Posts from NZAEE (6): Bjarne Jensen

Posted on February 17, 2008


Bjarne Jensen
from the Danish University of Education spoke about participation at the New Zealand Association for Environmental Education in Dunedin recently. He started with his conclusions and worked backwards.

To build ownership and action competence in Education for Sustainability:

1. Genuine participation (in dialogue with a professional)

2. Own actions (but should be integrated)

3. Barriers might help to increase motivation

4. All ages and socio-economic groups benefit from a participatory and action oriented approach.

Action is defined as activity that results in a change of perspective (note, not identical to activity based) and is based on one’s own involvement and decisions (ie not identical to behaviour change). Action is important, he argues to facilitate change in lifestyle and living conditions. Such action might, or might not facilitate actual behavioural change but change brought about through commitment and motivation is more empowering and resilient. It is also effective learning.

Participation is defined as student involvement in decisions about content, process and outcome. This, he argues, embodies an ethical approach to learning, creates learning efficiencies through creating ownership, has “education for democracy” benefits. Most importantly:

participation increases the role of creativity in society, needed when we work with complex social issues

Jensen warns however of this student decision making being interpreted as a hands-off role for the teacher. It is not the opposite of a top-down teacher dominated process but one where a dialogue is established. He does not favour Hart’s ladder model, instead he suggests considering the forms of the participation at different stages of the action competence cycle (idea origination, project selection, analysis, vision, action and evaluation).

He points to the ShapeUp programme in Europe as exemplifying participation.

Jensen talks about the importance of the dialogue (ie the role of the teacher and other professionals in the project). This, he says is critical but is a fine line that is very hard to place. The impact of barriers for example, may be counter intuitive. We might think that a project with built-in success would be preferable as it would enable the students to go right around the action competence cycle

One example he gives is off a school in Denmark where a group of young students decided their school needed a swimming pool. They made plans and lobbied the council for a pool. It didn’t happen but they chose the same project for three years running – becoming more and more active in their lobbying. When on leaving school (aged ten) they were asked what they felt they had achieved most at school, and answered – the pool project, indeed given another year, they’d do it again.

Jensen gives some future challenges in EfS to ensure that actions can become habitual everyday lifestyles (rather than requiring decisions every time).

  • identification of competencies to facilitate dialogue
  • need for a baseline of behaviours
  • how much/little science is needed
  • a change in focus from dreams to vision.

I would add the challenge of identifying and managing responses to barriers.