Sustainability, Creativity and Culture

Exploring the pedagogical intersections between ecology, education and culture

Powerful Transformative Education Initiatives: Education for Sustainability by Other Names

There is something happening in education. A convergence of programs and initiatives designed to transform education for new global realities is taking place. Since its inception in Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 almost 25 years ago, Education for Sustainability (EfS) and its principles and precepts are being taken up to move education into its rightful place as a core component to address 21st century challenges. Among the challenges is the creation of an informed, highly skilled global citizenry. While these well-organized and generously supported initiatives may not explicitly call themselves Education for Sustainability programs, for the most part, they mirror EfS philosophies and pedagogies. I am referring to three specific documents: Learning for a Sustainable Future’s (LSF) Connecting the Dots: Key Strategies that Transform Learning for Environmental Education, Citizenship and Sustainability (2014); New Pedagogies for Deep Learning: A Global Initiative (2013) and “Learning 2030:  Equinox Blueprint for Learning”( 2013).

An EfS Primer

As it was conceived in the 90s and developed in the 2000s particularly during the UNESCO’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005 -2014 Education for Sustainability, (EfS) aims to help people to develop the attitudes, skills, and knowledge to make informed decisions for the benefit of themselves and others, now and in the future, and to act upon these. EfS supports the acquisition of knowledge to understand our complex world and the development of interdisciplinary, critical thinking, and action skills to address these challenges with sustainable solutions.  EfS or ESD (the names are used interchangeably) identifies what citizens would know, be able to do, and value when they graduate from the formal school system about key sustainability issues such as climate change, energy, biodiversity, ecosystems, water, citizenship, transportation, and poverty. EfS is experiential, authentic, and action oriented education, using real world sources rather than relying exclusively on textbooks. EfS emphasizes information analysis, not just information transfer. ESD brings together elements from many curricular areas at the same time and integrates these through a sustainability lens, ensuring that students are able to address the key challenges we all face.

Connecting the Dots

The first program that reflects EfS philosophy and articulates the strategies required to realize the EfS vision is Connecting the Dots, a document published by the Canadian NGO Learning for a Sustainable Future. The guide answers the question: what are the learning strategies for environmental education that we can employ to prepare our young people to take their place as informed, engaged citizens? The document also asks; how are these strategies aligned with 21st century learning skills including collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking?

The  “connecting the dots” in the title refers to the research synthesized in the publication that locates and describes strategies that develop the concepts, real-world connections and learning skills to build engaged citizenship. The  Connecting the Dots guide illustrates for educators ways of organizing learning experiences — in other words, the practical  “how to” of learning. And without doubt, this learning aligns very closely with the principles, precepts and practices of EfS.  For example the documents outlines specifically the “dots” to which educators can connect. For example the guide urges educators to: link environmental, economic and social issues within subjects and across subjects; link students to each other, their home life, their schools and their community; link knowledge, skills and perspectives through student engagement and action; provide a meaningful context to address numeracy, literacy, character and other educational expectations.

The Connecting the Dots guide offers a strong EfS pedagogical orientation that is collaborative, experiential, cross disciplinary, authentic and action oriented.

New Pedagogies for Deep Learning

The second educational initiative that picks up the core philosophies, vision and pedagogies of EfS is the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) project. This project takes as its focal point the implementation of deep learning goals enabled by new pedagogies and “accelerated by technology”. The group behind the initiative, led by the well known educational scholar Michael Fullan, sees the project as a response to the calls from policy-makers, employers, and youth  to renew learning systems. NDPL is a global cross-sector partnership — including research organizations, corporations, education system leaders, and clusters of schools from a variety of countries. Big players in the global change movement include the Gates Foundation, Microsoft, Pearson and other large corporations and global players.  According to the authors, “This type of international multi-stakeholder partnership has the capacity and potential to advance the learning agenda in ways a single entity could not otherwise undertake.”  They go on to specify, “The initiative seeks to renew the goals for education and learning, to include skills that prepare all learners to be life-long creative, connected and collaborative problem solvers and to be healthy, happy individuals who contribute to the common good in today’s globally interdependent world. We need our learning systems to encourage youth to develop their own visions about what it means to connect and flourish in their constantly emerging world, and equip them with the skills to pursue those visions.” This is another example of EfS language and goals  used to describe that are driving a well funded and highly organized effort to re-orient education for the vision of EfS as outlined in foundational UNESCO documents in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Particularly interesting is the notion of deep learning that the writers tie directly to the broader idea of human flourishing. NPDL provides an initial summary of deep learning skills, which they say will be further refined and operationalized in the early stages of the project through collaboration with partners.

The skills are;

  • Character education — honesty, self-regulation and responsibility, perseverance, empathy for contributing to the safety and benefit of others, self-confidence, personal health and well-being, career and life skills.
  • Citizenship — global knowledge, sensitivity to and respect for other cultures, active involvement in addressing issues of human and environmental sustainability. 
  • Communication — communicate effectively orally, in writing and with a variety of digital tools; listening skills. 
  • Critical thinking and problem solving — think critically to design and manage projects, solve problems, make effective decisions using a variety of digital tools and resources. 
  • Collaboration — work in teams, learn from and contribute to the learning of others, social networking skills, empathy in working with diverse others. 
  • Creativity and imagination — economic and social entrepreneurialism, considering and pursuing novel ideas, and leadership for action.

Here again we see striking similarities with EfS, and LSF’s Connecting the Dots guide in strategies and language believed to reflect the pedagogical approaches necessary to create a global citizenship equipped to deal with challenging realities and address the problems we face presently and will inevitably face in the future.

Equinox Blueprint for Learning 2030: Waterloo Global Science Initiative

In 2013 Waterloo Global Science Initiative brought current leaders in education, teaching professionals, researchers, and policymakers together with innovative young people from across the globe.  The report describes the summit this way, “This unprecedented gathering represented six continents, diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and disenfranchised and disadvantaged communities to give a truly global and intergenerational perspective on learning. Together, the group created a vision of a scalable, affordable, sustainable learning system for the high school graduates of 2030.”  The final report was called: Equinox Blueprint for Learning 2030. The report outlines in detail the results of the summit and proposes a radical re-thinking of how secondary education is delivered and organized in all its aspects.

In broad strokes the vision for education outlines what is needed in order for high school graduates to reach their full potential in life. High school graduates must be:

  • lifelong learners who can identify and synthesize the  right knowledge to address a wide range of challenges in a complex, uncertain world
  • literate, numerate, and articulate
  •  creative, critical thinkers able to collaborate with others, especially those of  different abilities and backgrounds
  •  open to failure as an essential part of progress
  • adaptable and resilient in the face of adversity
  • aware of the society they live in and able to understand the different perspectives of others
  • self-aware and cognizant of their own strengths and limitations
  • entrepreneurial, self-motivated, and eager to tackle the challenges and opportunities of their world

To achieve these goals, the Equinox group proposes a wholly different structure for secondary learning  “…one in which traditional concepts of classes, courses, timetables, and grades are replaced by more flexible, creative and student-directed forms of learning. This develops deep conceptual understanding, which can then be applied in other contexts.” It is a bold, inspiring and necessary vision.

Convergence and Critical Mass

The convergence of these three influential and potentially transformative programs and initiatives marks a change in education that is important and profound.  Almost twenty five years ago, the vision of the writers of Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 planted the seeds of what would be necessary to harness education to address the goal of a sustainable world and the creation of an informed, compassionate citizenry with a planetary consciousness. Through the dedication and  perseverance of many educators around the world, the vision and language, the strategies and programs are emerging on different fronts in different places united by a shared vision.  We are approaching an educational critical mass toward the creation of a better, more equitable world that honors and respects the undeniable interconnection between planet, prosperity and people.

Posted 193 weeks ago