches to comprehending the ways of its renewal. This is reflected in the shared idea of lifelong learning.

Subject of learning and cognitive activity in adult education is historically variable. It acquires more and more signs and characteristics that distinguish it from the students of childhood and adolescence. It is not the same as it was, for example, in the former Soviet Union during the eradication of illiteracy, qualitatively different requests, needs, interests.

We must recognize that the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States is still modern adult education system only makes its first steps.

The democratic changes in society and the approval of market relations in the economy in the CIS countries are accompanied, unfortunately, clearly insufficient attention of public authorities to the spiritual sphere.

But it is well known, and this is taught by historical experience, that the success of any country in overcoming critical situations is determined, first of all, by the extent to which the public consciousness is receptive to the achievements of world civilization. Only in this way it is possible to ensure an evolutionary non-violent process of progressive transformation in any state.

The main tool to provide the necessary changes in the spiritual life, undoubtedly, is a system of continuing education for adults.

Naturally, under these conditions has undergone a change and the concept of environmental education of the population.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, environmental education was understood as the study of the natural environment. By the end of this century, however, the situation had drastically changed. The growing awareness of the profound significance of the environment, as well as the importance and magnitude of its role in human life has revealed the limitations of the past view.

Nowadays, the entire educational system must be imbued with ecological content as the content of the science of home, human civilization and all other life. In this regard, the description of various kinds of cycles is of utmost importance, because the purification capacity of the Earth is based on cycles. This is known to happen according to the law of conservation of matter: nothing can be thrown away, everything will be with us, it will just pass from one form into another. And another law: the law of conservation of energy. All processes take place in an open energy system, the energy of the sun can be used in its useful part, but not completely, because necessarily some part of it will go into space in the form of dissipated heat according to the second law of thermodynamics.

The most important consequence, it is known, of the second law of thermodynamics is energy conservation. This is an enormous resource. But back to environmental education for adults.

The events of the early 1990s marked two major changes in environmental education. The constant presence of the environment in human life logically required a revision of all disciplines in the light of environmental education – not only natural sciences, like ecology, botany and zoology, with which it was traditionally associated, but also physics, chemistry, geology, social sciences, humanities, culture, etc. Now environmental education is seen and developed as an interdisciplinary subject.

Another important innovation was the inclusion of the concept of sustainable development as an ultimate goal of human-environment relationship in environmental education, without replacing the goals and objectives set for environmental education in the 70-80s, which are still relevant.

Thus, by incorporating the concept of sustainable development into the essence and interdisciplinary nature of its activities, environmental education must implement an integrated approach to effectively fulfill its role. Today, environmental education must be reoriented to systematically cover other global topics, since it is obvious that the solution of environmental problems cannot be effective and long-term if it does not simultaneously address population and development issues.

In adult education, teaching ecology falls perfectly within any specialty*’ biologist, chemist, physicist, historian, economist, etc.

But I would like to say frankly that in CIS countries we can observe a certain passive inertia of public forces in the development of environmental consciousness of the population. In this inadmissible passivity for the preservation of the environment, the fate of peoples has been almost entirely given over to politicians and bureaucracies of the CIS countries. Formally, the governments of the CIS countries have ministries and agencies to protect the environment. But this is just a formality. The voice of the public against the ecological disaster is almost inaudible in the CIS countries. There are no strong “green” public movements and parties in the Commonwealth.

At the same time, the environmental situation in most states of the Commonwealth is extremely tense. In Russia, for example, there is a decrease in life expectancy, a decrease in the birth rate, an increase in morbidity. But we know that approximately 30% of diseases, according to WHO, are caused by environmental factors. About 16% of Russia’s territory is made up of ecological disaster zones. In addition, there are many areas that are environmentally unfriendly.

At one time inefficient economy led to irrational use of natural resources. We sat down to look at night pictures of our planet from space – the brightest, brightest place on Earth, brighter than New York, Paris, Tokyo, is in Western Siberia, where associated gases are burned during oil production. Vice President A. Gore wrote that if the world wants to prevent global warming and climate change in the cheapest and fastest way possible, it must reduce oil and gas losses in Western Siberia. And one cannot but agree with this.

We in the CIS countries understand that today it is no longer enough to talk about the importance of environmental issues and environmental education for adults. What we lack for a radical change in the attitude of politicians and businessmen to the problem of environmental conservation is a well-informed public opinion, the environmental awareness of the population, both at the national and interstate levels, which would support or generate the political will of the authorities to take action aimed at preventing natural disasters or mitigating the dangers of the impact on the environment.

If we talk about such work in the CIS countries, one of the most important instruments of this activity is the International Association “Znanie”, which I have the honor to represent. This is a public non-governmental association, which includes enlightenment and educational organizations of the CIS, as well as some other countries of Europe, Asia, and America.

In the interests of formation of ecological consciousness of the population in the CIS countries the International Association “3nanie” has developed its program of ecological education of adults. The goals of this program are:

-informing people about the state of the environment in the countries and regions of their residence. Particular attention is paid to existing threats to their lives and health;

-To educate adults about the inseparable interdependence between the economic, social, cultural and ecological aspects of the environment;

-Development of new models of behavior and explanation of the moral responsibility of political and public leaders, individuals and various groups of the population for the preservation and improvement of the environment.

We, and I mean all the members of the International Association “Knowledge” in the CIS countries, use the following mechanisms of activity aimed at achieving these goals:

-sharing information between governmental and non-governmental organizations involved in the development and implementation of environmental education curricula;

-Publishing a quarterly informational and educational environmental newsletter “Contact”, which our association distributes to interested governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as educational institutions of all levels;

-Conducting international seminars within the CIS for heads and teachers of humanitarian educational institutions, as well as teachers of schools of all levels and types of education;

-Support of national scientific and educational activities on training of teachers of vocational and non-formal environmental education.

Given the magnitude and importance of the tasks of forming environmental awareness of the population in the CIS countries, we are convinced that their implementation is possible only with the consolidation of the efforts of both public structures and public authorities. That is why the leaders of the International Association “Znanie” took the initiative and made it possible to establish an Intergovernmental Committee for the Dissemination of Knowledge and Adult Education by a decision of the CIS Heads of Government early this year (1997). The first meeting of the Committee discussed the draft programme of its activity for 1997-2000 in which the first place is the drafting of a basic version of a law on continuing education.

In preparation of this law the CIS Committee will widely use the principles of UNESCO-UNEP International Environmental Education Programme and Environmental Action Programme for Central and Eastern Europe. The aim of these programs, as we know, is to achieve universal environmental literacy.

We intend to call for discussions of state bodies, general public, scientific and business communities of CIS countries with the purpose to initiate development of CIS environmental action plan (not only governmental) – a plan built on principles of integration of interests of various social layers and professional groups, ensuring of rights of ownership of natural resources and “transferring” them to “effective owner”, achievement of openness and transparency of environmental expertise procedures, establishment of stable taxation order, etc.

This program has already proven to be an effective tool for transition in a number of Central and Eastern European countries. It promotes the integration of environmental policy into the process of economic reforms, the implementation of targeted constitutional transformations, and the formation of a favorable investment climate.

That is why, with a certain assistance of the Governments of the CIS, the Committee intends to promote and initiate a dialogue between all structures involved in the development of environmental policy of each country and the CIS as a whole. This dialogue should contribute to identifying the real preferences of its participants and generate a search for the most effective and mutually beneficial solutions. Ultimately, this dialogue will contribute to the creation of an atmosphere of harmony and partnership in the society, will help to develop the environmental consciousness of the population in the CIS countries.

The implementation of our planned programs will allow to actively involve the huge intellectual potential of the CIS countries in the progressive environmental, economic and social processes on our planet. Without broad public support, it is impossible to achieve a breakthrough in the views of political leaders of the CIS countries on the problem of protecting the environment. Not only the peoples of our countries are interested in this, but all right-thinking people who understand the inseparability and interconnectedness of the world around them.

Changing the stereotypes of mankind’s thinking is the most important task of the day. This is an axiom for the UN, and it is even more true for the CIS.

In conclusion, I would like to quote UNESCO Director-General F. Majoor, who at a meeting with Russian figures in science and education stressed that “the limits of growth” arising from the limited world resources are in fact infinite, if we mean the development not of the material world, but of the spiritual world. The potential of the planet, indeed, is limited, but it will be saved by education and intelligence.