Current and future generations must be equipped to secure a sustainable future for the world’s forests.
Forest educators, professionals, workers, entrepreneurs, forest communities including Indigenous Peoples, policymakers, and researchers must have the knowledge and skills to address forest-related challenges.
A major survey undertaken by the Global Forest Education Project finds that in most regions, primary and secondary schools are not effectively educating students about forests.
By Andrew Taber and Susan Braatz
Well-trained foresters are vital to address some of the world’s greatest problems and to achieve the SDGs. Climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, emerging zoonotic diseases, rural poverty, and malnutrition all have direct links with the state of the world’s forests and the people that manage and protect them.
Current and future generations must be equipped to secure a sustainable future for the world’s forests. Forest educators, professionals, workers, entrepreneurs, forest communities including Indigenous Peoples, policymakers, and researchers must have the knowledge and skills to address forest-related challenges.
The key findings of a major survey undertaken by the Global Forest Education Project are being presented this week at the International Conference on Forest Education, convening virtually from 22-24 June 2021. This survey was supported by the Government of Germany and led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). It reveals serious shortfalls in attracting and educating a new generation for work in forest-related sectors.
The first of its kind, this comprehensive survey gathers information on how well forestry is being taught in primary and secondary schools, technical and vocational programmes, and universities around the world.
The survey finds that in most regions, primary and secondary schools are not effectively educating students about forests. Forest-related content in the curricula is limited and, too often, schoolkids have limited contact with forests or exposure to forest professionals and workers. It is hardly surprising that many school leavers lack basic understanding of what forests give the world, the importance of managing them sustainably, and the diversity of forest careers.
While the picture is mixed at tertiary levels, the survey also uncovered weaknesses in vocational and university forest-related programmes. Forest professionals report that graduates are frequently insufficiently prepared for contemporary workplaces.
In many regions, outdated curricula, poor access to digital tools and learning resources, and insufficient hands-on experience in forests hold graduates back. Notably deficient is coverage of socioeconomic factors, including gender and social inclusion considerations, and of traditional forest-related knowledge. University programmes are challenged by the need to provide students with: a science-based education on a range of technical subjects; understanding of the social and landscape-wide context for forests; and training in critical thinking and communications.
Significantly, the survey reveals that the forest sector has an image problem: young people often view forestry as a low-status and undesirable career. Too few young people are aware of the diversity of jobs in the forest sector or of the potential for innovation in forest-based work.
Yet the survey also reveals a wealth of innovative tools, approaches, and best practices in forest education from around the globe upon which to build.
The International Conference on Forest Education is bringing together over a thousand stakeholders to explore the needs and means to deliver quality forest education at all levels.
The conference will contribute to several SDGs including Goal 4 (quality education), Goal 15 (life on land), Goal 10 (reduced inequalities), and Goal 17 (partnerships for the Goals). It will also underline the role of forest education in the Education for Sustainable Development for 2030 agenda, led by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
In addition to considering formal forest education, the conference will examine the need for practical field training through farm and forest extension programmes and continuing education. Frontline forest resource users need the knowledge and skills to manage forests for a range of social, environmental, and economic objectives and with the engagement of local communities.
A Call to Action on Forest Education will be launched at the conference. It urges stakeholders to undertake action to support forest education, training, and knowledge. Conference participants and others are being invited to endorse this Call.
A key outcome of this event is the launch of the Joint Initiative on Forest Education of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). An online course on legal and sustainable supply chains of tropical wood and forest products, and Forestra – an online platform for dissemination of information on forest education – will also be unveiled.
The conference promises to be a defining moment for a global need: a renaissance in forest education. Never before have so many people gathered to focus their attention on this issue. It is time to build a stronger foundation for forest education, training, and knowledge. The world’s youth can expect no less if they are to have a sustainable future.
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Andrew Taber, Social Forestry Team Leader, FAO, and Susan Braatz, former Senior Forestry Officer, FAO, wrote this article.
Sheam Satkuru, Director of Operations, ITTO, and Alexander Buck, Executive Director, IUFRO, contributed to this editorial.