sustainability education
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In today’s world, education has transformed from a simple concept of acquiring knowledge through traditional means to a value-based system where learning is aligned with practice and overall holistic growth. The focus now is to create learners who are empowered, self-sustained, well-versed in their craft, and armed with a more cohesive approach to issues and situations.

For students of technology, the question is no longer about the field of engineering in which one wants to excel. In the present dynamic scenario, the youth needs to be equipped with technical know-how that is propped by concepts of sustainable development and societal behaviour.

These three key pillars should be integrated in our educational system, because while technology is deeply immersed in our lives and are the means to improve our living standards, our overall state of well-being critically depends on sustainable development and social behaviour.

Though our basic survival still depends on food, water and shelter, what defines our quality of life is dependent on several other factors including worldly comforts, wealth, employment, environment, physical and mental well-being, education, recreation, safety, security, freedom, social interaction and work-life balance. Technology underpins all these practical aspects, making it impossible to teach it as a stand-alone subject any longer.

Impact on our eco-system

Given the massive influence of technology and its potential negative impact on our eco-system, it is essential that students are prepared to minimise the impact through sustainable means. We must educate them to meet the needs of today without compromising the quality of life for future generations.

To use an example of a YouTube video, we cannot use all the bright colours for the canvas of our lives and leave the black, white and grey for our children as our legacy. Fortunately, we are regularly hearing conversations on the need for ‘everything we do’ to be sustainable. Time is now ripe to bring these conversations into our classrooms.

As educators, it is also important that we teach the youth to keep their fingers on the pulse of their industry so that they stay prepared for what is to come in the future. They should be able to assess the societal change of an innovation and a new development and find means to ease it into the society.

For example, if a new technology or a product is leading to job redundancy, how will those affected be helped? Can they be re-deployed elsewhere? How can they upgrade their skills to match the new setup? Questions such as these should become a natural order so that all initiatives, projects, etc., meet the triple bottom line requirement, that is, economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Therefore, education in science and technology should embed principles of sustainability from the very inception and be designed for sustainable coexistence with nature and other organisms. Concepts of circular economy and life cycle analyses, for instance, should be incorporated in STEM education, which are as equally important as digital literacy.

Issue of obsolete and redundant products

What is the fate of products for which the end-user has no further use? Producers should take ownership to address this issue of obsolete and redundant products without adversely impacting the eco-system. And this thought process should begin at the conceptual and manufacturing stages of the product.

As social animal, a human being cannot study any subject in isolation, and, as mentioned earlier, technology demands an all-inclusive approach. The study of societal behaviours, therefore, is the tool that provides the framework for connecting an individual to society. Questions such as how a certain innovation will affect the cultural fabric of the society are particularly relevant and as future leaders, students should be equipped to answer these.

Starting with the invention of wheel to the industrial revolution to more recent and contemporary scientific and technological breakthroughs, innovators should be aware of the impact these have created on society.

Certain advancements, for example, could lead to equal allocation of resources and opportunities, but they do not necessarily guarantee equality across board. This is where sustainable technologies with built-in societal values and awareness are needed for truly equitable distribution and achievement of equal outcomes.

In short, value-based education that integrates multiple dimensions is the key to produce future leaders who have a long-term vision for humanity and its well-being. This is the natural progression that educators should focus on to make students be cognisant of the strong interconnection between technology, sustainability and societal behaviour in their professional and everyday lives.

Dr Srinivasan Madapusi is a senior professor and Director of BITS-Pilani Dubai Campus