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The Link Between Education and Sustainable Living in Brazil

The debate about the sustainability of our activities on the planet can no longer exclude education. The undeniable fact is that we are in a situation of environmental and social alarm because the teaching methods used in recent centuries have evolved relatively little compared to other sciences, and failed to prepare society for sustainable living.

It is important to advocate for specific activities such as recycling, water conservation, waste recycling, and the production of alternative fuels to reduce harm to the atmosphere. It is also necessary to articulate at the outset that educational processes that enable a radical change of outlook for humanity in relation to the environment require a new way of educating.

Students in a classroom in Brazil.

If we accept the fact that our current societies are a direct result of the educational levels achieved, then there is no escaping the harsh reality that to prevent the degradation of the planet it is necessary to rethink educational models.

For this reason, we must broaden the scope of the concept of sustainability far beyond the environmental boundaries, leading to the articulation of the idea of an Education for Sustainability.

However, sustainability education means not only teaching students to promote garbage collection, and taking good care of gardens, homes and schools. Far beyond that, sustainability education requires that students learn to think for themselves, developing critical thinking necessary to better social development.

Today, the rates of learning in Brazil show with great clarity that our education is anything but sustainable, because students leave school without having learned what was expected of them. This short term view of education, which is more concerned with the number of students enrolled, the number of schools, and the quantities of books, must focus on how students learn best, because this is the only data that really matters when it comes to education.

The direct relationship between education and sustainability can be seen through studies such as Ricardo Paes de Barros, Director of the Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA), and Rosane Mendonça, PhD in Economics from UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), which sought to evaluate the relationship between "Investment in Education and Economic Development." The results are very revealing and deserve attention.

According to the study, a high quality education expands the growth of per capita income of industrial wages and exports between 15% and 30%, while improving opportunities and quality of life due to the fact that more education decreases the size of families.

A classroom in Brazil.

The study also reveals that an improvement in the quality of education increases the lifetime of individuals between 20% and 25% because they receive better  information about health, hygiene and nutrition. A high quality education also generates the best qualifications for work, expanding access to income.

This increase in quality of life also is reflected in indicators of schooling, since the elimination of educational backwardness elevates the presence of students at the secondary level by 17%, which explains why investments in education improve the qualification of people for working life.

There is a direct relationship between education and sustainability that needs to be part of the environmental debate in Brazil. Although actions that are specific to environmental protection are important and necessary, we must understand that only an educational revolution will allow significant changes in the medium and long term with regard to the sustainability of our economic activities.

Does your city incorporate sustainability and environmental awareness into the curriculum of its schools? 

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, found here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.