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La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993

Implications for Education

The need for “capacity-building” echoed throughout the two years of UNCED preparatory discussions, and it is also prominent in the final text of Agenda 21. In the hemisphere, there is an acute awareness of the need to rebuild and expand every country’s educational, research, and training institutions. During the “lost decade” of the 1980s, many of these institutions suffered debt- and adjustment-induced budget cuts—at the same time that the number of young people needing education and jobs was expanding, and information about global development and environmental trends was multiplying. Latin Americans fear that they may be falling behind the United States and Canada and are anxious to close the gap.

However, it is not merely a matter of catching up. Universal recognition at UNCED of the goal of economically and environmentally sustainable development must necessarily lead us to pause and ask: “Education, research, and training for what?” Sustainable development requires that we change the trajectory of unsustainable development we have been following throughout the hemisphere, putting our nations on a new path of development (Latin American and Caribbean Commission on Development and Environment 1990). Witlessly following the wasteful consumption styles of the United States and Canada will only bring more poverty and environmental degradation throughout the hemisphere. The new path, however, requires new ways and new learning. Sustainable development techniques will require the widespread dissemination of information, and they will be management-intensive (DeLucia 1988). That is, they will be more people-intensive. Like democracy, sustainable development will require widespread civic participation at all levels of decision-making as its cornerstone, and quality participation requires quality education.

No one country has all the answers about how to do sustainable development, nor how best to educate for it, but there is a great deal of experience and talent in the hemisphere if we will but turn it to the new goal. Sharing information, data, technologies, and experience will require new levels of international cooperation, as called for by Our Own Agenda in 1990. It will also require using existing technologies in new ways, i.e., using computers to reduce agricultural inputs and raise productivity. And it will require fresh applications of existing technologies that are already in the public domain (such as energy conservation and renewable energy technologies and basic biotechnology insights) to local and sub-regional needs. These endeavors will be best undertaken in cooperative international efforts in institutions like the ones the Compact calls for, both for reasons of economy, and also because both North and South can learn from the effort. Ideally, the new efforts will mix public and private initiatives. It will also be neccessary to educate planners and technicians about how to select the technologies that will lead most quickly to sustainability—and policy-makers will need to learn which macroeconomic policies can encourage or discourage those choices (Cruz and Repetto 1992).

An often overlooked but very important requirement of any successful capacity-building initiative is that old-fashioned gender stereotypes be left behind. Of all the changes taking place in the hemisphere, the changes in the roles and responsibilities of women are among the most revolutionary. That is the case in both North and South America. The proportion of women in the work force in Latin America and the Caribbean, for instance, has been growing steadily, from 18 percent in 1950 to 26 percent in 1990. In 1990, there were 40 million women working in the fields and factories, in offices and service occupations. By 2000, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimates that the region’s female work force could reach 53 million. Part of the reason is that more women than men migrate to the cities. Many households are headed by women—up to 40 percent in some cities. The burden of the region’s economic hardship in the 1980s, says the IDB, fell most heavily on poor women. Obviously, the better educated the women of the hemisphere are, the better they can fulfill their new responsibilities to family, development, and democracy (IDB 1990; UNDP 1991).

What new demands does the goal of sustainable development place on the hemisphere’s education systems and institutions? Some illustrations are perhaps the best answer. In economics, sustainable development requires that the next generation of economists be trained to analyze the impact of macroeconomic policies and local decisions on resource management. They must be trained in natural resources accounting to fully and accurately estimate the true costs of forestry, fishery, and agricultural policies. Indeed, there is much need for retraining the many economists whose education predated these important new findings. At the World Bank, the IDB, and the International Monetary Fund, economists must understand the impact of stabilization and structural adjustment programs on the sustainability of the resources base (Cruz and Repetto 1992).

Energy planners and engineers must replace their fixation on large-scale centralized generating plants and learn the virtues of energy conservation and of renewable, non-polluting, decentralized sources of energy. There are well-known and cost-effective techniques that could provide a source of vast new energy for development, but they are not likely to gain much ground without a sea of change in national policy incentives plus the necessary training and retraining. On a more mundane level, conversion to a sustainable energy scenario requires many technicians of all kinds, devoted to good maintenance of all kinds of machinery. The internal combustion engine is especially important since better auto maintenance makes engines more energy-efficient, reducing tail-pipe emissions generally and, in particular, reducing emissions of carbon dioxide. Cars are second only to power plants in producing the leading greenhouse gas (MacKenzie 1992).

To control the sickening pollution of other industries, we will need a new generation of process designers and controllers and all kinds of operatives, monitors, and technicians. Health workers trained in primary care, family planning, and health education should also be a top priority. And, last but not least, the hemisphere will need teachers who, whatever their subject, understand the interrelationships among development, environment, and equity.

Undergirding the professional and other specialized technical training must be solid primary and secondary education for all. In a period of history in which all the decisions about one’s barrio and one’s planet are becoming increasingly complex, universal education and literacy are crucial to both development and democracy. To turn the hemisphere onto a path of sustainable development, real vision and strong will are required from political leaders now. In the long run, though, the single most important ingredient of development success may be education—at all levels. In the 1950s and 1960s, great expansion and changes in education in both North and South America made growth and hope possible. Similarly, in the next generation, education can be the key to equitable and sustainable development.

The crucial test facing us in the New World will be whether we can bring about all these changes in time. But the very difficulty of making this vast transformation should be a goad to action: as U.S. economist Alice Rivlin, one of our colleagues on the New World Dialogue, put it during our final negotiations on the Compact, “If finding the way toward this new world seems hard now, imagine how much harder it would be after another ten years on the wrong road.”