Currently, there is a need for an Education aimed at sustainable development (meeting current and future societal needs without compromising the environment). As Deiner (2009) notes, education that does not equip people with the ability to mitigate life’s challenges does not have its place in our society.
A child is more of a ‘clean slate’; born neutral without knowing whether evil exists. Therefore, childhood education forms the basis of a child’s lifelong learning, emotional, physical, social and intellectual development. For this reason, Fass (2007) elaborates that childhood education is the foundation of persons who engage in sustainable development issues such as resource management among others.
As Essa (2010) notes, early childhood education is more than just enrolling children in childhood programmes. This is because a child psychologically, emotionally, ‘professionally’, socially and intellectually learns from the society members such as child caretakers, parents, family members and neighbors.
This clearly shows that the society has a take on educating children for sustainable development purpose. Unfortunately, most people barely know this and therefore, it warrants that we look at how the society can educate children in order to enhance sustainable development.
A Child’s Psychological/Emotional Education and Development
Under Erik Erikson psychosocial theory, a child’s (from birth – 18 months) developmental theme is trust. This is learnt as the child’s needs including sleep, warmth and food are predictably and consistently met. If the needs are not adequately met, a child’s self-trust and ability to trust others is eroded thus perceiving the world as unpredictable, hostile and threatening.
Therefore, the society members must collaboratively make sure that children needs are met so that children can develop and learn how to trust their selves and people around them (interact easily with others) as they become mature. Children from 18 months and above start developing cognitive, motor and language abilities.
For this reason, a need to balance between being adventurous, competent and relying on their caregivers arises. Children who are given opportunities to try things on their own achieve autonomy, feel good about their capabilities, develop creative initiatives and become industrious as adults. On the other hand, children who are denied opportunities to engage in new activities or are embarrassed by their caretakers upon failure start doubting themselves, become guilty and feel inferior.
As Dewey (2010) indicates, the society members need to develop supportive and loving environments that allow children to try new things and comfort, encourage and cuddle children when they are doubtful or ashamed of their incapability.
For instance, Fass (2007) encourages the society members to support and let preschoolers carry out basic functions such as feeding themselves, going to the toilet, tying shoe strings and wiping the tables among others. In addition, the society should guide and provide children with adventure spots, fun but constructive or industry-oriented activities and let children learn the societal expectations.
A Child’s Social and (Reasoning) Intellectual Abilities
Under Semenovich Vygotsky theory, social interaction forms the basis of a child’s intellectual ability. This is especially so during the ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) where a child perceives a task as quite complicated and an adult supports or assists the child to handle the task.
In the process, beliefs, customs and values are imparted to the child by adults. As the child continues to interact with peers and adults, he/she gains skills/knowledge that enables him/her to reason in a complex manner. Through the experiences, the child becomes an independent thinker (Blenkin, 1996).
As Gordon & Browne (2010) note, this clearly shows that for children to reason or think in a complex manner, they need to understand their environment. Therefore, Soto (2000) encourages the society members to fully integrate into children’s’ lives (play with them, help with schoolwork, help with personal issues and impart them with knowledge about the community expectations).
This requires that every society member act as a role model/mentor. As Dewey (2010) indicates, this is the only way children can heighten their intellectual and reasoning abilities to become adults with a good moral standing or persons who can understand and address the needs of the society.
A Child’s ‘Professionalism’
In this case, professionalism means having an interest, patience and the ability to do something positively (talent growth), a culmination of what a sustainable development-oriented person should have. Children learn ‘professionalism’ by engaging consistently in a certain positive behavior that evokes interest, is pleasing and therefore likely to repeat it.
The repetitive act teaches a child how to be disciplined. In addition, Children learn professionalism by means of positive reinforcement where the caretakers commend a child’s behavior thus making a child to stay positive. More so, ‘professionalism’ is also taught through shaping (teaching a behavior in steps), an act that makes children learn how to be patient (Fass, 2007).
Therefore, the first step towards instilling professionalism is through environmental manipulation (exposing children to multiple opportunities) that allows parents/caregivers to identify a child’s talents. Secondly, the child should be allowed to participate consistently in the activity (talent), be taught systematically on how to go about the activity and praised for their effort. As Deiner (2009) indicates, this will help nurture talents that will be of benefit to the entire community and bring about sustainable development.
The revelations from the above discussion highlight the need for a holistic approach (childcare, concrete experience, education, outdoors and real projects) in childhood education in order to enhance sustainable development. This can only be done by the society. The family, first educators should play their role in shaping the children’s habits, skills, attitude, values, behaviours and talents.
Childhood educators should also be aware of sustainable development and align childhood programmes with it. The government should invest in children and families (provide children facilities, help in creating functional families and provide funds to the families). Most importantly, there should be heightened networking and advocacy on the role of society in childhood education and sustainable development (UNEP, 2011).
Blenkin, G. M. (1996). Early childhood education: A developmental curriculum. London, LND: SAGE.
Deiner, P. L. (2009). Inclusive early childhood education: Development, resources, and practice. London, LND: Cengage Learning.
Dewey, J. (2010). The child and the curriculum: Including the school and society. New York, NY: Cosimo, Inc.
Essa, A.L. (2010). Introduction to early childhood education. London: Cengage Learning
Fass, P. S. (2007). Children of a new world: society, culture, and globalization. New York, NY: NYU Press.
Gordon, A. M. & Browne, K. W. (2010). Beginnings and beyond: Foundations in early childhood education. London, LND: Cengage Learning.
Soto, D. L. (2000). The politics of early childhood education. New York, NY: Peter Lang.
United Nations Educational Funds. (2008).The contribution of early childhood education to a sustainable society. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0015/001593/159355e.pdf