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Education for Sustainable Development: First Steps in Kazakhstan

By Aliya Sagandykova

Updated January 14, 2022 Updated January 14, 2022

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (KazNU) seems to be of the same opinion, having launched, among the pioneers in the country, the dedicated course Energy, Green Economy and Governance in the 2013 fall semester.

The course is aimed to keep up with the initiatives of the UNDP in providing a smooth transition from Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) after the boundary year 2015, and Kazakhstan’s work on building the Green Bridge program by evolving smart consumption and green technologies, alternative energy usage and education for sustainable development in the country.

The first international document which highlighted education as a vital tool for achieving sustainable development was Agenda 21. Since then more than twenty years have passed, and the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014), which has been led by UNESCO, is already close to the finish. In Kazakhstan the series of trainings for top managers and governmental officials are being set in cooperation with USAID and Russian experts. In addition, the Green Academy scientific educational center was opened in Kazakhstan in order to increase and develop education for sustainable development practices for national companies, the private business sector and NGOs, and prepare them for Expo-2017 as well.

Next steps for sustainability education in Kazakhstan

At the same time there are new developments in sustainability education in Kazakhstan. The “green economy” class, mentioned above, provides students with an introduction to Energy, Green Economy and Governance. All topics will be grounded in a practical and cross-disciplinary approach that will address issues in Energy (including Alternative Energy and Energy Security), Green Economy and Governance and their role in the establishment of an adequate energy policy.

Beyond the theory, the involved students will benefit from communicating with leading experts and practitioners invited to the class weekly in order to absorb their views, knowledge and experience on the challenges faced by countries worldwide. In fact, it may not just be the students who benefit from this interaction. Students’ creativity and eagerness to implement their bright ideas on real issues in combination with the practitioners’ experience and knowledge of the field may lead to a successful cooperation and strong results.

International collaboration in sustainability education

Although the Energy, Green Economy and Governance course is based at KazNU, a number of universities around the world will be also engaged in the process. Moreover, the program will leverage innovative web-based technologies to share the valuable curriculum between participating institutions. The Al-Farabi KazNU Distance Learning Center has expressed its support to maintain interactive and web-based components of the course, including an elaboration and development of electronic learning materials and videos of the lectures. Thus, all mentioned points are supposed to boost international collaboration between devoted students and participating institutions.

Through this globally connected program, future young professionals will gain practical problem-solving skills through the analysis and diagnosis of the challenges of complex development, and expand and deepen their awareness of cross-cultural and multinational dimensions of the fields. The curriculum aims to foster international collaboration both inside and outside the class among students of different backgrounds and from distant regions, in order to prepare them for the professional environment of sustainable development practice they are going to face in the future.

There is also the MDP/Global Classroom team at Al-Farabi KazNU, a group of master’s students from diverse faculties analyzing issues in sustainable development and ways to tackle them efficiently. Among the master’s candidates attending the course are students from Afghanistan, who came to Kazakhstan within the frame of an agreement between the two countries’ Ministries of Education.

Expanding the reach of the Global Classroom project

For the Global Classroom students, an international teleconference with Brazil provided the opening event for the new academic year. The discussion (which finally took place, despite problems with the electricity at KazNU that day) was concentrated around exploring similarities and differences in thinking toward the SDGs between Kazakhstan and Brazil, and concrete actions that the countries and individuals might already be involved in toward the SDGs. This session was a kind of preparation to the larger one to be held in November.

“We like the idea of looking in November at the ‘mega-events’ that Rio is hosting (Rio+20, World Cup and Olympics) and that you [Kazakhstan] will be hosting in 2017 (EXPO) and their relationship with ‘resilient cities’ and their relationship with sustainable national development,” commented Peter May, Professor in the Department of Development, Agriculture and Society of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Meanwhile the new set of Global Classroom students were busy trying to make their presentations perfect, while using an iPad and smartphones to save the connection and hold the teleconference, even though there was still no electricity in the whole campus. They are the fifth generation of the MDP/GC students of the joint program run by the Earth Institute Columbia University and Al-Farabi KazNU.

Now, more than 17 universities all over the globe have participated in this program, suggesting growing momentum for a greater engagement with sustainability issues among the international higher education community, and a growing belief in the power of education for sustainable development.

Read more from Aliya >

This article was originally published in November 2013 . It was last updated in January 2022

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