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Dr. David Zandvliet appointed to newly established UNESCO Chair

December 09, 2020
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Simon Fraser University boasts its first UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Chair with the appointment of Education Professor David Zandvliet to the newly established UNESCO Chair in Bio-Cultural Diversity and Education. This appointment is in partnership with the Universitas Sam Ratlulangi (UNSRAT) in Indonesia. Over the four-year term, Zandvliet, will work to improve environmental education at all levels through this enriched inter-institutional cooperation.

Discussions with UNESCO first began in 2017 when Zandvliet hosted and chaired the World Environmental Education Congress in Vancouver. “The conference theme was focused on the culture/environment nexus and this was especially interesting to both UNESCO and UN Environment at that time,” says Zandvliet. “Soon after, I was encouraged to create a proposal to UNESCO and over the last two years worked with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO to develop and refine the proposal.”

UNESCO Chairs have a unique role in Canada’s research ecosystem, as well as internationally, fostering collaboration between the research community, universities, local communities and civil society. The network now has 28 UNESCO Chairs.

“I am quite humbled and honoured to be appointed to this new position,” says Zandvliet. “This designation allows me to focus closely on developing research and teaching programs at the intersection of culture and environment.” 

The concept of bio-cultural diversity is a dynamic one and takes the local values and practices of different cultural groups as its starting point for sustainable living. For educators, the issue is not only in working to preserve or restore these practices and values, but also to modify, adapt and create diversity in ways that resonate with both rural and urban populations.

“Educating our next generation of Canadians about environmental issues as they relate to cultures and communities will contribute to a more sustainable and inclusive future,” says SFU President Joy Johnson. “I am thrilled David has been named UNESCO Chair on Bio-cultural Diversity and Education, which will allow him to build on his important work with SFU’s Institute for Environmental Learning.” 

The long-term development objective for the new chair is to design and implement a research-informed and inclusive ecological education framework for Biodiversity Education across all levels.

In doing so, the UNESCO Chair will develop diverse and varied proposals for research and teaching in the fields of Environmental and Sustainability Education that will have significant and broad implications for the fields of initial teacher education, in-service teacher education, informal education, and postgraduate education. This includes the collaborative development and testing of new curricula and educational resources that take into consideration social, economic, and cultural development as they relate to Bio-Cultural Diversity.

“I applaud David on this appointment,” says Education Dean Susan O’Neill. “The UNESCO Chair brings valuable recognition to the collaborative work being done in the Faculty of Education’s pre- and in-service teacher education programs as well as graduate research in environmental and sustainability issues in education.”

Zandvliet also hopes his role as UNESCO Chair will enhance developmental (north-south) capacity-building through an existing co-operation between SFU and UNSRAT Indonesia, highlighting the important research relationships with the World Environmental Education Congress (WEEC) network and the Global UN-RCE network.         

Lastly, the development of international field schools will also be an important facet of the Chair’s activities over his term along with the continuation of existing local field experiences developed for Vancouver and Haida Gwaii that focus on the interplay between Indigenous cultures and communities which are addressing environmental and sustainability issues in unique ways.