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Education on environment creates prosperity and stability

Najib Saab, 26/11/2019

When discussing environmental changes and challenges, and their relation to sustainable development, the role of education cannot be underestimated. A report released on 14 November by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), tackles this issue and recommends a road map for integrating environment and sustainability into curricula. Entitled Environmental Education for Sustainable Development in the Arab Countries, the report traces signs that many Arab countries have begun to appreciate the key role that the environment should claim in their education systems.

Although a strong trend can be seen in the inclusion of environmental topics in the curricula, progress remains uneven across Arab countries and educational institutions. More so, it is evident that there is a clear gap between the Arab region and other parts of the world when it comes to environmental education. In part this is due to the ongoing unrest and conflict in some Arab countries. Paradoxically, some of the countries which are in a state of turmoil, like Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, had taken serious measures over the past years to integrate environment and sustainability into their education systems. Another problem is the lack of funding for national and regional initiatives to promote sustainable development topics at schools and universities. As most initiatives are dependent on international donors, they are largely not sustainable.

Despite shortcomings, there has been a rapid increase in programs related to environment and sustainable development in the Arab region over the last ten years. This momentum should now be used to trigger a much needed policy debate on the urgency of further reforming education systems in order to mainstream environmental issues in the curricula. Moreover, funds should be raised independently of international donors in order to enhance both the quality and evidence base of environmental topics.

While progress in implementing Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has been reported from the Arab region, the range of implementation activities varies greatly among countries. For example, ESD is now integrated into early childhood care and education in Kuwait and Oman, and Kuwait also reports a full integration of ESD in government education programming. Promising progress has also been reported in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Qatar and Oman, including training on integrating ESD themes into curricula, incorporating ESD in university courses, and funding ESD-related scholarships and programs. On the other hand, ESD is only included in selected courses in Qatar and is rarely mentioned explicitly in education curriculums in Morocco. However, the region seems to be lagging behind other parts of the world when it comes to the implementation of ESD.

AFED report found that during the last decade, Arab universities witnessed a rapid increase in programs related to the environment and sustainable development. Collectively, the 57 universities surveyed offer 221 degree programs on environmental topics. Postgraduate programs are typically research-oriented. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been found to be the most active in environmental research output. The report noted that Arab universities can further accelerate their contribution to sustainability by integrating all of the SDGs into their learning and teaching activities, research, and community initiatives, observing specific weakness in the domains of environmental law and green economy. Instead of isolated courses, interfaculty programs are required, which integrate different aspects of environmental sciences with social, policy and legal studies. One pivotal recommendation of the report is offering an introductory course on environment and sustainability to all fresh university students, either mandatory or elective.

An assessment of Arab School textbooks and curricula shows that the most popular environmental topics are ecosystems, natural resources, pollution and sustainable development. In contrast to the inclusion of the rather new topic of sustainable development in many instances, the survey found that climate change was absent or not adequately discussed in 40 percent of the countries. The report recommends that big challenges facing the region, such as water scarcity, desertification, drought, marine pollution and dangers of sea-level rise due to climate change, have to become a central part of the curricula.

Why is education on environment and sustainability relevant, even during the unprecedented turmoil witnessed in the Arab region? Deteriorating economic and social conditions are playing a foremost role in fueling the widespread discontent. Education is a major driver for a shift to more sustainable lifestyle that ensures harmony with nature and a balanced use of resources, coupled with fair distribution of benefits. It also equips those entrusted with executing change with the necessary working tools and appropriate knowledge. Education has the power to nurture empowered, engaged and skilled citizens who can map the way towards a balanced, greener and safer planet.

Human behavior has led to environmental crises with various outcomes, including overpopulation, unsustainable lifestyles that consume more resources than what can be replenished, and individual behavior that harms the environment such as using polluting forms of energy or producing excessive waste. Environmental education has a key role in addressing those environmental challenges. It can be used to mitigate specific environmental issues and respond to their impact, but also to address the behavior that causes them. It can influence individual and collective environmental behavior, it enhances people's resilience to climate-related risks, and it also encourages their support for and involvement in mitigation actions. However, Environmental Education not only increases knowledge and awareness but also improves skills and enables individuals to make better, more environmentally informed decisions and devise solutions based on solid science.

Not only is education a driver for better environmental management, it also is a main tool for advancing sustainable development in the Arab region, creating the conditions for prosperous and stable societies.

Najib Saab is editor of the education report. The report can be downloaded from

Arab Environment in 10 Years
ARAB ENVIRONMENT IN 10 YEARS crowns a decade of the series of annual reports produced by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on the state of Arab environment. It tracks and analyzes changes focusing on policies and governance, including level of response and engagement in international environmental treaties. It also highlights developments in six selected priority areas, namely water, energy, air, food, green economy and environmental scientific research.
Environmental Agenda
Environment in Arab Media
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