» Big experiment in sustainable development education transforms small Japanese village
22.11.2016 - Education Sector

Big experiment in sustainable development education transforms small Japanese village

© UNESCO

“I like the green, mountains, trees and even the rain,” said a young primary school girl describing what she treasures most about living in the remote Japanese town of Omori, Japan where a fascinating experiment in education for sustainable development (ESD) is taking place.

For that reason, UNESCO gathered international experts and local stakeholders there for the first of a series of symposia on the future of ESD held from November 8-9, 2016 in Omori, situated in the southwest of Japan’s Honshu Island. The series aims to ensure continuity of vision for ESD to 2030.

The town, which has just 400 inhabitants and is located in the silver mining area of Iwami-Ginzan, inscribed as a UNESCO Heritage site, is a complex and concrete laboratory of experiences related to all dimensions of sustainable development - economic, cultural, educational, and generational (see ESD success story Japan: It takes a (small) village).

The two-day event was structured to encourage free thinking, dialogue and the sharing of stories, narratives and perspectives between inhabitants and outside specialists.     

The 17 participants from 10 countries (Cameroon, the Netherlands, USA, Singapore, Republic of Korea, India, Japan, Australia, Colombia, Bolivia), represented fields including economics, information technology, sociology, media, architecture, youth and teacher training all with a focus on sustainability.

Highlights of the agenda were field visits made to two enterprises who have taken up the sustainable development challenge. Iwami-ginzan Lifestyle Research Institute makes household articles and clothes using traditional fabrics and techniques which are sold under the brand named Gungendo in more than 30 shops around Japan as well as online.

Founders Tomi and Daikichi Matsuba presented their work to the participants describing how they embrace art and philosophy in everyday life and work. “Our products are an integral part of handing down traditions to the next generation as well as of shaping a sustainable future.”

Close bond between the local populace and their resources

Participants also visited Nakamura Brace, a company manufacturing prosthetics and orthotics, founded by Mr Toshiro Nakamura where visiting expert Mr Otto Benavides, Director of Instructional Technology and Resource Center at California State University, highlighted Mr Nakamura’s leadership role and how the company seemed to be an important centre of the community.

In addition, Mr Nakamura also employed a young baker to open a German bakery and transformed a theatre into an opera house which runs music seminars.

Another visit was made to the Omori Elementary school where the 16 students welcomed their guests with music and performances and teachers and parents presented its history.

Mr Kenneth Lim, Research Scientist of the National Institute of Education in Singapore, said: “If we abstract the principles learned from Omori, one of the key takeaways is the relationship between the local populace and the resources around them. The children harvested potatoes from around the school campus – this is one of several examples of the townsfolk and their agricultural practices.” 

The symposium also included two public sessions to exchange views with young people and representatives of self-governing bodies and associations of Omori. A young man who had moved to Omori in his 30s said: “The openness of Omori is the key to the future as the town accepts differences and outsiders.”

Mr Arjen Wals, Professor of Transformative Learning for Socio-Ecological Sustainability, Wageningen University, Netherlands, and Gothenburg University, Sweden said: “To the young people who moved away from high stress urban places this represents a welcome departure from a world of competition and performance.

“The people of Omori are firmly based in a place but are not out of touch with the world: they are not deprived from connections with the wider world as there is technology and people visit from all over Japan and beyond. Balancing this in the future will be a challenge but there is an awareness of this which will help finding such a balance.”

Ms Ani Wirenga, youth specialist and Honorary Senior Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences of University of Melbourne, Australia concluded: “The benefit of this two-day symposium has been connecting such a diverse group of minds in such a generous, culturally and relationally rich space – this is sufficient to turn everyday paradigms about education, sustainable and development on their head.”

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