Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Learning and the ecological crisis

Since our species appeared on this world 40,000 years ago, our societies have been shaped at various points by cultural revolutions that signaled the onset of new knowledge, influential innovations and rapid changes in peoples’ lives. The Agricultural Revolution led to more permanent human settlements. The Industrial-Scientific Revolution saw better technologies and systemic transformations that gave societies the potential to meet the needs of every living person on the planet. And more recently, the so-called Information Revolution has linked local communities as well as whole societies and cultures into a truly global network.

We are now in the midst of a parallel revolution in learning. This Learning Revolution is drawing life and momentum from the steady expansion of the new electronic infrastructure to remote places and diverse settings. It has been transforming the way people learn in a profound way, enabling more active and independent learners who are able to determine the pace and course of their own learning process, explore more comprehensively their learning context, and interact more effectively with other learners. With the development of powerful data management systems, electronic learning aids, and knowledge sharing technologies, we saw a dramatic increase in capacities of individuals to handle complex learning tasks. We witnessed this shift in the mainstream education paradigms: from teaching to developing capacities for learning.

But the Learning Revolution is not only being fueled by these amazing technological transformations and their effects on the learning process. We are beginning to have a discernible impact on the planet’s fragile life support system. Every year, large portions of our forests, lakes, rivers, mangroves, and other ecosystems are being degraded and destroyed, driving many species to extinction. Exponential growth in our demand for natural resources coupled with unsustainable use are fast depleting such resources. Our unhampered use of fossil fuels and clearing of forested areas are emitting large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and change global climate patterns. The recent floods in Mumbai, India and the earlier destructive landslides in Infanta, Philippines are but signs of things to come according to experts if we continue to ignore these changes.

We have thus slowly recognized the need to harmonize our behaviors and social systems with nature’s laws, to learn from our interactions with the natural environment, if we are to survive in it as a species. In many poor communities today, people are learning the value of managing natural resources and shifting to more sustainable patterns of use. Never before has learning become so important to our everyday existence.

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