WORKING TOGETHER: Education for
sustainable development entails active collaborations between tertiary
institutions and the community
CAMPUS sustainability got a boost last
week when three campuses — Universiti Malaysia Sabah, University of
Malaya and Palawan State University of the Philippines — jointly
sponsored and co-hosted the 1st Regional Conference on Campus
Sustainability in Kota Kinabalu with the support of The Higher Education
Leadership Academy (AKEPT).
The theme Building Sustainability Edge
through Institutional Strategy was appropriate given that
sustainability is a key concept in embedding programmes to transform
universities into eco-friendly institutions. The conference aimed “to
provide a platform and catalyst for finding a long-term solution to
environmental problems and the formulation of policies on sustainable
development to be enforced on universities and their communities”. Such a
platform can lead to new mindsets on sustainability in line with
various existing networks such as the International Sustainable Campus
Network and the Southeast Asian Sustainability Network.
Indeed, education for sustainable
development entails active collaborations between universities and the
community to share experiences and learn from each other in making
sustainability a reality in everyday life. The fact that the three
campuses are able to come together across territories and borders is a
good indication of a deeper understanding of sustainability.
The next step is bringing lay
communities into the fold because, unlike most tertiary institutions,
there are many communities — especially the indigenous ones — that still
practise sustainability as part of their lifestyles which are yet to be
tapped as knowledge sources as part of mainstream education. This goes
beyond just formal learning through prescriptive curriculum, rather it
involves learning by doing through continuous community engagement
designed on the fly so that it is relevant and fresh.
Sustainability demands different
approaches and mindsets that challenge the status quo to make it happen.
Universities have to recognise that they face a steeper learning curve
vis-à-vis what have been practised by indigenous communities since time
One important “sustainability edge”
that must be incorporated into any institutional strategy is the
co-creation of knowledge that promotes sustainability practices. The
motivation is to (re)learn such practices to preserve what has been
lost as the modern consumerist lifestyle becomes dominant. We need to
reinforce the notion that sustainability is not only about meeting the
needs of the present generation but also not compromising that of
future generations. Invariably this means behaviourial changes that
foster a long-term view to accommodate intergenerational concerns which
are often not seriously taken into consideration.
It is not surprising to note that even
the country’s 30-year strategic plan — Wawasan 2020 —is ecologically
blind since none of its nine challenges focuses on the issues of
sustainability. It can be assumed that the course of “development” in
the country will be “business as usual” with the imperatives of
sustainability as a mere afterthought.
Likewise, the earlier understanding of
multiple intelligences was also devoid of “ecological intelligence”,
which was only recently recognised as a vital aspect that should demand
equal attention like kinaesthetic and interpersonal intelligences.
The same lacuna exists in most
institutional strategies that make no reference to or have any inkling
of sustainability. It is also not acceptable to add campus
sustainability as “band-aid” for existing institutional strategies.
While recycling and greening the campus are laudable, they by themselves
are not sustainable if the entire system is predicated on a contrasting
philosophy. Therein lies the challenges of transforming the system so
that sustainability concepts and practices can nestle comfortably as key
We need major policy shifts that put
sustainability at the cornerstone. This calls for enlightened leaders
who walk the talk. Sustainability leadership requires risk-taking and
being courageous enough to pursue transformational strategies without
fear or favour. After all, universities have always been regarded as
custodians of future generations by virtue of the fact that education is
a lifelong process. A small misstep could spell a prolonged disaster as
what we are witnessing today and are desperately looking for solutions
The writer was the keynote speaker at the conference.