Q. What have been the key milestones on your global education journey so far?
I see my first milestone as my involvement with Human Rights Education. My homeland country, Albania, is a small country in South East Europe where mountains are high, fields are vast, seas are cobalt deep blue (I miss them so much), the soil is ancient and the history goes back thousands of years. My ancestors were ancient Illyrians, neighbors of ancient Greeks and Romans, fishermen and shepherds who loved their place.
I was raised during what was known as the Bunkers time. It was not only a concept; it was a bitter reality. 300,000 bunkers were built to protect three million Albanians (including me) from American imperialism and Soviet revisionism. I looked out on the big, grey bunker every day from the window of my small classroom. It was a symbol of oppression and craziness. Those monsters existed everywhere: on the beach, in the middle of the city, near the park and close to my elementary school. They are held to have caused grave environmental damage in Albania.
The fall of the Berlin Wall did not just mean the end of totalitarianism. It brought with it new and troublesome difficulties associated with the transition period. Albanians started to be aware of a wider conception of 'poverty'. Deprivation and lack of wellbeing were perceived as not only a matter of low income but also as a multidimensional phenomenon affecting health, education, security, self-respect, justice, community life, environmental damage and more.
December 1990 was when Albania abandoned the communist system. At that time, new opportunities, possibilities and challenges were opened for Albanian people, as individuals as well as a society. It was time to build and organize democratic institutions at all levels. Education and social reform became priorities. I was working for the Institute of Pedagogical Research, the main branch of the Ministry of Education and Science, responsible for preparing all national curricula and a complete set of standards for all subjects Human rights philosophy, environmental education, global education were considered by the Institute. Enthusiasm that came most of all from freedom of thought was in the air…and human rights education was the new peak to which to aspire.
The next key milestone was the Albania Global Education Project. Launched in October 1997, the project (initiated and financed by UNICEF and powerfully supported by the Ministry of Education and Science and the Institute of Pedagogical Studies) came at just the right moment for Albania. The project was design by the International Institute for Global Education (IIGE) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) of the University of Toronto headed by David Selby. I had the opportunity and pleasure of being a member of the Albanian Global Education National Core team working together with David. We subsequently prepared the first Global Education teacher manual and evaluation package for 11 Albanian pilot schools.
At our first workshop at the Tirana International Hotel David amazed our team with his powerful and meaningful learning activities. My ‘aha’ moments came as I reflected on activities such as ‘Going Dotty’ and ‘Woolly Thinking’. It took me a while to understand how quantum theory, systems thinking and sustainability all fitted together! Even now, although I use a wide range of GE activities myself in the classroom, they are still my favorites. The comments that I get from my students, teachers and principals about these two special activities are very strong and prove that the principles of interconnection and interdependence are everywhere. Based on these precepts, we educators of the 21st century have to humanize the school environment by changing the nature and dynamics of teacher/student and student/student hierarchical relationships so transforming the school ethos.
In Albania, global education was perceived as much more than an enrichment of the curriculum; it was considered a dimension infusing interdependence and interconnectedness through every element of the new curricula. It was an umbrella for human rights, environmental, peace, citizenship and futures education. It represented a philosophy of education seeking to create a model of teaching and learning infused with a contemporary vision of the world that was idealistic yet realistic. It felt great to be part of such an educational reform.
The next milestone was when, in 2000, I moved to Canada, to OISE. It was a real challenge for me to move to and to accommodate to life in a new continent, in the New World and through a different language. I still clearly remember my confusion with all the labels, new terminology and the most sophisticated and beautiful flawless English that David used in his courses. I learnt for the first time of concept such as ‘sustainable development, ‘animal rights’ and ‘environmental ethics’…
Later on, I had the privilege to be part of the IIGE team that undertook national global education curriculum, teaching and learning initiatives in Central Asia and elsewhere. As a team member I acted as on-the-ground education consultant for ‘child-friendly’ national curriculum and pedagogical reform in the five countries of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), embedding civic, environmental, global, and human rights themes in the curriculum. Also, I undertook – and, in some cases, still do - similar on-site, child-friendly and inclusive education consultancy work, in conjunction with UNICEF and the Council of Europe, in Albania, Kosovo, Brazil, Canada, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.
Having lived and studied within both the dictatorial or ‘force’ mindset of Marxist Leninism and the ‘freedom’ mindset of the Western world helps me to understand that both mindsets share the same relationship with Nature and the environment. In the name of ‘freedom” and in the name of ‘force’ human societies control and destroy nature. In the name of ‘civilization’, people have lost a felt relationship with nature. We abuse Nature and treat it as our property. In communist Albania old pastures were destroyed in the name of efficiency to increase grain yields and there was large-scale deforestation and destruction of national parks while in the West competition, the growth-fixated free market and the consumer society are underpinned by the assumption that we can do almost anything to nature and the environment.
Q. How do you see the environmental/sustainability education landscape at this point in time?
In Ontario, Canada, 2014 marks the 10th year of the province-wide Ontario EcoSchools program  . Over the last decade, Ontario EcoSchools has seen tremendous growth. It is an environmental education and certification program for grades K-12 that helps school communities develop both ecological literacy and environmental practices so as to foster environmentally responsible citizens and reduce the environmental footprint of schools. The breadth and depth of environmental initiatives in schools has grown in tandem with the diversity of participating schools and school boards. It has been a remarkable and memorable time for me to work with the wonderful EcoSchools team. In my capacity as a mentor and team leader of the EcoSchool initiative with Halton District School Board in Ontario, I was instrumental in helping foster a holistic vision which led to us receiving Gold Certifications under the Ecoschools program and my being nominated for the Ontario Premier’s Award for Teaching Excellence.
Even though the Canadian government has made a commitment that environmental education, as defined in such documents as Shaping Our Schools, Shaping Our Future in 2009 , will be part of every child’s learning and that responsible environmental practices will be fostered across the education system, environmental education and climate change agendas don’t have high priority overall. I’m not quite sure how deep our progress has been. Are Ontario education evaluators going to do more than measure student environmental knowledge with a standardized test? How deep have been the changes in student attitudes? Are Ontario students more caring, concerned and generous than before? Have we prepared them to confront injustice? Are they ready to challenge the system to bring about sustainable change or have they just been taught the cosmetic environmentalism of recycling and composting?
Q. What likely and desired future directions do you envisage, and what do you see as the implications for your own work?
The climate change of this last decade has shown how controversial and fragile the idea of ‘development’ is. Personally, and as an educator, I like to believe that the young generation is in favor of a ‘doing better things’ rather than a ‘doing things better’ approach. When we list the focuses for educational reform in the 21st century, we like to think we should focus on the content and the process of learning because in general every child has access to school. Unfortunately, we are not there yet. Working for a decade with students with different talents and needs, I can say that there are thousands of children in East Europe that don’t have access to schooling because they have special needs. I would like to see Inclusive Education as an integral dimension of all strands of Sustainability Education such as citizenship, environmental, peace and emergency education. Inclusiveness is a process that aims to overcome barriers to learning and participation and that responds to diversity by creating situations where all students can learn and experience dignity, competence, independence and belonging. I want to see programs and learning resources that face history and our selves, that analyze Jewish, Palestinian, Kosovar, Armenian and Kurdish genocides side by side with dolphin ecocide, that practice human and child rights under a Planet Earth charter. I want to see my students learn about and research not only about Gross Domestic Product but also Gross Domestic Happiness.
Q. How do you envisage your engagement with SF developing?
I see education as a form of activism. I prefer to work as an on-the ground consultant, to be part of the vast community of educators and activists around the globe. I picture the SF mission as a mission of contributing to the transformation of education globally. It’s a big dream but I’m a dreamer… Recently, I have been focused on Inclusive Education consultancy work and I would like to continue in this vein as SF contributes to global educational change. I would like to see Inclusive Education and Inclusivity embedded in and woven through disaster risk reduction education, emergency education, climate change education and education for sustainability. It is a key dimension of transformation that is calling for the contribution of all us…