About arjenwals

Arjen Wals is a Professor of Social Learning and Sustainable Development. He also is a UNESCO Chair in the same field. Wals has worked at Wageningen University since 1992 in various departments. He is a guest professor at IDPP at Gothenburg University since 2014. His research focuses on learning processes that contribute to a more sustainable world. A central question in his work is how to create conditions that support new forms of learning that take full advantage of the diversity, creativity and resourcefulness that is all around us, but so far remains largely untapped in our search for a world that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect. Wals has been involved in a number of projects in Africa that seek to make curricula more responsive to current societal and labour market needs and challenges posed by (un)sustainability. Popular books include: 'Higher Education and the Challenge of Sustainability (Kluwer Academic, 2004) and Social Learning towards a Sustainable World (Wageningen Academic, 2007).

New book – Sustainability Science: Key issues

 

 

SustScienceSustainability Science Key Issues Edited by Ariane König (Université du Luxembourg, Luxembourg) and Jerome Ravetz (Oxford University, UK) is a comprehensive textbook for undergraduates and postgraduates from any disciplinary background studying the theory and practice of sustainability science. Each chapter takes a critical and reflective stance on a key issue of sustainability from contributors with diverse disciplinary perspectives such as economics, physics, agronomy and ecology. This is the ideal book for students and researchers engaged in problem and project based learning in sustainability science.

I co-authored Chapter 2 with Michael A Peters titled: Flowers of resistance: Citizen science, ecological democracy and the transgressive education paradigm. Here’s a short intro to our joint effort. “When democracy can be hijacked, power corrupts and capitalism penetrates deeply into society, including into our schools, what prospects still exist for education for a more sustainable world? Democracy is painfully slow and open to manipulation: the question must be asked whether it is up to the task in the new global environment where action is through agreement of interest-based states. And yet in a post-truth world there are important issues that yoke science as empirical truth with democracy that we might christen ecological democracy which provides the warrant and justification for civil action, and demonstrates the new power of citizen science groups that can act autonomously in the interest of their local communities. In this paper we seek comfort, inspiration and support from emerging forms of ecological democracy, civic science and transgressive education.  The latter invites conflict and disruption as mechanisms to break with stubborn, unsustainable routines, that encourage people to leave their comfort zone. The resulting discomfort can be generative when it invites people to explore other options, to build new alliances or to re-think what they always thought to be normal or true. Learning on the edge of one’s comfort zones amidst a plurality of ideas, can help us interrogate and rethink the way we frame – or are made to frame – our experiences, as well as our cultural narratives and associated encultured and embodied ontological pre-dispositions.”

Full reference: Wals, A.E.J. and Peters, M.A. (2017) Flowers of Resistance: Citizen science, ecological democracy and the transgressive education paradigm König, A. & Ravetz, J. (ed.). 2017.  Sustainability Science: Key Issues.  London: Earthscan/Routledge.

Here’s the link to the book: Sustainability Science: Key Issues

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(Re-)designing higher education curricula in times of systemic dysfunction: a responsible research and innovation perspective

A new paper coming out of the EnRRich network LivingKnowledge & EnRRich seems ti get a lot of attention considering the number of paper downloads within the first 10 days the paper has appeared online. This is probably because many universities are struggling to find a good way to make education more relevant, responsive, responsible and reflexive in light of global sustainability challenges.

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Here is the abstract and a link to Redesigning HE (open access, freely downloadable):

There is an urgent need to address the grand sustainability challenges of our time, and to explore new and more responsible ways of operating, researching, and innovating that enable society to respond to these challenges. The emergent Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) policy agenda can act as a catalyst towards the development of new and more responsible research and innovation efforts. Inevitably, higher education needs to be closely attuned to this need and agenda, by preparing students to engage in RRI efforts. This paper makes a first step towards guiding the embedding of RRI within higher education. It does so by bringing together academic knowledge with phronesis or practical knowledge about what should be done in an ethical, political, and practical sense. It draws on a literature review and on the reflective practices of partners in the European Commission funded project EnRRICH (Enhancing Responsible Research and Innovation through Curricula in Higher Education), as well as on interviews and case studies gathered as part of the project. The paper suggests elements, especially design principles and a competence framework, for (re)designing curricula and pedagogies to equip higher education students to be and to become responsible actors, researchers, and innovators in a complex world, and to address grand sustainability challenges. In addition, this paper proposes that contemporary higher education teaching and learning policies and strategies, especially those promoting neoliberal agendas and marketized practices, need to adopt a more responsible and responsive ethos to foster the renewal of higher education in times of systemic dysfunction.

Keywords

Higher education Responsible research and innovation Grand sustainability challenges Curricula Competence 

 

Critical case-studies of non-formal and community learning for sustainable development

Together with UNESCO’s Alexander Leicht and Yoko Mochizuki I co-edited a special issue in the journal International Review of Education on Non-formal and Community Learning for Sustainable Development. Here you find a link to our introductory article.

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I am pasting the final two paragraphs of the editorial introduction below:

“If there is any overall conclusion or pattern which might be drawn from all the contributions to this special issue, it is that boundary crossing is becoming a critical element of learning for, within and from sustainable development. This connects well with Vare and Scott’s (2007) notion of ESD 2, but also with the future directions for environmental and sustainability education highlighted in a recent edited volume on this topic by Peter Corcoran et al. (2017). By moving between perspectives, navigating force fields, handling diversity and stepping in and out of one’s comfort zone, new possibilities emerge for rethinking how we work, live, connect and organise our lives. This also implies working on topics and themes in more integrated ways, covering the nexus of, say, water, energy, food, health, equity and climate, rather than trying to zoom in on “just” one of those aspects. Similarly, the SDGs can only be meaningfully addressed when viewed in their relationship with each other. Boundary crossing between forms of learning will be necessary as well, blending formal, non-formal and informal forms of learning on the one hand, and, for instance, experiential, social, place-based and ICT-supported learning on the other. The result might be a learning ecology or an ecology of learning, a concept used by George Siemens (2005) which requires the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, complexity and self-organisation theories.”

“As the target year for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda with its 17 SDGs is approaching, new forms of governance, education, learning and capacity-building will need to be supported which will enable blended forms of learning in vital partnerships between societal actors seeking to live more lightly and equitably on Earth, using their own context (historically, culturally, economically, socially and ecologically) as a starting point. This also means investing in capacity building for boundary-crossing, brokering relationships and building trust and social cohesion, as these processes and properties seem critical for social learning and transformation within communities. The cases featured in this special issue are only a few of many that exist around the world, but most are not researched, documented and shared very well, and herein lies another challenge: making learning towards sustainability in communities more visible and explicit, and finding better mechanisms for sharing them, not just through special issues in a peer-reviewed journal, but also in ways which can more directly inform, or rather, engage, policy and practice.”

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

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?

SDGs

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.