Can we meet the sustainability challenges? The role of education and lifelong learning

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A new paper that I was fortunate to co-author with Aaron Benavot – former Director of the UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) -addresses the role of lifelong learning and education in meeting the sustainability challenges. The article provides a general overview of key possibilities and limitations of education in light of realizing the SDGs. It is based on the 2016 GEM report which was titled ‘Education for People and Planet: creating sustainable futures for all’. Both Aaron and I contributed to the report which was prepared by a large team of researchers commissioned by UNESCO. You can find a link to the article’s proof pdf here (with some author queries and some of my responses to them): WalsbenavotProofs12250 or here for the final version Wals & Benavot Paper 

The proper reference is: Wals AEJ, Benavot A. (2017) Can we meet the sustainability challenges? The role of education and lifelong learning. European Journal of Education, p. 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1111/ejed.12250

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ACT Sustainable Day – Interview about Smartphones, SDGs and Science for Societal Impact rather than for Impact Factors…

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Gothenburg University’s students held their annual Act Sustainable Day last Tuesday, one week before ‘Sustainable Tuesday’  (Duurzame Dinsdag) in The Netherlands when Dutch students will do the same, also at my Alma Mater: Wageningen University. I conducted a workshop titled ‘How smart is your smartphone? Really?’ illustrating that the whole sustainability puzzle is in your smartphone both in terms of problems and solutions.

Afterwards Caroline Petersson of the Gothenburg/Chalmers Environmental and Sustainability Centre (GMV) interviewed me for about 5 minutes about the essence of my contribution.

Here you find a link to the interview: How smart is your smart phone, really?

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International Masters in Education for Sustainable Development approved in Sweden

Last month the Faculty of Education of Gothenburg University approved an On-line/Blended Learning-based Intl. Masters on ESD. It is one of the the first of its kind in the world. During my guest-professorship at Gothenburg University that started in 2014 and will continue for another year, a was part of a team of staff from the Education Faculty, Natural Science Faculty, Business Faculty and the Humanities Faculty, as well as representatives from Chalmers University that co-designed the Masters.

The Master’s  centers on the question of how education can be a positive force for transformation and change towards a more sustainable future. Throughout the programme, students  will critically analyse the relationship between humans and other species. 

I anticipate I will continue to support the Masters in the years to come by setting up a collaboration with the Education and Learning Sciences Group of my main employer, Wageningen University.

The program will start in September 2018 and is tuition-free for qualifying European Citizens within the EU. Here’s a link to the Masters: Gothenburg ESD Masters Web-page

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You can also contact the program coordinator Helena Pedersen at: helena.pedersen@gu.se

UNESCO Chairs in Education for Sustainable Development reflect on accomplishments and challenges in new report

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A new UNESCO publication containing the reflections of  a number of UNESCO Chairs who focus on an aspect of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has just been published as an open access report.

Michelsen G. and Wells P. J. (Editors) A Decade of Progress on Education for Sustainable Development Reflections from the UNESCO Chairs Programme. Paris: UNESCO. Freely downloadable. Download the report here!

Conclusions  from the foreword by the editors.

“The UNESCO Chairs, together with UNITWIN projects, made an active contribution to the worldwide UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development. In particular, in the area of higher education, but also in other educational sectors, the UN Chairs have kick-started a wide variety of interesting activities, as the contributions to this volume demonstrate. Even though a number of UNESCO Chairs focusing on specific issues related to sustainable development, and to education for sustainable development, have been established in several countries over the past few years, it has unfortunately not yet been possible to anchor sustainability in the teaching that occurs in higher education – apart from individual examples, such as Sweden, where higher education institutions are legally required to promote sustainable development. UNESCO Chairs should be given the resources and opportunities to take on even greater responsibility for this area of education, as its graduates play a key role in disseminating ideas about how society should develop, and they make a significant contribution to sustainable development through science and research.

The SDGs mark an important turning point in the focus of the UNESCO Chair and UNITWIN Programme work as well as a challenge to build on their acknowledged achievements. As highlighted earlier, the SDGs place an earnest call on higher education institutions to focus their endeavours on addressing the world’s most fundamental developmental issues – not only those related to education but on all areas of human activity – from clean water and healthy living spaces, to peace building, issues of gender disparity and non-discriminatory prosperity. The challenges for the UNESCO Chairs on ESD, and indeed for all the UNITWIN Networks and Chairs across all fields of activity, is to now use their power of collective creative thought to find solutions to meet these challenges. The Chairs in ESD have now entered a period of consolidation and forward strategizing – a period which requires them to look beyond the theory to the practical and to pertinent problem solving. Turning theoretical knowledge into practice demands them to be at once trans-disciplinary in their implementation design worldwide, to cooperate and collaborate with the wider family of UNESCO Chairs and to urge the full embodiment of ESD into the broader research, teaching and learning higher education agenda towards 2030. The current publication provides a reference point, reflecting the past achievements of the UNESCO Chairs’ diverse areas of thematic focus during the worldwide UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development, their outlook for the Global Action Programme (2015-2019) and beyond in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

As on of the invited Chairs I wrote Chapter 2 titled Transformative Social Learning for Socio-Ecological Sustainability at the Interface of Science and Society: A Forward-looking Retrospective.

Wals, A.E.J. (2017). Transformative Social Learning for Socio-Ecological Sustainability at the Interface of Science and Society: A Forward-looking Retrospective. In: Michelsen G. and Wells P. J. (Editors) A Decade of Progress on Education for Sustainable Development Reflections from the UNESCO Chairs Programme. Paris: UNESCO, p. 18-28.

Online MSc-level Course on Education for Sustainable Development (15ECTS) starts in November at Gothenburg University

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Last year IDPP at Gothenburg University in Sweden, with support from ECS  at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, pilotted an on-line Masters Course on ESD. The course has been designed to become the the starter course for a whole MSc-degree in ESD that is currently under construction which we hope to launch in September of 2018. This November we will run the course again, not only because the course received positive evaluations but also because we think we can do even better having had the benefit of the feedback we received from students and our own reflections.

The course is of interest if you:

  • Want to work for increased public awareness, knowledge and action competence in sustainable development and responding to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
  • Are interested in supporting learning for sustainable development among diverse groups;
  • Are involved in social movements for people, animals, and the environment, and want to learn more about the role of education in creating a more equitable, peaceful, and ecologically viable world;
  • Are a teacher/educator looking for ideas and strategies to better integrate education for sustainable development in your classrooms or in community settings.

What is the role and responsibility of education to not only respond to sustainability problems, but also to prevent them and create more sustainable futures?

This question is at the core of the web-based course in Education for Sustainable Development. In this 15 credit MSc-level Master’s course you will critically and actively explore central concepts and perspectives in the field of education for sustainable development. The course content will be related to your own interests and prior experiences. You will be among other Master students from different parts of the world with different backgrounds (e.g. environmental sciences, social sciences, economics, arts and humanities).

It is a distance course, all teaching will be carried out online. Course language is English.

More information: Info about GU-ESD100 course at Gothenburg University

Or paste  www.idpp.gu.se/ESD100 into your browser.

Alternatively send an email to Sally.Windsor@gu.se or to me: Arjen.Wals@gu.se or

Note: For most European students the course is free. Non-EU citizens likely will have to pay a tuition fee.

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Environmental Education in Asia – Special Issue in the Japanese Journal of EE

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This special issue edited by Shinichi Furihata and Sachi Ninomiya-Lim from Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology and Tokai University respectively,  is the result of a 2-year collaborative project involving environmental education (EE) societies/ associations from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, North America, and Australia. In the editorial introduction the following is stated:

“The aim of the project was to create a platform to share ideas, practices, and theories of EE in the Asian region, with English as the common language. The discussion was organized around five core themes: 1) Development, current situation, and challenges of EE in formal education; 2) Development, current situation, and challenges of EE in non-formal education; 3) Research trends in EE; 4) Insights for EE in Asia from outside of Asia; 5) Review, comparison, and synthesis of findings to go beyond a presentation of EE in various countries and instead highlight the recurring transversal issues. We hope this special issue will contribute to furthering dialogue among EE scholars and practitioners in Asia, and to building bridges between EE in Asia and other regions.

The Japanese Journal of Environmental Education (JJEE), published by the JSOEE/JSFEE since 1991, has provided EE researchers and practitioners with an important space to share their ideas, thoughts, methods, and evaluative analyses, and to participate in theoretical discussions, etc., similar to many EE journals published in other countries and regions. However, since most of JJEE articles are written in Japanese (with summaries in English), its readership is essentially limited to Japanese language users, most of whom reside in Japan. Thus, although the JJEE has become a critical platform for communication among Japanese EE researchers and practitioners, there is a need to expand these discussions to a wider, global network, so that Japanese EE professionals may participate in international and transnational debates on issues of wider relevance in EE. Similarly, EE research in different journals published in Asian countries, including Korea and Taiwan, is mostly written in the local language and is therefore largely inaccessible to people who do not read these languages. The aim of this special issue, therefore, was to create a space where such discussions may be shared and connected. In addition, we decided to invite several prominent international researchers to provide their insights, ideas, and suggestions on developing EE in Asia, increasing Asian participation in the global EE arena, and promoting collaboration on EE with different countries and regions around the world.”

I was asked to write a reflective response paper together with Peter Blaze Corcoran and Joseph Weakland in which we look ahead to the future of EE in the region and beyond. Our paper titles “Preparing for the Ecocene: Envisioning futures for environmental and sustainability education” is based on the introduction to the recent book we edited for Wageningen Academic Publishers (see elsewhere in this blog). All papers are available as open-access and can be found here: Link to the entire Special Issue  You can find our closing paper in which we introduce the notion of the imaginary Ecocene here: Preparing for the Ecocene: Envisioning futures for environmental and sustainability education

Sustainability by Default: Co-creating Care and Relationality Through Early Childhood Education

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The above illustration comes from the new Harvard MOOC on Early Childhood Development and Sustainability

This new paper will be part of a special issue on early childhood education and sustainable development. I wrote the piece  based on a keynote address presented at the 68th OMEP World Assembly and International Conference held in Seoul in July 2016. In the paper I argue that children are more in tune with sustainability than most adults and that both adults and children can benefit from intergenerational dialogue and expanded learning opportunities in so-called ecologies of learning. First the idea of growing up in the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch that is shaped by one single species, home sapiens, is introduced. What does growing up in the Anthropocene mean for today’s children? A short critique is provided of the neoliberal forces that increasingly influence what happens in education and care settings and that essentially make unsustainability the default in our society. Drawing on Martin Buber’s ideas of relational ways of being in the world; Nell Nodding’s notions of care; and George Siemen’s ideas about learning ecologies, some suggestions are offered for co-creating early childhood education and care with people and the planet in mind.

The paper ends with the following: “What seems critical is that children encounter a multiplicity of different worlds by crossing boundaries, both individually and together, and having bodily experiences that strengthen their relationality with the human, the non-human and the material. It is through these encounters that agency, care and empathy can develop. All three of these qualities are foundational for a world that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect.

Citation: Wals, A.E.J. (2017) Sustainability by default: Co-creating Care and Relationality Through Early Childhood Education, International Journal of Early Childhood Education doi:10.1007/s13158-017-0193-5

Note that this is an open access publication that can be downloaded for free here: Sustainability by default