Sustainability Starts with Teachers 2021: Off to a good start with record numbers!

Written by Heila Lotz-Sisitka and Charles Chikunda

A record number of 300 participants have registered for the online 2021 Sustainability Starts with Teachers Course, as the initiative begins to go to scale in southern Africa. Opening the 2021 Sustainability Starts with Teachers Course, Prof Hubert Guizen, Director of UNESCO Southern and East Africa, welcomed participants to the third iteration of this UNESCO/Rhodes University regional course on Education for Sustainable Development.

The course focusses on teacher educators and educators working in Technical and Vocational Education and Training institutions, and aims to support them via an action learning programme to bring about ESD changes in their institutions and programmes.

In this third year, the SST programme is working with teacher and TVET educators from Eswatini, Tanzania and Malawi.  In the second year (2020) the programme worked with teacher and TVET educators from Zambia, Lesotho and South Africa. In the first year (2019) participating countries were Nambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.  Professor Guizen reported that “so far, 166 teacher and TVET educators from 77 institutions are engaged in producing ESD transformative projects in their institutions”.

He mentioned that the model of the project is explicitly ‘change oriented’ and that all institutions work on change projects with communities of practice, thus extending the reach of the programme beyond immediate course participants.  Prof Guizen further stated that “The SST programme has become an integral element of the global ESD for 2030 initiative”.

While excellent progress is being made, “we should start developing a more ambitious programme in teacher education and ESD that can work across many more countries and at school levels as well as teacher education and policy levels”, urged Prof Guizen. Joining him, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Vice Chancellor at Rhodes University inspired participants with his comprehensive engagement with the programme’s objectives.  “We can advance the goals of sustainable development by equipping young people, making them champions of sustainability”, he said.

VC’s Mabizela’s ethical and holistic commitment to the next generation’s well-being through education was visible in his words, “we must invest in our young generation, education is critical in empowering young people”, but he warned “we can’t build a sustainable society if social ills persist”.  For this reason, “we need strong and holistic partnerships such as the partnerships between UNESCO, Rhodes University, Sida and regional governments” which is visible in the SST initiative.

Representing the Ministry of Education and Training in Eswatini, Phumzile Hlophe, noted that “as a Ministry, we have high regard for ESD”.  He stated that the SST course is important in equipping or educators with ESD knowledge and skills, and that this will be “useful in addressing challenges and complementing the existing educational space”.

Dr Kafere, Director of Technical Services in Malawi stated that the course links well with SADC objectives.  He made an important statement about teacher education, and teaching stating that “Teaching is one profession that creates all other professions”.

Speaking from Tanzania, Dr L. Mtahabwa, Commissioner of Education in Tanzania noted that the SST course is “very timely in our context”.  He said that Tanzania was re-thinking the concept of teachers when it comes to sustainability matters where  “parents and community members are also teachers”.  In doing this he raised the important perspective that learning for sustainability is a shared concern and hence the Sustainability Starts with Teachers programme encourages development of Change Projects in communities of practice.

We were also joined by Michelle Bouchard, programme manager from the Swedish International Development Agency. She complemented the progamme for the work done to take the programme online under the COVID-19 conditions.

The Sustainability Starts with Teachers Course will be completed online over the next few months; participants will be developing their institutional change projects, and will be meeting in cluster groups over the next few months.  Participants will also join a webinar series that will be on offer over a four week period, where they will also interact with Alumni of the programme.

This year the Sustainability Starts with Teachers programme will feature the Alumni of the programme, and will also link up with the African Regional Centres of Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development.  The Sustainability Starts with Teachers is a partnership programme between UNESCO’s Regional Office for Southern Africa, Rhodes University and Swedish partner, SWEDESD, and is supported by Sida.