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Sustainability Education Meets Development in West Africa

Our starting point is the Ocean. It provides every second breath we take, it absorbs much of the CO2 human activities release into the atmosphere and thus has helped so far to stabilise our climate, it provides us with food, recreation and much more.

But as we know, the ocean is under siege as the rest of our planet. The three major threats are overfishing, climate change and pollution. Overfishing has many implications, the biggest is the eradication trend of all big animals in the ocean, which leads also to profound changes in the way marine ecosystems are structured and work. We are systematically killing more animals than marine ecosystems can regenerate in a year. It's like taking the capital out of the bank instead of living off the interest. Not a sustainable strategy.

Climate change comes in the form of warming beyond what particularly tropical marine species can endure and has already led to mass mortality in corals e.g. in the Andaman Sea in Asia. Along with warming comes reduced oxygen content, another reason why fish and other gill-breathing animals are moving polewards. Otherwise they would suffocate. Last but not least, acidification threatens all marine plants and animals with calcareous skeletons. So, we observe thinnning of the external shells of molluscs. Planktonic algae with calcareous or silica shells (external skeletons) also find it harder to keep their bodies together.

Sounds like a double whammy? It is. Add pollution and you see why we really need to be concerned, whether we live directly on the coast or not. Pollution comes in several forms, overfertilisation and marine litter are currently the ones with highest impact. Overfertilisation (or eutrophication in technical terms) of coastal zones from agricultural run-off and untreated municipal and industrial waste water is increasing the number and extension of dead zones in the ocean - more than 220 hot spots at a recent count. Marine litter has become a global problem too.

Against this backdrop, Mundus maris has been working for the last few years on making the science accessible to non-specialists by engaging also with the arts across a wide cultural spectrum. Investing in public awareness, contributing to education and supporting teachers and schools have been a core activities. Building on local knowledge to connect to people is one of the principles in doing so.

The presentation "Sustainability education meets development in West Africa" by a Mundus maris composed of Margareth Hammer, Cornelia E Nauen and Aliou Sall was given in one of the sessions of the EADI Working Group "Global Education Meets Development". The abstract goes like this:

"According to UNESCO, key indicators of the right to education are weakest in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to other regions in the world. Teacher to pupil ratios are poor in several countries and drop out rates average 40%. Education starts at home, yet the school in Sub Saharan Africa is the basic center of attention for pupils and their families and often the (only) visible sign that there are some services provided by the State. For generations, especially in West Africa, the expression “TEACHER SAID” was the ultima ratio. It still is a guide for different messages discussed at home and raising the curiosity of local communities, thus creating bottom up development. Strengthening sustainability education under these circumstances poses particular challenges. Sustainability education is here understood to encompass notions usually associated with global education, but further enriched by attention to greater awareness and protection of the environment, nurturing solidarity within a setting and internationally, and to local culture. From our experience in development projects the involvement of teachers as multipliers and change agents was most effective on sanitation issues and on gender. The environmental aspects focus on sustainable use of renewable resources and transgenerational, lifelong learning. Both induced or aim at inducing behavioural changes.

Here, we report on work with local partners towards greater awareness about sustainability and the linkage of institutionalised curriculum development in West Africa with applied, local accompanied learning/education in pilot schools. The paper does away with conventional understanding of development as a 'North-South' issue and is informed by understanding that especially sustainable development applies potentially to all countries and focuses on greater distributional justice supported, among others, by the right to education. We point to the similarity of the principles underlying educational and development activities for different age groups, but also the need for nuanced and site-specific adaptation to achieve critical engagement. The paper concludes with proposals for action research to take the field practice to the next level in the light of new educational priorities adopted at the recent Regional Coastal and Marine Forum in West Africa."

Among the case material presented to illustrate how principles and practice can be gainfully combined was one from the development side and one focused on supporting education for sustainability. The development project was about the introduction of improved Fante ovens in the FAO-Shenge project in Sierra Leone in the 1980s after the women fish processors tested different designs and chose the one that best fit their socio-economic and technical needs. The example on education summarised the more recent collaboration in pilot activities with FAO - EAF Nansen Project to introduce the ecosystem approach to fisheries and the follow-up ensured by Mundus maris afterwards. A workshop in Senegal last year illustrated how far the collective learning had come and highlighting also what the aspirations were for further activities.

The paper was well received and triggered numerous discussions, not only with participants in the working group session but also throughout the conference. Click here to see the ppt. The full paper is here.

The conveners of the four sessions under the responsibility of the Working Group, Matt Baillie Smith, Director of the Northumbria Centre for International Development, UK, and Amy Skinner of CONCORD in Belgium, had skillfully designed the programme to facilitate mutual learning. The other very interesting contributions in this first session were about

  • "Decentralised cooperation" between municipalities and many other local actors in Italy, the Balkans and Mozambique presented by Sara Franch of the Training Centre for International Cooperation in Trento, Italy,
  • "Global Professional Learning Communities" presented by Cathryn MacCallum and Insiya Salam of Sazani Associates in the UK and Zanzibar respectively, and
  • "Upper Middle-Class, Mobility, Global Citizenship and Development: A Case Study from Transmigrants in Brussels", selected findings from Cécile Giraud's PhD research at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.

Only one session in the conference had fisheries-related topics as an explicit theme. It focused on comparisons in fisheries related conflicts between South Africa and Southern India. 

How to live in sustainable ways and the necessary investment in citizenship and institutions that can mediate rebuilding natural endowments and living in tune with nature and one another ran like a thread through all these discussions.

The last session of the working group "Global Education meets Development" explored the challenges on the road to trying to develop a global civil society and how relationships were changing between established NGOs and new movements. International solidarity was one of the watchwords, but also the realisation that local citizenship and engagement for more sustainable living everywhere were a prerequisite for international cooperation on equal footing.