Climate change is not a new issue for education, but new levels of consensus and concern are emerging, suggesting that new policy developments may follow. This NORRAG Special Issue (NSI 07) addresses the question of how education is to equip learners to participate in climate action that would fundamentally disrupt existing problematic systems. This NSI has the potential to inform pedagogical praxis, co-learning, curriculum, climate action, policy formulation, frameworks for evaluating success, resourcing decisions and what we might consider educative acts for engaging with climate change and its multi-dimensional uncertainties, risks and opportunities.
Edited by South African Professors Eureta Rosenberg and Heila Lotz-Sisitka, this is one of the most comprehensive and ground braking collections of papers available at the moment. The special issue is completely open access. You can find the full table of contents here.
I am very pleased to have found two wonderful Norwegian colleagues – Astrid Sinnes of the Norwegian Life Sciences University and Ole Andreas Kvamme of the University of Oslo who were willing to join in writing a contribution which is titled: School Strikes as Catalysts for Rethinking Educational Institutions, Purposes and Practices
I am also delighted to see two of my former PhD’s, Thomas Macintyre and Martha Chaves, based in Colombia in the special issue as well with a paper on Climate Change Resilience through Collaborative Learning in the Colombian Coffee Region – they co-authored with Tatiana Monroy who, like omas and Martha volunteers for Fundación Mentes en Transición, Colombia, South America
There will be an online launch of the NORRAG Special Issue 07 (NSI 07): Education in Times of Climate Change, will take place on 6 October 2022 at 16:00 – 17:30 CEST. For more information about the llaunch event have look here!
Earlier this month the 8th Report from the Global University Network fir Innovation (GUNi) was published with a wealth of contributions critiquing current resilient modes and models of education and outlinig alternative one in light of the current systemic global dysfunction we find ourselves in. I was asked to contribute a chapter on transgressive learning. The link to the chapter is here
The full citation for my chapter is: Wals, AEJ (2022) Transgressive learning, resistance pedagogy and disruptive capacity building as levers for sustainability. In: Higher Education in the World 8 – Special issue New Visions for HigherEducation, Barcelona: Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi). Open access: www.guni-call4action.org, p216-222.
I feel very privileged to be part of one of the two major International River Research projects led by Wageningen UR colleague Prof. Rutgerd Boelens: Riverhood and RiverCommons. Riverhood and River Commons are both 5-year research projects that focus on enlivening rivers, river co-governance initiatives, and new water justice movements.
Riverhood is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) (Grant Agreement No 101002921) and aims to build groundbreaking transdisciplinary concepts and methodological tools to analyze and support new water justice movements’ institutions, strategies and practices for equitable and sustainable water governance. It does so through comparing initiatives in Latin America (Ecuador and Colombia) and Europe (Netherlands and Spain). The focus will be on movements promoting novel concepts and practices such as Rights of Nature, new water cultures or nature-inclusive hydraulics, to name just a few.
RiverCommons is funded by Wageningen University’s Interdisciplinary Research and Education Fund (INREF) and unites chair groups from the social and natural sciences, as well as partners worldwide. Its objective is to develop transdisciplinary concepts and methods for research, education, and multi-stakeholder interactions to understand and support river co-governance initiatives and sustainable socio-ecological river systems in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.
While each of the projects has its specific objectives, activities, regions, and partners, there is immense potential for synergies and cross-pollination. Riverhood and River Commons will therefore be integrated in multiple ways, to together build a diverse and wide network of river scholars, activists, and institutions that commonly aim to understand and strengthen river co-governance around the world.
Both projects are united by a common framework that illuminates the different facets and complexities of river systems. The framework encompasses four dimensions: River-as-Ecosociety, River-as-Territory, River-as-Subject, and River-as-Movement. You can find more information about it in Concepts.
Another important component of both projects is the development of Environmental Justice Labs (Riverhood) and River Co-governance Labs (River Commons) to be organized in the case study sites to co-create knowledge and mobilize and exchange ideas for change.
World’s rivers are fundamental to social and natural well-being but profoundly affected by mega-damming and pollution. In response to top-down and technocratic approaches, in many places riverine communities practice forms of ‘river co-governance’, integrating ecological, cultural, political, economic and technological dimensions. In addition, new water justice movements (NWJMs) have emerged worldwide to creatively transform local ideas for ‘enlivening rivers’ into global action and vice versa. The Summer School aims to provide PhD students who conduct research on these ‘river commons’ and NWJMs with transdisciplinary concepts and approaches for studying their emerging ideas, concepts, proposals and strategies. The training thereby focuses on conceptualizing river systems in all senses, and capacity-building for (understanding and supporting) river knowledge co-creation and democratisation from the bottom up.
It is my pleasure to share two calls for contributions in relation to the development of a Whole School Approach (WSA) to Sustainability. The first one relates to an international hybrid conference organized by the Dutch government that will take place in The Netherlands and partially online late March of 2022, the second one relates to an edited Volume on the topic in the Springer SDG4 Series on Quality Education.
Call for exemplary practices of a Whole School Approach to Sustainable Development
The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy have commissioned a report to provide practical examples of how a Whole Institution/ Whole School Approach (WSA) is being used in practice around the world to engage with SDG4 – Quality Education, especially in relation to sustainable development issues as covered by the other SDGs. The reports aim is to highlight different aspects of a WSA – curriculum development, pedagogical innovation, school management and leadership, school-community relationships, professional development of staff, and the school as a ‘living laboratory’ for experimenting with healthy, equitable, democratic, and ecologically sustainable living – especially how these aspects can be integrated to mutually strengthen each other.
We are particularly interested in so-called critical case-studies that do not only highlight best-practice strategies and success stories, but also share the struggles, set-backs and challenges underneath and ways to overcome them. The report will be published as part of the WSA International Conference happening in The Netherlands on the 30th-31st March.
If you know of such a school (primary, secondary, or vocational) from your country that can be used as an exemplary example of a WSA in action, or want further details, please contact Rosalie Mathie via email. firstname.lastname@example.org before February 15th so she can still contact people connected to the exemplary case.
2 Call for Abstracts Springer SDG4 Series Whole School Approaches to Sustainability – Principles, Practices and Prospects
Ingrid Eikeland, Brigitte Bjønness, Astrid Sinnes and Arjen Wals (Eds)
Schools across the globe are seeking to respond to emerging topics like; climate change, biodiversity loss, healthy food and food security, and global citizenship. They are increasingly encouraged to do so by educational policies that recognize the importance of these topics and by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
While there is recognition that such topics should not be added on to an already full curriculum, but rather require more systemic and integrated approaches, doing so in practice has proven to be difficult. This edited Volume seeks to engage educators, school leaders, educational policy-makers and scholars of sustainability in education in key principles, critical perspectives, generative processes and tools that can help realize a Whole School Approach to Sustainability. The book will contain three sections: 1) Principles & Perspectives, 2) Critically Reflexive Contextual Case Studies (Early Childhood, Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education) and 3) Synthesis: Challenges and Prospects.
The editors are inviting abstracts (no more than 500 words) of potential chapters. Contributions can be research-based (spanning different genres of research) but can also be more conceptual in the form of critically reflexive essays. Abstracts should indicate a best fit with one of the sections and need to be accompanied with short bios of the author(s) and, if possible, references to prior publications that relate to the topic.
Please send your initial ideas for a contribution or any queries you may have to: email@example.com before March 1st. All abstracts will be reviewed by the editors and a selection will be made for further development into a full manuscript to be published by the end of 2022.
I was invited to give the closing keynote of the 2020 Annual General Meeting and Networking of Learning for Sustainability Scotland. The event was held online for the first time on 12th January 2021. More than 150 members gathered to explore the theme Building Forward Better: The role of Learning for Sustainability – What role does Learning for Sustainability play in making the world a better place, and how can we make this a reality? You can find a summary of the event and link to each of the programma elements here: https://learningforsustainabilityscotland.org/2021/01/28/report-from-the-lfs-scotland-jan-dec-2020-agm/
My talk titled ‘T-learning in Times of Transition Towards a Sustainable World’ presented an ultimately hopeful perspective on the role of new forms of learning and more ecological approaches of education in overcoming global systemic dysfunction – outlining some principles, perspectives and sharing international practice. You can see the 40 minute talk introduced generously by Rehema White, here: https://media.ed.ac.uk/media/1_gcmxxtyz The talk is followed up by some responses to questions raised by the participants.
The TESF Network tesf.netw has just released a background paper on Mobilising Capacities for Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures. Transforming education for sustainable futures requires coalitions and collaborations which span traditional boundaries – academic, professional, geographical and generational. A key point of departure in the paper is that sustainability is not something which can be discovered by scientists and disseminated through policy and practitioner networks, but rather something which must be created through processes of collective deliberation, questioning, negotiation, and experimentation. This requires opening spaces for examining entrenched unsustainable patterns, habits and routines which have become ‘frozen’, and engaging in collective action which includes experimenting, making and learning from errors, and celebrating progress towards more sustainable alternatives.
The key elements of mobilising capacities for achieving more dialogical, deliberative and co-creative forms of sustainability in and through education, can be summarised as follows:
Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures requires mobilising capacities in the form of knowledge, skills, agency, relationships and other valuable resources which are distributed across communities, organisations, professions and other stakeholder groups.
From a holistic or ecological perspective, capacities are relational, emerging through social interactions and relationships-in-action, rather than being individual properties or attributes.
Mobilising capacities which are distributed, and fostering capacities which are relational, requires reaching out and bringing together diverse groups to pursue shared goals within a wider coalition or network.
This requires creating, or opening up, spaces for dialogue, deliberation, experimentation, decision-making, developing relationships, and collaborative inquiry, action and learning.
Across these spaces, intentional structures and processes can support the learning of individuals and groups within the network, and facilitate learning by the network.
Last Fall a consortium of which I am proud to be a part, along with the Education & Learning Sciences Group of Wageningen University received funding from the UK-government to a so-called GCRF Network Plus on Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures. The network is co-ordinated out of the University of Bristol and includes partners in India, Rwanda, Somalia/Somaliland, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. TESF undertakes collaborative research to Transform Education for Sustainable Futures. We have just released an introductory video (see above) and just released a timely paper:
On April 24th my last formal activity for The Faculty of Education at the University of Gothenburg ended with the successful defence & disputation by my PhD student at GU, Kassahun Weldemariam. Kassahun worked for almost 5 years on a study on sustainability in early childhood education from a posthuman perspective. Prof. Karen Malone was his opponent while Dr. Beniamin Knutsson and Dr. Helena Pedersen were co/supervisors. Due to COVID19 the whole defence had to take place via Zoom which worked well but did strip the event from the usual rituals and festivities afterwards.
The purpose of his dissertation of which three chapters were published in peer reviewed journals and one as a book chapter, was twofold. First, Kassahun explored how the notion of sustainability is conceptualized within early childhood education discourses and how it is manifested in early childhood curricula. Second, the dissertation examined post-anthropocentric possibilities of sustainability within early childhood education.
A major finding of the two studies, relating to the first purpose, is that early childhood education tends to have an anthropocentric bias and over-emphasizes the importance of children’s agency in enhancing their potential to contribute to sustainability. Using this finding as a backdrop, the major finding of the two subsequent studies, relating to the second purpose, is that post-anthropocentric analysis can help to challenge these shortcomings and offer the emergence of a different sustainability ethos. In doing so, sustainability is reconceptualized as a generative concept that opens up possibilities for children to learn-with, become-with and affected by non-humans, i.e. other species and non-human forces. Specific posthuman concepts such as assemblage, distributed agency and becoming-with are used as thinking tools.
Systematic literature review and curricula content analysis were employed as methods for study one and study two respectively. Study three and study four drew ideas from post-qualitative inquiry which employ concepts that allow to experimentally engage with the world and think with/become-with data.
The latter two studies empirically demonstrate emerging possibilities of learning for sustainability with the non-human others/material forces and other species. In the end, the dissertation highlights that post-humanist and new materialist perspectives can provide a post-anthropocentric conceptualisation of sustainability, which paves the way for a more relational ontology, one that could in turn create a pedagogical practice supporting sustainability.
It was a true pleasure working with Kassahun durng the last five years and I am convinced we will be hearing a lot from him in the future. A pdf of his dissertation can be found here>Kassahun Weldemariam_inlaga_med artiklar
A new paper just came out in ‘Policy Futures in Education’ that I co-authored with Robert Stratford critiquing evidence-based approaches to policy making in the context of (re)orienting education towards sustainability in times of post-truth and alternative facts. In the aper we pose that there is a rational assumption built into some research projects that policy contexts are influenced by the quality of the evidence. This is, at best, only somewhat true some of the time. Through policy ethnographies, two education researchers working in the context of sustainability discuss their experiences with evidence-based policy. Central to both accounts is how critical messages about such issues as race, wellbeing and sustainability can become diluted and even lost. In the existing ‘politics of unsustainability’, and at a time of ‘post-truth’ politics, these accounts also show the limits of evidence-based policy.
We argue that those working with ‘the evidence’ need to be open about how evidence-based approaches can end up supporting the ‘status quo’. Moreover, while approaches such as knowledge mobilisation emphasise the relational qualities of policy contexts, and the importance of simple compelling narratives for decision-makers, they, like many other practices, do not sufficiently theorise the power structures surrounding knowledge and the policy context. In addition to the careful use of evidence, we argue that there needs to be greater emphasis on building healthy policy ecologies – including far more emphasis on building critical and creative policy alternatives, especially in areas like sustainability and education.
Wageningen UR is one of the partners in the Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF) Network. TESF is a GCRF funded Network Plus, co-ordinated out of the University of Bristol, working with partners in India, Rwanda, Somalia/Somaliland, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The network undertakes collaborative research to Transform Education for Sustainable Futures.
TESF just released a short video outlining the mission and way of working of the network. The coming months the four hub countries will launch their innovation grant scheme which will allow local partners to apply for funding to engage in educational reform towards sustainable development at different levels of education. Please go to the TESF-website for more information.
A new paper was published in the journal Local Environment this month led by one of my recently graduated PhD-students, Daniele Souza. The paper investigates community-based initiatives and collective learning practices in sustainability transition processes. This paper presents the results of a participatory study that investigated a local initiative in the community of Lomba do Pinheiro in south Brazil to examine social learning processes in the context of socio-ecological vulnerability. In this community, a group composed of local residents and members representing the public sector and local educational institutions has promoted several learning-oriented actions aimed at restoring a degraded local watershed and improving residents’ livelihoods.
The study used social learning as a lens through which the initiative enacted by this group may be understood, and analysed how local conditions, determined by a context of vulnerability, have influenced local processes. We applied a multi-dimensional analytical framework that included individual, collective, and territorial dimensions. The analysis focused on the leading group, the individuals who comprise it, and their actions in the territory, while considering local constraints. Our findings highlight the importance of (1) shared values, mutual trust, and affective bonds for group cohesion as well as concerted action, equalisation of diverse languages within the group, knowledge integration, and initiative persistence; (2) a practical-reflexive approach based on a sequence of actions that catalyses group learning and facilitates advancement within the wider community; and (3) the role of inter-sectoral articulations and the establishment of partnerships to support actions.
This paper raises questions about the limits of an exclusively bottom-up approach to solve complex problems in the context of extremely precarious conditions.
The full reference is: Souza Tubino, D., Wals, A.E.J., Jacobi, P. (2019) Learning-based transformations towards sustainability: a relational approach based on Humberto Maturana and Paulo Freire, Environmental Education Research, 25 (x), 1-15.
This new book published by Brill just came out and I am pleased to have been ablte contribute to its contents together with one of my colleagues from the University of Gothenburg, Anne Algers. Our chapter is part of a rich collection of chapters focusing on ways of opening education to allow for more dynamic forms of learning to emerge in a world that is trying to grapple with many of the existential and ecological crises that, both ironically and sadly, humanity itself has created. The chapter that Anne and I wrote (have look at the pre-print here: Sustainability_orientedOpenLearningAlgersWals2020) asks the question of “How can open education play a role in making academia more responsive and responsible in addressing ill-defined and ambiguous, but ever so urgent, sustainable development challenges?” In our chapter, a case study from the field of sustainable development of food systems provides a narrative that illustrates the possible impact of open education; and the value of a culture of openness to individuals, to a community, and to society.
First, we provide a contextual background on the implications of openness in higher education. Second, we introduce the subject of sustainable development (SD) of our global food systems; and third, we discuss the concept of education for sustainable development (ESD). Fourth, by means of thick description (Geertz, 1973), we report a case study on open education which we discuss in light of learning theory, critical pedagogy, and sustainable development.
In the end we argue for a radical interpretation of open education which we refer to as transformative sustainability-oriented open education, where ”open” refers to inviting and expressing critique and marginalized perspectives in controversial societal issues, while transformative refers to enabling learners to bring about change.
Suggested citation: Algers, A. & Wals, A. J. (2020). Transformative Sustainability-Oriented Open Education. In: Conrad, D. & Prinsloo, P. (Eds.). Open(ing) Education. (pp. 103-120). Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill | Sense. doi.org/10.1163/9789004422988_006
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Ecologies for Learning and Practice edited by Ronald Barnett and Andrew Jackson, provides the first systematic account of the ideas of learning ecologies and ecologies of practice and locates the two concepts within the context of our contemporary world. It focuses on how individuals and society are being presented with all manner of learning challenges arising from fluidities and disruptions, which extend across all domains of life. This book examines emerging ways of understanding and living purposively in these new fluidities and provides fresh perspectives on the way we learn and achieve in such dynamic contexts.
Providing an insight into the research of a range of internationally renowned contributors, this book explores diverse topics from the higher education and adult learning worlds. These include:
The challenges faced by education systems today
The concept of ecologies for learning and practice
The role and responsibility of higher education institutions in advancing ecological approaches to learning
The different eco-social systems of the world—local and global, economic, cultural, practical, technological, and ethical
How adult learners might create and manage their own ecologies for learning and practice in order to sustain themselves and flourish
With its proposals for individual and institutional learning in the 21st century and concerns for our sustainability in a fragile world, Ecologies for Learning and Practice is an essential guide for all who seek to encourage and facilitate learning in a world that is fundamentally ecological in nature.
In the chapter I contributed I argue that the current sustainability crisis demands a radical re-orientation of the way we learn. I consider sustainability to be an emergent property of an ecology of learning that is reflexive purposeful cocktail of actors, perspectives, forms or learning, connections and support mechanisms, driven by an ethical concern for the wellbeing of people and planet both now and in the future. Sustainability-oriented learning then becomes an organic and relational process of continuous framing, reframing, tuning and fine-tuning, disruption and accommodation, and action and reflection, which is guided by a moral compass inspired by an ethic of care. Such learning implies or even demands a certain freedom to explore alternative paths of development and new ways of thinking, valuing and doing.
The chapter introduces sustainability-oriented ecologies of learning as a blended learning space where multiple actors, often having different backgrounds, co-create sustainability organically using a variety of tools, relations, and forms of learning. The concept of whole school or whole institution approaches is introduced as a way to enact such ecologies of learning in a systemic way (see the figure below from the 2016 Global Education Monitor Report published by UNESCO).
Full reference: Wals, A.E.J. (2019) Sustainability-oriented Ecologies of Learning as a response to systemic global dysfunction In: Learning Ecologies: Sightings, possibilities, and emerging practices Ronald Barnett and Norman Jackson (Eds.), London: Taylor & Francis. p. xx-xxx
Here is a link to the book on the publisher’s website!
An ecology of learning created by a whole school approach to sustainability (source Global Education Monitoring Report, UNESCO, 2016)
Recently I have been receiving messages that the short two-minute pitch Wageningen UR recorded a few years ago and which generated quite some interest, could no longer be found or reached when looking for it on the Internet via a browser or on YouTube. Strangely, I had no problem when clicking on the link I had stored in my laptop which is why initially I did not give it much attention until a few weeks ago I received three messages about this in one day. I could not figure out what the problem was but at last someone figured out that the two-minute pitch’s status was changed by the account manager of Wageningen UR’s YouTube channel (or someone with access to the account) from ‘public’ to ‘private’. Hopefully it works again for everybody… you can click on the image or the link above to check.
It appears that the clip is public again and can be used to help advocate the importance of re-orienting teaching and learning towards sustainability, which is needed today even more that 4 years ago when this was taped… Feel free to share or comment!
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Last month I attended the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER in Hamburg this year. Around 3000 participants from over 60 countries attended the conference. Since the overall theme was ‘Education in an Era of Risk – the Role of Educational Research for the Future’ I had the honor of being asked as one of the plenary keynote speakers, as was my good colleague and friend Heila Lotz-Sisitka from Rhodes University in South Africa who, like myself, is a member of ECER/EERA’s subnetwork on Environmental and Sustainability Education (Network 30), one of the youngest and rapidly expanding networks.
The title of my talk was: Should and Can Education Save the Planet? In the talk I outlined the current global sustainability challenges form a learning perspective and I introduced the concept of sustainability-oriented ecologies of learning. I also introduced the notion of sustainability Bildung in which Biesta’s three tasks of education are reconfigured with Planet in mind to become eco-subjectification, eco-socialization and eco-qualification.
You can watch the full keynote here (also understandable for the deaf and hearing impaired as the talk was kindly supported with sign language).
Here is the official ECER2019 abstract of the keynote.
Education unwillingly has become a key mechanism for fostering economic development, innovation and growth. In the meantime, humanity is facing a range of sustainability issues that include: rising inequity, loss of democracy, runaway climate change and mass extinction. These issues can be so overwhelming that they can easily lead to apathy and despair which will only make them bigger. We appear to be at a tipping point where the decisions we make about how to live together will be crucial for the future of our planet. There is no better time than now to ask: What is education for? What if education would serve people and planet rather than just or mainly economic interests? Is this a role education should play? And, if so, what does such an education look like?
Based on emerging research and practices from around the world, I will sketch forms of education and learning that are: responsive, responsible and transformative in light of global sustainability challenges. Sustainability here is not seen as another subject to be added to an overcrowded curriculum, but rather as a continuous quest for finding ways to live more equitably, meaningfully and healthier on the Earth without compromising planetary boundaries and the futures of the coming generations. Such a quest requires a more relational pedagogy that can help establish deeper connections with people, places and other species. Such a pedagogy not only invites reflection on values and ethics, and the utilization of diversity, but also the critiquing and transgressing of the structures and systems that make living unsustainably easy and living sustainably hard.