Education needs to transform to model living with ambiguity and uncertainty

Posted on September 22, 2009


Here’s my favourite quotes from Anne Phillip’s chapter Institutional transformation in the Handbook of Sustainable Literacy.   The whole book is available online from University of Brighton.

The educational system, of course, is at the heart of our current unsustainable society, being  both its product and its creator

It is probable that the people taking the decisions that determine the trajectory of our global and local development are generally themselves the most successful products of what we might agree is a flawed educational system.

It needs  a transformation:

…more of the same’ educational approaches will surely create ‘more of the same’ outcomes: graduates incapable of developing effective strategies for building a sustainable society.

To what is called a third level of transformation

education that can equip learners with sustainability literacy skills is about capacity building and has an emphasis on action. In this transformative response, a ‘living’ inquiry-based curriculum is developed.

And this needs doing even though we don’t really know where we are going or what works:

To be fair, none of us is certain what a sustainable society will look like, (although some of us like to think we have some ideas), so precisely what form of education will help students deal with the challenges ahead is unproven.

But we do know it needs doing:

We can be sure that all individuals, whether leaders or not, have to learn to be adaptable and take the risks which will help wider society draw up a map to sustainability, because the risks of doing nothing are immense.

So, what is the “it”?

Embarking on the journey of transition, each institution will have to examine the very basic assumptions it is founded on. At the heart of their questions, they will need to consider what is required of us as sane creatures living on a fragile planet.

Which means:

They must accept that any educational system should aim to demonstrate interconnectedness and interdependence if it is to offer a helpful model for living in a sustainable world. In their programmes they will need to create a balance between the rational and scientific, and the intuitive, qualitative and creative dimensions of education.
They will need to accept that for a more sustainable world, social, environmental and economic well-being must all be nurtured, and that means helping learners appreciate interconnections between human systems and natural systems, and develop skills in working across disciplines

The learning and the place and process of learning are intertwined:

All aspects of both the overt and hidden curricula will have to be revisited time and again, and re-examined to see whether and how they contribute to the critically important agenda of capacity building for sustainability. A fearless and ongoing scrutiny of institutional plans, practices and policies must be welcomed in the spirit of identifying what will promote transformation.

Change agents everywhere, so this transformation has to be top down, bottom, up, middle out:

Administrators will have to let go the desire to keep control, because the speed of the transformation required is such that traditional planning methodologies just will not deliver. Change agents may be anywhere and everywhere in the institution, and transformation will be bottom up, top down and middle out.

Oh, and it needs doing now:

Predictions of irreversible climate change, the urgency of learning low-carbon lifestyles, the unacceptable disparity between global rich and poor, all demand there can be no further procrastination. We might fear that achieving sustainability is impossible. Yet, given that in our own various ways we have all contributed to the problem, perhaps our shared steps in a new direction might lead us on a more constructive path. Learning institutions are uniquely well placed to represent an attractive and positive set of values aligned with humans’ best aspirations, and to rise to our most demanding, and potentially most rewarding remit: of helping learners develop the skills to survive and thrive in the challenging conditions of the twenty first century, and contribute to a more sustainable future.