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Promoting “Education for Sustainable Development” in Rural Areas Is Necessary and Urgent


Since the end of the last century, the countryside has paid a great price for the economic development. The problem of unsustainable development has become increasingly prominent. The rapid and huge changes have happened in the vast rural areas of China: the problems, such as rapid economic growth, excessive production and consumption, poverty eradication and poverty differentiation, have become arduous; the environmental problem has also become more and more serious. Besides, problems, such as air pollution, water pollution, garbage disposal, land desertification, soil erosion, drought, floods, agricultural pollution, food safety, etc. have become the main problems that have concerned people; cultural diversity and biology diversity have disappeared sharply; social problems, such as empty-nest Family, education, old-age care and village governance in rural areas, are increasingly prominent.

The inheritance of countryside culture faces the problem of “three NOs”: no heritage, no actors, and no audience. When talking about countryside culture, people would say,: must we cultivate land with bull and donkey as before? When talking about culture, people would associate with singing and dancing. As a matter of fact, the cultural contents are very rich, including our values, beliefs, poetry, philosophy, which exist everywhere. When we turn culture into singing and dancing, and turn everything into the things for tourism, even if we inherit the culture, we lose our spirit. China has thousands of years of rich culture. Since the ancient time, the ancient people have advocated hard work and thrift, and respected nature as well as the unity of nature and mankind, which have been very significant contents of the Chinese culture. These are all conducive to sustainable development. However, there are often misinterpretations in practice, such as focusing only on the development of economy and neglecting others; paying attention to the needs and participation of rich and influential families and ignoring those of the women, the elderly and children, who constitute the main population of the rural areas; current countryside culture emphasizes on external forms with disregard to its nuance and profoundness; the urbanization education thought of leaving the country and leaving the homeland further increases the gap between urban and rural areas, making it hard for the rural areas to truly cultivate the talents needed by the national society. The rural areas are lacking of talents and can’t retain talents.

These phenomena are not only the special phenomena of China, and they exist worldwide. Or it is like what teacher Wen (Tie Jun) just said, on the path of capitalist development, the whole world faces the same problem. Development led by things,by constantly making more things,by accumulating capital, by expanding profits, is not sustainable. It has been

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the common interests of all the human beings. I have been to a lot of places at home and abroad. There are always people who wonder how they can be concerned about the environment and sustainable development when there is not enough food for them to eat. The economy is of course significant. However, it doesn’t mean that we don’t need the economy while seeking development, but that the economy is definitely not the only indicator. The 2013 “Hangzhou Declaration” pointed out that “development is not just the single economic development, but a means for human beings to obtain more wisdom, emotion, morality and spiritual satisfaction.”

In 2015, under the Millennium Development Goals, the 193 member states of the United Nations formally adopted 17 sustainable development goals at the summit, which aimed at comprehensively dealing with the social, economic and environmental development issues from 2015 to 2030 in an integrated manner so as to turn to the path of sustainable development.

In 2017, the reports of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China pointed out that the issue of agricultural and rural peasants was a fundamental issue concerning the national economy and the people’s livelihood. It was necessary to always taking the problem solving of “agriculture, rural areas, and rural residents” as the top priority of the work of the whole party and implement the strategy of rural revitalization. In 2018, the Chinese government issued the “Village Revitalization Strategic Plan (2018-2022)”, and established as well as improved the institutional mechanisms and policies for urban and rural integration development in accordance with the overall requirements of thriving businesses, pleasant living environment, rural civilization, effective governance and affluent life. The system will accelerate the modernization of the rural governance system and governance capacity, accelerate the modernization of agriculture and rural areas, take the road of socialist rural renewal with Chinese characteristics, promote agriculture to be a pioneering industry, make farmers an attractive profession and make the countryside become a beautiful place to live and work.

The information conveyed by the above policies, declarations and documents fully explains that sustainable development has consensus and standards both at home and abroad, which requires the current rural revitalization and rural construction work to be closely integrated with each other.

Education is the key to sustainable development. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is an international consensus, which should be incorporated into lifelong learning. It is necessary to cultivate the knowledge, awareness, skills, participated actions, change of people’s values, concepts and behaviors that are required in sustainable development, and take education that can promote sustainable development as the mission of everyone. Each of us has the basic knowledge and understanding of environmental responsibility, countryside culture, social equity and economic vitality, and we must have the critical spirit towards the production and lifestyle that are not conducive to sustainable development. In addition, we should distinguish information on TV, radio, Magazines, networks, etc., which are not conducive to sustainable development.

Education must have new contents as well as new directions.

In addition to the current teaching of Chinese, mathematics and English etc, education shall have new contents. That is to say, the environmental issues, the gap between the rich and the poor, the loss of countryside culture, and the life style, which are related to sustainable development and closely related to development, shall be taken as the main contents of education. Our current education is not about poverty, nor about climate change, nor about lifestyle. However, all of these are closely associated with sustainable development. In order to cultivate each individual as a responsible social citizen, in addition to their own growth, their own work and their own family, it is also necessary to promote the sustainable development of the villages and the communities, which is the core content of education for sustainable development and the work content that Zigen has long been engaged in. The current education is mainly to cooperate with the model after the industrial revolution - production, consumption, profit and capital, which don’t reflect on the consumption-led lifestyle and value and don’t criticize, making our future society not sustainable.

Education shall be on the basis of the native land, care about the local sustainable development of the native land, and participate in actions to promote sustainable development. Education’s need of a new direction” is an educational revolution. The traditional and long-term education is not unimportant, but not enough. In particular, when we face a crisis of unsustainable development, the most significant thing is to cultivate new values and cultivate behavioral changes.

Education’s role of promoting sustainable development is a world movement.

What has Zigen done in China in this process?

Zigen’s purpose is to promote sustainable development in rural China. It is one of the first things to support girls to attend schools. It is not the most significant problem for girls to go to school now, because China also has free education. Since ten years ago, Zigen has attached the importance of transformation and we have also set up a China Center for the Sustainable Development of Rural Roots. The purpose of the Center is to promote sustainable development through research, training, piloting, evaluation and advocacy.

The first key task was to cultivate talents. Therefore, Zigen cooperated with the Chinese National Education and Multicultural Research Center of Beijing Normal University and the Humanities and Development Institute of China Agricultural University to develop training courses. We will cooperate with other organizations in the future. In allusion to the rural teachers, we have developed “Creating a Sustainable Rural Area: Teacher Training Courses”; for leaders who promoted rural development, we have developed “Village Revitalization: Sustainable Development Talent Training Courses”; aiming at adolescent girls’ health education, we developed “Training Courses for Sexual Health Education for Rural Adolescent Girls”; for those who wish to engage in rural education or rural public welfare work we developed “Public Welfare Training Courses”. The purpose of the training courses is to develop people and promote sustainable development from knowledge, awareness, values, skills and actions.

The partners of the center include the UNESCO International Rural Education Research and Training Center, the UNESCO National Work Committee on Sustainable Development Education, and the China Adult Education Association. We have signed a three-year agreement with the China Adult Education Association to promote adult-oriented education for sustainable development in rural China. At the same time, we plan to set up 20 green ecological civilization model villages across the country.

After the training, we have to root. The training of teachers is the green ecological civilization school, and the training of rural development leaders is the green ecological civilization village. In this way, make the rural sustainable development be theoretical, framed, trained, and piloted in rural China. All of these are the work that Zigen has done in China in recent years.

Our current education is facing many difficulties in terms of promoting sustainable development. For instance, the stress of school education and the course contents are inconsistent with the local situation and the school layout is unreasonable. It is hard to effectively meet the demands for the isolation of the community and the poor children in boarding schools and other discrimination against the countryside for the idea of “low quality of farmers”. Even if there are many difficulties, we should insist on. Education for sustainable development is lacking, urgent and necessary. The Green Ecological Civilization School is currently piloted in over 70 schools, 17 counties and 11 provinces. We are also actively piloting sites for the green ecological civilization schools and villages. I hope that we will work together to do small things, do practical things, set up sustainable rural villages, and promote real sustainable China.

Pat Yang’s Speech at the Second Forum on Promoting Sustainable Development

Translated by Wenxin Zhang, Program Manager, Zigen Fund

Edited by Biklam Lee, Board Director, Zigen Fund.

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