Aspects to consider in ESD teaching and learning processes

This section considers some important dimensions of ESD that can help teacher/TVET educators to strengthen ESD practices.

Transformative learning and indigenous knowledge

In our previous Learning Action, we spent some time on the importance of culture and ESD, and looked at some aspects of integrating indigenous knowledges into education. Here we discuss this further as a component of transformative learning.

Catherine Odora-Hoppers (featured in the video in the next activity) is a well-known southern African scholar who has done research on indigenous knowledge and education. She often discusses the problem of Eurocentric approaches to education, highlighting that including indigenous knowledge is one of the important dynamics of transformative learning. This is important to ensure that learning is socio-culturally situated and meaningful to learners. Such an approach can facilitate ‘learning as connection’, where learners are able to make sense of more abstract concepts through also relating them to that which is more familiar to them.

Including indigenous knowledge in ESD activities can also offer learners a wider range of knowledge to work with in education, allowing for a wider ecology of knowledge to co-exist in our classrooms. This recognises and affirms plurality of knowledge and diverse ways of knowing (i.e. there is not just one way of knowing something). The Sustainability Starts with Teachers programme encourages you to include indigenous and local knowledge in your ESD work, and to link it to scientific and other forms of knowledge such as experiential knowledge in order to give learners a fuller education experience.

For TVET it is important to include practical knowledge as well as theoretical knowledge, as much theoretical knowledge in vocational education gains meaning when applied in practice. Do take note of the UNESCO quote below as you think about teaching methods.

“No universal model of ESD exists … Each country has to define its own sustainability and educational priorities and actions. The goals, emphases and processes must therefore be locally defined to meet the local environmental, social and economic conditions in culturally appropriate ways.” (UNESCO, 2005)

Read the informative booklet by O’Donoghue, Shava and Zazu (2013) that discusses a number of case examples of how IK has been mobilised in ESD practices. It also shows the important relationship that exists between heritage practice and modern explanatory knowledge, both of which are important for developing knowledge of livelihoods and well-being in contemporary situations of social-ecological risk. This booklet also has a range of video’s that can be found in the e-learning library folder on indigenous knowledge. These can be used for catalysing discussions on indigenous knowledge and sustainability practices in any local context.

The booklet has an interesting model that shows the relationship between heritage practice and modern explanatory knowledge, both of which are important for developing knowledge of livelihoods and well-being in contemporary situations of social-ecological risk. This model, below, helps us to avoid dichotomising indigenous and scientific knowledge, instead seeking a richer range of knowledges to include in education.

Figure 1 Learning interactions across everyday experience, heritage, and what is known in the present day (O’Donoghue et al., 2013).

Throughout this Learning Action, think about the words of Odora-Hoppers, and the model presented by O’Donoghue, Shava and colleagues, and how this can shape, influence and potentially enrich your pedagogical thinking and the learning experiences of your students.

Involving people in sustainable development actions with T-Learning.

It is very important for ESD processes to involve people in sustainable development actions.  There have been ongoing concerns, in SADC and elsewhere, that current ESD practices are not really contributing to the development of viable sustainable development alternatives, or to meaningful poverty alleviation and improved quality of life. This introduces a focus on practical actions into ESD discussions in a southern African context. There is strong support and motivation to include a focus on practical action in ESD, but there is little guidance provided in terms of how this should be done. While it is important to focus on practical action, inaction can also assist in reducing or changing the structural conditions that cause the problems in the first place, so care should be taken not to perpetuate unsustainable or inappropriate practices through a focus on actions only.

 To help reflect on the sustainable development actions in your local community, answer the following questions:

  • What sustainable development actions are taking place in your country context? Why are they sustainable?

  • How can you get your students involved in local sustainable development actions?

  • Can you ask your students to identify examples of local sustainable development actions in their community context to which they could contribute?

Do a YouTube search for ‘sustainable development action Africa’. Here you will find short videos providing examples of how communities are engaging in sustainable development actions in local contexts, such as the four examples below on producing and selling eco-friendly charcoal (Uganda), starting tree nurseries (Malawi), greening and food security programmes (South Africa), and wind farming (Ethiopia).

Ask the teacher education / TVET students that you work with to help you build a YouTube video library of other sustainable development actions that are emerging in Africa. How can these be used for teaching practice? Ask students to identify local sustainable development actions in their communities. We also started looking at some of these in the previous Learning Action, so with these you already have a starting video library to use!

Open Learning Action 3: Transformative Learning and Learning Environments Course Material, and work through the booklet. O’Donoghue (2019) working with the work of Anne Edwards (2014) developed a framework on how to involve people in sustainable development actions through learning which we have adapted for this course.

This learning sequence framework promotes a situated, subject discipline based expansive T-learning (transformative, transgressive learning) process for guiding ESD processes. This framework is also outlined in the Learning Action 3 Course Booklet, and will be a core resource for us on this course to think about and plan for T-learning processes.

Use the T-learning sequence model above to plan a lesson or teaching activity with your students that:

  • includes mobilising stories and cultural heritage on a specific local SD issue or matter of concern;
  • includes undertaking local inquiries and system thinking;
  • Supports learners to work out together what can be done about the SD issue or matter of concern;
  • gives learners a change to try out alternatives that can help to resolve the local SD issues or matter of concern; and
  • allows learners to review and assess their own learning, to see if it was transformative or transgressive in any way
  • What would you need to do to implement this teaching activity with your students?

  • How can you support your students to use this T-learning sequence as they plan for practice teaching?