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Improving Sustainabilty Education in Haiti and Puerto Rico

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Aerial view of Haiti and Dominican Republic
Aerial imagery of Haiti, at left, depicts drastic deforestation compared to its neighbor to the east, the Dominican Republic | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Meeting the development needs of the present without affecting the ability of future generations to meet their own needs – known as sustainability – can sometimes seem a noble but rather nebulous concept. But two workshops in Haiti and Puerto Rico last September were aimed at improving the sustainability sciences and teaching of sustainability in higher education, with an emphasis on specific local goals and strategies.

In Haiti, where an estimated 98 percent of forests have been removed, workshop participants stressed the need for an inventory of lands that have the potential for reforestation. They called for greater science and scholarship regarding disaster preparedness and resiliency in a country still struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake in 2010. They also recommended Haiti-specific research on such topics as building termite-resistant homes and making transportation across Haiti more affordable and efficient.

In Puerto Rico, workshop participants mentioned such goals as converting empty spaces to more fruitful use, mounting trials in sustainable farming practices, encouraging community gardening, and improving tsunami preparation.

The workshops are part of a larger Sustainability Sciences and Education Project sponsored by AAAS and its Committee on Opportunities in Science, Clemson University, and the University of Alberta in Canada. The project is led by Dr. Gary Machlis, professor of environmental sustainability at Clemson University and AAAS Fellow, and Dr. Naomi Krogman, professor of environmental sociology at the University of Alberta and a member of the AAAS Committee on Opportunities in Science. Participants included academic leaders, university faculty, secondary school teachers, students, representatives of nonprofit organizations, and others. A final workshop will be held in Banff, Canada, in September 2016.

The Haiti workshop was sponsored by AAAS and the Haitian Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology (HAAST) and resulted in a report (written by Machlis and Krogman) titled Sustainability Science and Education in Haiti. The report’s recommendations urged AAAS to create an informal Haiti Research Group to bring together AAAS members with mutual interests in conducting and supporting research, including sustainability science in Haiti. In addition, HAAST should consider creating a needs assessment and strategic plan for sustainability research related to Haiti.

“Many participants (including the student representatives) reported that developing significant opportunities for life-long learning was the foundation for long-term sustainability in Haiti,” said the report on the Haiti workshop. “Participants stated that sustainability can and should be integrated into the curriculum early, ‘even in primary school’ and definitely in secondary and higher education.”

The Puerto Rican workshop was sponsored by the AAAS and the association’s Caribbean Division and resulted in the report Sustainability Science and Education in Puerto Rico. The report noted that civic engagement was “an especially important part of sustainability education because of the importance of self-reliance and in-country leadership, given Puerto Rico’s distinctive history of colonialism and challenges to self-organization around collective problems.”

The report’s recommendations urged the Caribbean Division to treat sustainability as a core theme for a range of the division’s activities and urged the division to bring together sustainability scientists and program leaders from throughout the Caribbean, including Cuba, to explore potential regional collaborations and agreements. 

“Outmigration trends, inadequate funding of public services (including public higher education) and challenges to the growth of employment opportunities all confront Puerto Rico and its people,” the Puerto Rico report says. “Climate change, sea-level rise, hurricane patterns, and resource use also create uncertainties and challenges. In the face of these challenges, sustainability science and education offer important pathways to alternative, sustainable futures.”

The final workshop in Banff, Canada, will focus on sustainability science and education in North American institutions of higher learning.