How to educate in a Changing World? Curriculum Innovation in Tertiary Agricultural Education (TAE)

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We live in turbulent times, our world is changing at accelerating speed. Information is everywhere, but wisdom appears in short supply when trying to address key interrelated challenges of our time such as; runaway climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the depletion of natural resources, the on-going homogenization of culture, and rising inequity. Living in such times has implications for education and learning.
(Wals, A.E.J. and Corcoran, P.B. (Eds.) (2012). Learning for Sustainability in Times of Accelerating Change, Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.)

The speed of change, physically, socially and culturally, is accelerating. Continued globalization and digitalization are not only affecting how we think, what we know, who to believe, how we act, they also affect the role of education in society. Higher education, for instance, and the science it produces, is no longer the sole authority of truth, if ever it was. Rather, science oftentimes represents just another point of view or an opinion in the public debate of controversial and ambiguous issues such as; the causes and impacts of climate change, the role of GMOs in food security, the use of biofuels, etc. Scientists can be found on different ends of the ongoing debates, although more might be found at one end than on the other. It is not easy to decide who is right, who is wrong, or who is more right than others, or what the best way to move forward might be.

What do we educate for in such a world when things change so fast and knowledge becomes obsolete before you know it? How do we prepare today’s graduate for the world of tomorrow? And more specifically, what are the implications for tertiary agricultural education (TAE) around the world? Again I would like to offer some thinking and reflection on existing practices that we did in the past that is still relevant today but now easily accessible thanks to open access and the digital age: Wals, A.E.J. (Ed.) (2005). Curriculum Innovations in Higher Agricultural Education. The Hague: Elsevier /Reed Business Information. In this book you will find contributions by Richard Bawden, Fabio Carporali, Paul Pace, Bill Slee and Sri Sriskandarajah. The opening section focusses on principles and stepping stones for curriculum development in a changing world, whereas the second part focusses on newly developed MSc programmes in a number of European Life Science Universities in the area of Integrated Rural Development.

You can download the book by clicking on the link below the book’s cover image above!

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Learning in a Changing World and Changing in a Learning World: Reflexively Fumbling towards Sustainability

Some people have asked me for a copy of a ‘think piece’ I wrote a few years ago as input for a World Congress on Environmental Education held in South Africa a few years ago. The paper – Learning in a Changing World and Changing in a Learning World: Reflexively Fumbling towards Sustainability – was published in the Southern Africa Journal of Environmental Education which is an important resources in the field of EE and one of the oldest journals in this field. Unfortunately the journal’s electronic distribution is somewhat limited still. Therefore I am making it available here as a pdf.

One key message – which is important just a few weeks for the Rio +20 meeting – is that Environmental Education and Education for Sustainable Development have a high familiy resemblance when taking the 1975 Belgrade charter on EE and the 1977 UNESCO-UNEP conference on EE held in Tiblisi as foundational to the field of EE.

The other key message is that the nature of sustainability challenges seems to be such that a routine problem-solving approach falls short. Transitions towards a more sustainable world require more than attempts to reduce the world around us into manageable and solvable problems but instead require a more systemic and reflexive way of thinking and acting with the realisation that our world is one of continuous change and ever-present uncertainty. This alternative kind of thinking suggests that we cannot think about sustainability in terms of problems that are out there to be solved or in terms of ‘inconvenient truths’ that need to be addressed, but we need to think in terms of challenges to be taken on in the full realisation that as soon as we appear to have met the challenge, things will have changed and the horizon will have shifted once again.

The paper therefore calls for reflexivity (Reflexively fumbling towards sustainability) and offers social learning as a form of learning that is particularly suitable for promoting reflexivity in diverse groups of learners.

The pdf is linked to the full citation of the paper below:

ReflexivelyFumblingSAJEE2007

The full citation for the paper is:

Wals, A.E.J. (2007). Learning in a Changing World and Changing in a Learning World: Reflexively Fumbling towards Sustainability. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education. 24 (1), 35-45.