"In Conversation with ... Mirian Vilela"

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Institute for Sustainable Development and Learning and Leuphana University of Lueneburg and UNESCO Chair in Higher Education for Sustainable Development

Dialogue Event Series: “In Conversation with

Theme: “How can we build collective conscience and action to rise better, resilient and sustainable from COVID-19? Re-generative ESD to make peace with nature"

On the occasion of International Mother Earth Day on 22 April, ISDL was honored to host Mirian Vilela, Executive Director of The Earth Charter for a conversation on how can we foster collective human agency in building a reciprocal relationship with nature. In the session, we seek to understand how can the sustainability learning be taken outside the brick and mortar to initiate the uninitiated? How can the scope of education be broadened to include this reconciliation of relationship between humanity and earth?

Speaker: Mirian Vilela, Executive Director, The Earth Charter and Director of Center for Education for Sustainable Development at University of Peace, Costa Rica.

Moderator: Matthias BarthProfessor, Institute for Sustainable Development and Learning, Leuphana University of Lueneburg | @TDlearning


Key Points from the conversation with Prof. Mirian Vilela 

1. Learning doesn’t happen in a controlled way. We, as educators must learn to let that go and need to be flexible with the goals we set and the learning experience we’re willing to generate. The education system consists of so much planning and “having control”. The vertical education system that belongs to the old paradigm which needs to change.

2. Learning about nature can be approached cognitively but also experienced non-scientifically. Amidst our busy life, we need to try to learn how to pause and reflect, look around and appreciate – that can be done everywhere, even in urban spaces.

3. It’s important to think of the impact and the consequences of our choices and whether the choices we’re making contribute to the wellbeing of people and the planet. Education needs to invite us to constantly think, be conscious and mindful about the choices we make and the impact it has.

4. Value education is a space to examine our day-to-day life and our decisions. It’s about questioning our assumptions, the underlying roots of our worldviews and asking, if it is contributing to the wellbeing of the people and the planet. It’s not about learning things by heart but about looking at what is bad and what is good from different perspectives and from the perspective of common good.

5. Embedded in the Earth Charter is a specific vision of cultivating – not imposing – a sense of interdependence and connection with the living world, as well as a sense of responsibility for wellbeing and the common good, and solidarity. The heart of Earth Charter is  “ethics of care and respect”.

6. It’s important to know that we need a change of mind as well as a change of heart. We need not only to learn from our cognitive selves but also experience things from our inner self. When we’re able to experience that and therefore have that kind of new consciousness and deep connection with the world, kindness will be flourishing and radiating from us.

7. The global challenges of the future don’t lie in the hands of future generations, but in the hand of everybody; it’s a shared responsibility. The more knowledge we have, the more power and responsibility of addressing the common good we have. It depends on the position we have and where we are.

8. We can help learners see the impact of the lack of responsibility and that the consequences are on others as well as on oneself. We must focus upon stimulating the thinking about “What is the impact of not caring and not being responsible?”

9. How to build bridges better with those who don’t see the world through the same lenses is a key challenge. It is important to look at the ones who are not collaborating in sharing the vision of changing the direction of our world.  Changing how one communicates with them in a way that it doesn’t hit against walls can only happen through deep dialogue.

10. Educators, school principals, administrators and students should be engaged and involved in creating a culture within the school that is caring, respectful, mindful, and sensitive towards social issues jointly. That requires an ongoing effort because school is never detached from its environment. Schools need to envision their role more as facilitators rather than only producing knowledge.

Mirian Vilela

Picture of Mirian Vilela ©Mirian Vilela
Mirian Vilela is the Executive Director of the Earth Charter International Secretariat and the Center for Education for Sustainable Development at UPEACE. She is the coordinator of the UNESCO Chair on Education for Sustainable Development with the Earth Charter and served as a member of the UNESCO Expert Reference Group for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). Mirian holds a PhD in Education from LaSalle University and a Master´s Degree in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she was an Edward Mason Fellow. She is originally from Brazil, but has been living in Costa Rica for over 25 years. The Earth Charter is a document with sixteen principles powering a global movement towards a more just, sustainable and peaceful world and one of highly regarded and referenced document in the field of sustainability ethics and action.