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

Using the SDGs as a catalyst for re-designing higher education in the Anthropocene

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Last week (June 13-14, 2017) the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Agriculture hosted an the 2017 ICA-Edu Colloquium “Delivering graduates to meet the challenges of sustainable development goals (SDGs): embedding the development of ethical and sustainable values ​​in the curriculum.” The colloquium was organized in cooperation with ICA (the Association for European Life Science Universities) which is the umbrella network of 54 life science universities in Europe. ICA’s goal is to improve higher education and research in agronomy and related sciences.

I was one of the keynote speakers along with Prof. David A. Knauft (University of Georgia) and  Prof. Georg Gratzer (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna – BOKU). Unfortunately I could not be physically present and I had to resort to using the ‘green room’ in the Social Sciences building of Wageningen University (a studio that is used for recording, among other things, short video’s for MOOCS). The 34 minute talk with the title ‘Using the SDGs as a catalyst for re-designing higher education in the Anthropocene’ can be viewed here: Keynote Zagreb ICA Conference

Interview UNESCO Master Class over Toekomstbestendig onderwijs in een duurzamere wereld – nu terug te zien

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Vorige keer kondigde ik het vijfde gesprek dat Anouschka Laheij hield met UNESCO Chairs in het kader van de Masterclass over duurzame ontwikkeling aan. Dit keer mocht ik zelf opdraven om te praten over hoe moeilijk duurzaamheid ons wordt gemaakt en hoe makkelijk het wordt gemaakt om onduurzaam te zijn, maar ook over de aantrekkelijke onduidelijkheid van een schijnbaar vaag begrip als duurzame ontwikkeling en over hoe je onderwijs en leeromgevingen anders kunt inrichten zodat jongeren leren omgaan met complexiteit, onzekerheid en ambiguïteit. En niet alleen ‘leren omgaan met’ maar ook leren veranderen en leren de wereld te veranderen.

Het hele interview

In het gesprek van 1 uur komen een veelheid vragen aan bod zoals:  Wat voor type onderwijs, wat voor soort leerprocessen en leeromgevingen zijn nu bij uitstek geschikt om te breken met onduurzame waarden, routines, leefstijlen en systemen? Hoe kun je gedrag en mogelijkheden om duurzaam te handelen creëren die kunnen leiden tot een transitie naar een duurzamere wereld? Een wereld waarin alle Duurzame Ontwikkelingsdoelen (SDG’s) in samenhang een plek krijgen. Zie ook mijn eerder blog post hierover in het kader van het verschijnen van het Global Education Monitor Report 2016.

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On-line Masters Course on Education in the Context of Sustainable Development at Gothenburg University

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New Course: Education for sustainable development – an introduction

With global challenges such as climate change, mass extinction of species, rising inequity and a growing world population, the prospects for a quality life for all, forever seem rather bleak. Central in this new course is the question: What is the role and responsibility of education in not only responding to sustainability problems but also in preventing them and in creating more sustainable futures? But also what might such education look like? The course will take advantage of some of the materials and lessons learnt from the recently finished Global Environmental Education Course Gothenburg University supported – along with Wageningen University & Research and other universities and the US EPA- which was lead by Cornell University in association with the NAAEE’s EECapacity Program.

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In this 15 credit 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 the participants’ own backgrounds, specific interests and prior experiences. Master students / students who have completes their Bachelors with different study backgrounds (e.g. environmental sciences, social sciences, economics, arts and humanities) can enrol in this course as long as you have an interest in both sustainable development and education and meet the basic English proficiency requirement of Gothenburg University.

The course is offered  online at half time starting November 1 and finishing March 22, 2017). The main course language is English. There are four blocks: 1) Understanding Sustainable Development, 2) Understanding Education in relation to SD, 3) Understanding learning environments, processes and outcomes conducive to SD and 4) Education in relation to your own SD-challenge (personal project). Each block is divided up in course weeks, each with short introductory videos, background literature, discussion questions and online discussion. Periodically there will be assignments that will be used in providing feedback and assessing the quality of your contributions. The new Global Education Monitor Report on Education for People and Planet: Creating Sustainable Futures for All will be one of the texts used in the course.

For the pilot course we are admitting a maximum of 50 students. You will need to formally register for the course through Gothenburg University via this link to the GU course web-page.

More information about course content contact me at: Arjen.wals@gu.se

More information about course logistics and registration can be found via the link to the course’s webpage (hyperlink).

Note: eligible students from European Union can participate without paying tuition to Gothenburg University. Students from outside the European Union will have to pay a tuition fee. It is assumed that participants have a bachelor degree or equivalent and have a proficient mastery of the English language (evidence of this may need to be provided).

Does the GEM 2016 report signify a change from the dominant neo-liberal agenda that sees education as an extension and a driver of the globalizing economy and the its push for infinite growth, innovation and expansion?

Does the GEM 2016 report signify a change from the dominant neo-liberal agenda that sees education as an extension and a driver of the globalizing economy and the its push for infinite growth, innovation and expansion?

In a recent interview for EurActive.com  Environmental Education Professor and a dear colleague and critical friend of mine already for many years, Lucy Sauvé from Quebec, sees in the GEM 2016 report more evidence that there is no substantial change in the ‘language’ of the latest UN Report on education and sustainable development. She cherry picks some statements from the report to illustrate this. I agree, there are some or even many cherries to pick with a neo-liberal flavour. But I can also pick cherries with a different flavour – a flavour that was completely or mostly absent in the UN ESD world.

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I have both worked with the UNESCO DESD and the Global Education Monitor Team which operates separate from the DESD – even though it is located on the same floor in the UNESCO headquarters as the ESD-team – indeed as a critical friend in the sense that I am sympathetic to any attempt that can re-orient education towards planet and people, but that I am also cautious of co-optation of such efforts by that same neo-liberal agenda. So when I read about People-Planet-Profit (as the GEM team used initially) then I must ask ‘who or what got the P for Profit in there?’ Why not just People and Planet? If you need to have something more explicitly related to economy in there then let us at least use the P of Prosperity. When I read that education for all is import for all, because it will lead to economic development which is prerequisite for ecological and environmental sustainability then this logic must be questioned: is education there to serve the economy first and foremost? Is all education by definition good or can it be highly problematic? Etc. When the ‘world of business’ jumps on the sustainable development, sustainability and ‘green’ bandwagon, then we must look critically at what the underlying motives are and what their efforts really entail. A car company promoting its hydride car using ‘sustainable excitement’ as its slogan, while at the same time manipulating its emission tests, needs to be questioned. Critical thinking is essential and asking disruptive questions is a part of that. When we read about sustainable development we must also ask ‘must we always develop?’ Or can sustainability represent an alternative TO development? When we read UN DESD documents or the GEM2016 report we must also ask are there any references to ethics? the non-human world? Indigenous ways of knowing and being in the world? Etc.

Of course it is always easier to critique then to transform. Being near or within UNESCO circles I feel can have more impact in changing the dominant discourse than staying outside of it by raising the above questions from within in dialogue. Sure the UN is an enormous bureaucracy that doesn’t change overnight, but change does happen. Working with the GEM Team for about 5 months has given me some insights in how such a comprehensive report is written: framing of the key issues, commissioning papers to mostly external experts, carefully selecting, re-organising and editing texts, distilling key messages as GEM reports are message-oriented, creating a coherent grand document, several rounds of ‘fact-checking’ and copy-editing. The initial framing and the choice of experts who are to write about the key issues has a huge influence on the tone and direction of the narrative. When I came in, half a year before the report had to be finalized, the framing had been done and could not be changed much really (the thematic section, that I was involved in, is framed around 6 Ps: Planet, Prosperity, People, Places, Participation and Partnerships, whereas the second part of the report, the monitoring part, is framed around SDG 4 (Education) and 17 (Partnerships). Where I could still have some influence was the tone and direction of the narrative, tweaking it towards a more critical perspective on the role of education and the current economy – with regards to gender, equity, indigenousness and participation the people from the GEM team working on those sections already had a rather critical perspective.

I should point out that initially I was surprised that the framing and selecting of experts was done without any consultation of the UNESCO ESD section. I asked the GEM Team why there was no or little interaction between the two sections. The response was that the Team wanted to write a more evidence-based report not using an potentially rosy ESD lens but using a sober education lens to get a more accurate picture of the role of education in creating more sustainable futures for all. I also checked with the ESD section if this annoyed them but they were not. In fact they welcomed such an ‘independent’ attempt and hope it would lead to new insights and bring in new and more people into the conversation.

Now back to the initial question of this post: Does the GEM 2016 report signify a change from the dominant neo-liberal agenda that sees education as an extension and a driver of the globalizing economy and the its push for infinite growth, innovation and expansion?

If you are looking for confirmation of replication and affirmation of this agenda you will find it – as Lucy did, however, if you look for a shift in the common discourse, you will also find it. Below I have done some cherry-picking of my own by selecting some key messages that I think represent a counter narrative and a potential shift away from business as usual. Here are my cherries from the GEM2016 report, and believe me, some of them are quite radical and signify a departure form standard UN rhetoric:

  • Current models of economic growth cause environmental destruction
  • For education to be transformative in support of the new sustainable development agenda, ‘education as usual’ will not suffice.
  • Education cannot fight inequality on its own. Labour markets and governments must not excessively penalize lower income individuals. Cross sectoral cooperation can reduce barriers to gender equality.
  • A whole-school approach is needed to build green skills and awareness. Campaigns, companies, as well as community and religious leaders must advocate for sustainability practices. Non-formal education and research and development should also help solve global environmental challenges.
  • Expand education on global citizenship, peace, inclusion and resilience to conflict. Emphasize participatory teaching and learning especially in civic education. Invest in qualified teachers for refugees and displaced people, and teach children in their mother language. Incorporate education into the peacebuilding agenda.
  • Distribute public resources equitably in urban areas, involving the community in education planning.
  • Mobilize domestic resources, stop corporate tax evasion and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies to generate government revenue for fundamental needs such as education and health.
  • Include education in all discussions on urban development. Improve and fund urban planning programmes and curricula to include cross-sector engagement and develop locally-relevant solutions.
  • Promote the value of indigenous livelihoods, traditional knowledge and community-managed or -owned land through actions such as land conservation and locally relevant research.
  • Engage community elders in curricular development and school governance, produce appropriate learning materials and prepare teachers to teach in mother languages.
  • Incentivize universities to produce graduates and researchers who address large-scale systemic challenges through creative thinking and problem-solving.
  • Promote cooperation across all sectors to reduce policy-related obstacles to full economic participation by women or minority groups, as well as discrimination and prejudice that also act as barriers.
  • Support multistakeholder governance for the sustainable management of natural resources and of public and semi-public rural, urban and peri-urban spaces.

But there’s more – the GEM2016 has a somewhat different take on Sustainable Development than previous UN reports recognizing that there are different perspectives, including ones that critique the notion of continuous development (the quote below comes form page 4 of the report):

‘The different perspectives of sustainable development include viewing it as a model to improve current systems (endorsed by those focusing on viable economic growth), a call for major reforms (supported by those who advocate for a green economy and technological innovation) and an imperative for a larger transformation in power structures and embedded values of society (supported by transition movements). Some ecologists, such as deep ecologists, believe present-day human development focuses too much on people and ignores the plant, animal and spiritual parts of this world (Leonard and Barry, 2009). They believe humans must learn to be less self-interested and place the needs of other species alongside their own. Transformation advocates say societies should go back to ways of living that are locally sustainable – consuming and wasting less, limiting needs to locally available resources, treating nature with respect, and abandoning polluting technology that has become an integral part of modern society. Culture advocates believe sustainable living can happen only if communities truly embrace it as part of daily culture (Hawkes, 2001) so that it affects decisions about what to eat, how to commute to work and how to spend leisure time.

The South American buen vivir movement rejects development as materialistic and selfish, implying that living sustainably means finding alternatives to development (Gudynas, 2011). The buen vivir belief system comes directly from traditional values of indigenous people, and posits that collective needs are more important than those of the individual. In Ecuador, this concept is called sumak kawsay, the Quechua term for fullness of life in a community. It involves learning to live within boundaries, finding ways to reduce use or to do more with less, and exploring non-material values. Ecuador and the Plurinational State of Bolivia have incorporated buen vivir into their constitutions.

Most definitions of sustainable development challenge the status quo, believing human development lacks meaning without a healthy planet. This view requires people, communities and nations to reconsider basic values of daily living and change the way they think. Understanding one’s own values, the values of one’s community and society, and those of others around the world is a central part of educating for a sustainable future. This means education systems need to continuously evolve and change in order to identify what practices work best within a given context and how they need to change over time. Indeed, for many of its advocates in education, sustainable development is best understood as a journey, rather than a destination.’

So in short – yes it is easy to critique this report as an extension of hegemonic globalizing thinking and  as another attempt to hijack any efforts to change the dominant discourse, but I think that is too easy and not very generative. Rather I would look for the elements that represent a potential shift and a transition towards alternatives and help amplify them by highlighting and sharing them. Some of the texts above would have been unthinkable in mainstream UN-speak only 10 years ago. The glass is half full, not half empty this time.

Arjen Wals, September 14th, 2016

GEM2016 – Education for People and Planet: creating sustainable futures for all – now available (open access)

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On September 6th the new Global Education Monitor report was launched – and it comes highly recommended as a comprehensive report that can help re-orient education towards sustainability and helping education become more responsive, relevant and responsible in light of today’s global challenges. It was a pleasure for me to help the GEM2016 team in preparing this report – especially in the Introduction and the first two chapters. The full report can be downloaded at: http://gem-report-2016.unesco.org/en/home/ or by clicking gem2016educationforpeopleandplanet. The report – over 550 pages – will appear in multiple languages in due time and is also available in a summary form. It can be an useful text in higher education when read critically and properly discussed.

Below is a short introduction to the report from the GEM2016 website.

At the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, member states adopted a new global development agenda, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At its heart are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 4 on education. The SDGs establish development priorities to 2030 and succeed both the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All (EFA) goals, whose deadlines expired in 2015.

Education will not deliver its full potential to catapult the world forward unless participation rates dramatically improve, learning becomes a lifelong pursuit and education systems fully embrace sustainable development

The Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report), which builds on the experience of the previous EFA Global Monitoring Report series, received a new mandate to assess the progress of education under the 2030 Agenda. The 2016 GEM Report, the first of the new 15-year series, explores the complex relationship between education and other facets of sustainable development, along with the monitoring implications for SDG 4. It shows that education will not deliver its full potential to catapult the world forward unless school participation rates dramatically improve, learning becomes a lifelong pursuit and education systems fully embrace sustainable development.

The thematic part of the report highlights evidence, practices and policies that demonstrate how education can serve as a catalyst for the overall sustainable development agenda. It presents compelling arguments for the types of education that are vital for achieving the goals of poverty reduction, hunger eradication, improved health, gender equality and empowerment, sustainable agriculture, resilient cities and more equal, inclusive and just societies.

The monitoring part tackles the many challenges concerning how to assess progress on SDG 4, including concrete recommendations for policy change. Each of the seven education targets and three means of implementation in SDG 4 are examined in turn. In addition, education finance and education systems are analysed, as is the extent to which education can be monitored in the other SDG goals. Building blocks and potential synergies for a more effective and efficient global education monitoring agenda over the next 15 years are identified at the national, regional and international levels.