Early Childhood Education for Sustainability (ECES)
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 29, 1) agreed that all children have a right to education and it is in the early years (birth to age 8) that children have the greatest capacity to learn. It is also in early childhood that the foundations of many of our fundamental attitudes and values (including those related to sustainable development) are first put into place. The essence of sustainable development is widely understood as equity towards future generations (Speth, 2008), and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a subject centrally concerned with achieving individual ‘freedom’ and ‘capability’ (Amartya Sen, 1999) along with commitments to intercultural respect and a recognition of global interdependence. It is therefore essential that the quality and access to Early Childhood Education for Sustainability (ECES) is expanded globally to achieve Sustainable Development (SD), and to foster an environmental resilience that is based upon the development of children’s independent and critical thinking, setting foundations for the development of the courage that will enable them eventually to lead a life characterised by self respect, respect for others, and a respect for the environment.
In compiling the following general international recommendations for the development of policies and practice with regard to ECES we respect the need to adopt different practical priorities in the ESD in different cultural contexts and the need to combine and promote educational provisions for indigenous knowledge along side (and on at least equal footing with) any provisions for education for economic development:
To develop and transform the informal and formal curriculum in ECE contexts (at all levels) through the establishment of collaborative research projects. The projects should provide a fundamental challenge to the current dichotomies of rich and poor, north and south, and gender difference; seeking to protect and to celebrate biological and human diversity and environmental balance, while countering inequality between and within countries. In order to build upon the successes of the past these projects should be transdisciplinary, accepting and ‘embracing’ the complexities of achieving ECES. As far as possible the projects should also involve both international collaborations that contribute towards intercultural understanding and a wider recognition of mutual interdependency, and also involve local collaborations that provide access to, and a greater visibility of, community contributions and cultural heritage.
To develop a broad based global alliance and international community of ECES practitioners, informal and formal teacher educators, policy-makers and researchers. The establishment of such a community is considered necessary to support the management and distribution of central resources, and to provide (online and traditional paper based) facilities to support international dialogue and the exchange and diffusion of local experiences of ECES practitioners and children who are working in close collaboration with their local communities. The identification and sharing of good practice across NGO’s and national and international agencies is considered vital to the development of ECES. While these activities might be organised at a national or regional level through existing professional associations, it is considered important, in the interests of capacity building and sustainability, that projects that are developed in any one sector (e.g. in teacher education, pre-school settings etc.) should be recognised as having the potential to influence others. International collaboration is also important because the actions that we take for sustainable development inevitably have an effect on other contexts. This is especially true in majority world countries where the lives of young children are often shaped by the decisions made in wealthier minority world countries.
To develop approaches that engage children in ‘real life experiences’ of problem solving and solution seeking that are of relevance to economic, environmental, and social sustainable development. These provisions are required if we are to support the development of environmental resilience in young children, and to lay adequate foundations for the kind of active and responsible citizenship conceived of above. Research suggests that the single most important influence in promoting environmental awareness and concern is childhood experience in the ‘outside environment’. But this does not necessarily lead to pro-environmental behaviours, these often seem to be the result of early contact with enthusiastic and knowledgeable adults who involve children directly in their efforts towards sustainability. We also know from research that even very young children are capable of sophisticated thinking in relation to environmental issues and that the earlier ECES ideas are introduced the greater the impact can be.
To develop and promote ECES frameworks, approaches and practices that are strong on community participation, ‘indigenous community knowledge’, and ‘everyday and immediate issues’ related to sustainable development. We are aware that good practices that integrate indigenous knowledge, sustainable living practices, basic human rights and learning through experience and doing do exist in many community early years provisions including those in rural Africa. But these practices remain largely undocumented and there is therefore a need to promote the practices of settings adopting ECES practices. One way in which this may be achieved is by encouraging ECE settings to identify themselves as; “responding to the challenges of Early Childhood Education for Sustainability (ECES)”.
If you share our commitment to the principles outlined above, one very concrete and immediate action that you might wish to take as an individual in response would be to seek the revision of any code of conduct that your own professional association might have (or propose the development of a code of conduct) to incorporate these actions. Further information related to the ongoing development of ECES and related to these recommendations will be posted at (web page?)
Julie Davis, Ingrid Engdahl, Lorraine Otieno, Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson, John Siraj-Blatchford and Priya Vallabh