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A panel of graduate school professors presented students with a variety of perspectives on the impact education can have on sustainable development last night in Lehman Hall.
About 50 people attended the discussion, presented by the Association of International Educators. Mediated by Merilee Grindle, Mason professor of international development at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, the panelists approached the issue from diverse perspectives.
"Sustainable development is one of those topics...that is very hard to be against," Grindle said. "However, there is a wide range of notions of what sustainable development means."
The first panelist, Suzanne Grant Lewis, an assistant professor at the School of Education, discussed the importance of "social participation" in designing school systems around the world.
"Just any kind of education will not contribute to sustainable development," Lewis said. "The design of curricula, instructional methods and standards for evaluating success must be participatory."
Lewis emphasized increasing the involvement of currently disenfranchised groups including parents.
"We're not going to get anywhere if we have the World Bank and [other international agencies] designing systems," she said.
John Comings, senior research associate at the School of Education, discussed the impact of literacy on sustainable development.
"There are currently one billion adults in the world who have never had a chance to go to school," Comings said. "Add to them the adults who never had the chance to develop sufficient literacy skills, and we're up to two billion."
In a time "when all countries are moving in the direction of a demand for higher literacy skills," this is especially alarming, he said.
He added that "literacy helps the efficiency of the health communication system."
A third panelist, Felton Earls, professor of human behavior and development in the faculty of public health and child psychiatry, expressed skepticism about sustainable development.
Development is difficult to understand without an improved understanding of the world's social systems, Earls said.
"Education must address this social system," he said, adding that society should strive for "better understanding of the impact on race, ethnicity and group rivalries in many nations."
Another area where increased comprehension is needed is that of children and education, Earls said.
"These last five years have taught me the importance of getting very close to children, making them 'co-conspirators' in making the breakthrough in our understanding of them and their understanding of us," he said.
Following the panelists' speeches was a question-and-answer period dealing with primary and adult education in countries including Mexico and South Africa.
School of Education student Melissa Spurrier, co-director of the Association of International Educators, said the panel discussion was designed to explain what kind of education is important.
"Everyone stresses education as the solution to many problems," Spurrier said. "However, education is such a broad concept. Some type of education must be better than others."
Because students in all schools should have an interest in education, the panel sought to provide an interdisciplinary perspective, Spurrier said.
Heidi Huber, the other co-director, said that this goal was definitely accomplished.
"There were a lot of people who weren't from the Ed School," she said.
Huber said she was also pleased because the discussion was very participatory.
"We're all going to be educators in some shape and form--whether you're a doctor or a business executive or a traditional teacher in a classroom," Huber said.
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