Transformative social learning and transforming learning environments

Social Learning Approaches:

In the previous section we noted that methods should be used with purpose, and that we should enrich our methods and how they are used. Also important is to think about how these methods and their use can contribute to a wider process of social learning.

Arjen Wals (2007) has argued that social learning theories are particularly useful for environment and sustainability education because moving towards sustainability will inevitably involve engaging in multi-actor groups to deliberate possible conflicts, oppositions and contradictions, as the solutions to sustainability issues are not easy.  He writes:

“… moving towards sustainability or sustainable living inevitably involves diverging norms, values, interests and constructions of reality … such differences need to be explicated rather than concealed … [and] it becomes possible to analyse and understand their roots, but also to begin a collaborative change process [i.e. a social learning process] in which shared meanings and joint actions emerge”. (Wals, 2007)

Watch the video below of Arjen Wals, where he discusses Transformative Learning for Sustainability. Be prepared to highlight three things in the video that you think could be useful or important to take forward in watching the video is to identify those aspects that would your teaching / teacher education context.

Arjen Wals states that it is hard to capture social learning in a neat process or cycle, but he identifies some activities that might be helpful when trying to design or monitor social learning.

These are:

  • Orientation and exploration: Identifying key actors and, with them, key concerns or issues that are linked to their prior experiences and interests;
  • (Self-)awareness raising: Exploring own frames of reference related to the issues identified Deframing or deconstructing: Challenging each other’s frames through a process of clarification and exposure to alternative frames;
  • Co-creating: Joining or (re-)construction of ideas;
  • Applying/experimenting: Translating new ideas into collaborative actions; and
  • Reviewing: Assessing how issues have been addressed through the collaborative actions and deliberations (adapted from Wals, 2007).

Social learning is more an ongoing, cyclical and emergent process than a linear process. Social learning requires reflection and reflexivity throughout the process. It therefore involves reflexive participation in practices, and will require teacher educators and teachers to combine various methods in community-engaged ways that also allow for wider social learning and change.

Transforming Learning Environments

As emphasised by Arjen Wals in the video, in ESD we need to give attention to transformative learning (T-learning) but also transformative learning environments.  One way of creating transformative learning environments is to implement sustainable campus management activities.

Review the the Kasane Declaration (2002) developed at the University of Botswana, which outlines how our institutions of higher learning should re-orient to include ESD and to address issues of sustainable development.  It emphasises that universities and higher education institutions, including TEIs, should operate as ‘role models’ for sustainable development practices

The strong emphasis on sustainability around the world has led to numerous innovations in campus management practices, in Africa and elsewhere, including in schools and in TVET colleges.

Read some of the case studies that show some examples of innovations in sustainable campus management. Visit the Earth Charter website to find out how others around the world are creatively working with the Earth Charter to strengthen commitments to values and ethics in transformative learning environments.

Take a moment to reflect quietly on this statement from the Earth Charter:

“We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations”.

What does this statement from the Earth Charter mean to you as a teacher educator / TVET educator? As a parent or grandparent, family member or community member?

Visit the Earth Charter website

Adopting a holistic framework to whole institution development Environment and sustainability knowledge is contested and uncertain

Greening TVET institutions

A successful holistic framework has been used in the South African TVET system to promote a whole institution approach (the greening TVET institutions approach) to sustainability. The holistic framework is built upon five dimensions to anchor sustainable development principles in TVET institutions:

Figure 1  A holistic framework to greening TVET (South Africa Department of Higher Educatin and Training, 2014)

Click here to listen to an explanation of the holistic framework for greening TVET institutions.

Green Schools or Eco-Schools

Another well known whole institution programme is the international Eco-Schools Programme. The Eco-Schools programme is similar to other Green Schools initiatives that support whole school development. The Eco-Schools programme is an international programme supported by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), which operates in partnership with national NGOs. It encourages young people to actively participate in sustainable development actions and environmental protection.

Learn more about Green Schools initiatives and the global Eco-Schools programmes here. For an example of Eco-Schools in southern African schools, you can visit the WESSA website for regular updates on this programme and its activities, and to access Eco-schools resources relevant to southern Africa. Note the guidelines for developing a school or college action plan using the 7 step framework of EcoSchools (this can be adapted for EcoCampus processes). The EcoSchools toolkit and EcoSchools materials can also be found on the e-learning library.

Figure 1  The seven-step model of South Africa’s Eco-Schools programme

What about climate smart schools and campuses?

There are also a number of initiatives that focus on climate change action within a whole institution perspective. UNESCO’s Getting Climate Ready guide for schools to be more engaged with climate change action is a great way to initiate climate smart practices on campus. There are also other activities on climate change education that can be found in the e-learning library.

The guidelines for developing a Whole School Approach to Climate Action offered by UNESCO include:

  • School governance: Create a democratic Climate Action Team
  • Teaching and learning: Teach climate change in all Subject Areas
  • Teaching and learning: Teach critical, creative, and futures thinking
  • Teaching and learning: Empower students to take action
  • Facilities and operations: Make your school a model of climate action.
  • Community partnerships: Build community partnerships for learning and teaching.
  • Monitoring progress: Monitor the above areas to track your progress (UNESCO, 2016)

Consider the above examples of how different teacher/TVET education institutions have started to create more transformative learning environments within whole school approaches that also model principles of sustainability, as well as values and ethics of sustainability.

Answer the following questions truthfully and reflect on your answers:

  • What could you do in your teacher/TVET institution to begin a process of transforming the learning environment towards sustainability?

  • How would you draw on local values and ethics of sustainability to build transformative learning environments?

  • Can you implement one of the above approaches to whole school institution development, either in your own university/college/TVET or in partnership with a local school or college?

A UNEP Greening University Toolkit (2013) can be helpful for providing further ideas.