11th Global RCE Conference Highlights Education's Impact Towards the SDGs

All 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) took centre stage at the 11th Global RCE Conference, which was hosted by RCE Cebu at the University of the Philippines, Cebu from 7-9 December, 2018 under the theme 'Education for the Sustainable Development Goals'. Over 100 participants were present at the event, which provided RCEs with the opportunity to learn, share, and discuss how they can make an impact to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through education and training at all levels.

Various Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) projects related to the SDGs are ongoing within the scope of the Global RCE Network. Due to the diversity within the network, these projects range from curriculums designed for individual schools, to information campaigns from local or sub-national governments, capacity-building activities provided by NGOs to local communities, to hands-on training related to sustainable development provided by higher education institutions. The diversity and scope of the SDGs provide the perfect entry points and context for RCEs to synergise and scale up their own activities.

The conference began with messages from Prof. Maria Rosario Piquero-Ballescas (RCE Cebu), Prof. Cynthia Rose Banzon-Bautista (Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of the Philippines), Attorney Liza Corro, Chancellor (University of the Philippines Cebu), Dr. Hiroaki Takiguchi (Project Director, UNU-IAS), and Mr. Michiharu Kono (Ministry of the Environment of Japan), welcoming participants to the event. Collectively, they expressed that the RCE community, with its demonstrated actions to date, have the experience and ability to continue to play a vital role moving forward, especially when considering education’s linkages to all 17 goals.

A summary on the progress and achievements of the RCE network over the past year presented many highlights, including the first Asia-Pacific Virtual Youth Summit (held in September 2018), and RCEs in the Americas (RCE Georgetown) and Europe (RCE Crete and RCE Euroregion Tyrol) receiving prestigious grants to support their activities. This is in addition to two case study publications launched over the past year containing contributions from the RCE network globally; Academia and Communities: Engaging for Change and Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Well-being for All.

Updates were also provided on developments intended to aid in fostering greater communication and information-sharing across the network. These include the launch of new-look RCE profiles which serve as a ‘one-stop-shop’ featuring RCE activities, communication channels, contact details, and most importantly, highlight the wonderful projects that RCEs have worked on or are continuing to work on.

Plenary sessions included a message from the Hon. Leni Robredo, Vice-President, Republic of the Philippines, who spoke about the importance of education and the need to strengthen efforts to tackle the world’s complex problems such as hunger and poverty. Mr. Bimbo Fernandez, speaking on behalf of the Mayor of Cebu City, the Hon. Tomas Osmeña, provided an overview of their office’s initiatives for the city which aim to address a range of SDGs, including: business permits for new businesses and investor support (SDGs 8 and 9); supporting NGOs that have food programmes (SDG 2); and looking into the first mass transport system in Cebu (SDG 11).

Dr. Mee Young Choi (Head of Education Unit, UNESCO Jakarta) presented the keynote speech on 'RCE Engagement in National and International Sustainability Processes’, providing an overview of UNESCO’s global leadership in the ESD movement, as well as strategies and possible entry points for RCEs. She explained that the role of RCEs is to bring evidence to formulate into policy processes. As drivers, advocates, and contributors towards ESD, RCEs are well-placed to integrate ESD into their programmes and affect change together.    

A panel discussion provided an opportunity to hear from the RCEs on the topic ‘How can RCEs be engaged in and become instruments in achieving GAP in relation to national and international sustainability processes?’. The all-female panel covered a range of areas for RCEs to become involved, including: collaborations with the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity through their projects such as BCAMP (Biodiversity Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in ASEAN), a five-year programme funded by the EU which aims to enhance the conservation of biodiversity and effective management of protected areas in Southeast Asia, as well as a benchmark study on how ASEAN Member States can mainstream biodiversity in the education sector. Other opportunities included building capacities of educators and trainers and transforming learning and training environments, along with how to expand the current regional youth network in the Americas. A key point coming out of that youth discussion was how they could be empowered to become change makers, using education to achieve the SDGs, and whether the youth of today are equipped with the skills to address these challenges.

Interactive sessions enabled participants to hear and learn from one another, beginning with case presentations shared under the themes of ‘People’, ‘Prosperity’, and ‘Planet’, which featured ESD best practices in the context of the SDGs falling under these categories. From educational programmes on food systems and sustainability, to waste reduction and community revitalisation initiatives targeting youth, through to technical training on sustainable agriculture, the case studies demonstrated the linkages and impact that education has on the development agenda through activities that RCEs have successfully implemented.

The second day of the conference began with regional parallel sessions, where participants discussed existing challenges and priorities for the upcoming year by region, with sessions taking place for Africa, Asia-Pacific, the Americas, and Europe. The Africa session discussed reviving dormant RCEs, as well as the importance of redefining themselves and thereby increasing visibility. Meanwhile, those in the Asia-Pacific session shared their lightning presentations (presenting their initiatives in one minute) and discussed inter-RCE collaboration (centred around youth mobility among RCEs in Asia-Pacific). Participants in the Americas session talked about how to increase community inclusivity and engagement and starting a regional RCE Youth Network. And finally, topics in the Europe session centred around the importance of being more proactive and more cooperative, working across country borders with others doing projects on the same themes.

The remainder of the second day was primarily dedicated to capacity-building workshops, where RCEs had a chance to delve into sessions focusing on the themes of Primary & Secondary Education, Higher Education & TVET, and Community Education. Workshops provided participants with the opportunity to understand how to make the SDGs relevant for learners of all ages, how to enhance community participation in implementing the SDGs, as well as how students can learn to construct knowledge together.

The final day was a chance for participants to go out into the field, with trips organised to visit the historical sites of Cebu and the Bojo River in Aloguinsan. Sites visited on the Cebu City tour included Fort San Pedro, Magellan’s Cross, Santo Niño Basilica, and the Heritage of Cebu Monument, all of which provided participants with insights into the history of Cebu. Participants attending the Bojo River tour embarked on a cruise down the Bojo River, located in Aloguinsan, in midwest Cebu. Guided by local fishermen, participants learnt about the river and its system, the roles of mangroves, and the ecosystem in the area.

The 11th Global RCE Conference provided the opportunity for the RCE community to celebrate their activities and achievements, with the importance of education, multi-stakeholder partnerships for community service, cooperation across boundaries, and incorporation of global perspectives into local actions among the key points highlighted throughout the two-day event. Entry points were identified for RCEs to become more involved, whilst synergies to pursue across the network also came to light. Moving forward, greater inter-RCE collaboration will be crucial, and learning through capacity-building of institutions and individuals will continue to be a key undertaking that RCEs can deliver on.

The Global RCE Service Centre would like to thank the team at RCE Cebu and its partners, including the University of the Philippines Cebu and the Government of the Province of Cebu for their dedication, tireless efforts, and wonderful organisation and hosting of the 11th Global RCE Conference. Acknowledgement must also go to the attendees from across the RCE community for their active participation, which combined, made the event a great success.

Outcomes from the conference can be found here. Photos from the conference have also been uploaded on Facebook here.