Compared to past generations and many unfortunate places around the world, most of us live reasonably comfortable lives. However, despite this material abundance, many feel a sense of unease and loneliness. In more recent times, many feel that there is less of a sense of community, that there is not the same close relationships and interdependency between families, neighbours and friends.
Many people are spending less time with family, friends and neighbours but are spending more time working, shopping and commuting. There is still a common belief that the pursuit of status and wealth is the root of happiness and fulfilment. We are encouraged to be more self-centred, and to buy goods and services in ever-greater amounts, but many are unhappy.
A large proportion of the population is prescribed drugs for depression and anxiety. Our rates of suicide are high. Many young people are not flourishing. The youth have new pressures and challenges to deal with and many are not coping. Many older people are living in fear and don’t feel safe in their homes. Far too many of us are alcohol dependant and too many are abusing other drugs.
High levels of cynicism towards politics are common. Many, especially young people, are totally disengaged from local and national politics.
We have a legacy of badly planned suburbs and housing estates. Far too much of our housing is of poor quality. Galway has some areas of poverty where many live in deprivation with poor public health and social support services and facilities.
A large proportion of us are disconnected from nature. A lot of people spend more time engaging with ‘life’ through a screen (TV, internet, mobile phones etc.).
It is clear that we need to strengthen communities to respond to challenges that are coming down the tracks. This section offers some possible solutions.
Education, in all its forms, has a vital role in preparing communities for the potentially difficult changes ahead. Although some moves have been made in the right direction, education is currently falling short in this role.
Teaching about sustainability continues to be a bolt-on at all levels of state education provision, rather than the underlying ethos. Too many of us still don’t fully appreciate the connections between the choices we make about what we buy and the pollution caused by those particular choices. Most young people and older students continue to leave education programmes without a sense of holistic development, without a clear understanding of their role and responsibility in local and global sustainable development, and without the skills required by the emerging, more localised economy.
Almost all education takes place indoors, where the students are sitting down for long periods of time in front of a teacher. Fieldtrips into nature are too few. Most students can identify far more corporate logos or brands than local flowers or trees.
There continues to be a lack of opportunities for collaboration and cooperation for students in our education system. There is excessive competition between students which encourages greater individualism. This is evident at all levels but is most clearly seen in the “points race” for places in third level. Such excessive competition causes great pressure and anxiety in students.
Skills such as the ability to think long term and critically about situations are not taught often enough. We still have a situation where rote learning is widely practiced over other ways of learning.
The current system produces too many specialists who do not always have a good understanding of the bigger picture, of relationships and connections within the whole.
There is still too much emphasis on producing workers for the economy instead of offering a more holistic education that encompasses personal development and good citizenship.
In recent decades, there has been an over-emphasis on academic courses in our formal education system. In doing so, we have neglected the trades and practical skills which we will need in a more localised economy.
The ethos of sustainability needs to be the underlying basis of all educational institutes in terms of what they teach and do. This section offers some possible solutions so that we can make that happen.