Tag Archives: sustainability

Environmental sustainability rhymes with lifelong learning

The European Commission published its proposal for a Council Recommendation on learning for environmental sustainability. The aim of the proposal is to support Member States, schools, higher education institutions, non-governmental organisations and all education providers in equipping learners with understanding and skills on sustainability, climate change and the environment. 

What is it?

This proposal serves the European strategy to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent 

and envisions decisive actions to be taken now. The European Education Area, the European Green Deal and other key initiatives already recognise the crucial role of education and training for the green transition: this proposal builds on them to step up Europe’s commitment. Learners of all ages now need to be able to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to live more sustainably, change patterns of consumption and production, embrace healthier lifestyles and contribute – both individually and collectively – to the transformation of our societies. The Commission explicitly points at a “lifelong learning approach to learning for environmental sustainability with hands-on, engaging and action-based ways of learning which foster (i) knowledge, understanding and critical thinking (cognitive learning); (ii) practical skills development (applied learning); and (iii) empathy, solidarity and caring for nature (socio-emotional learning)”.

What for?

The Commission proposal aims to:

  • articulate a vision and shared understanding at EU level on the deep and transformative changes needed in education and training for the green transition;
  • develop a coherent approach to the competences, skills and attitudes that people need to act, live and work in a sustainable manner, strengthen the importance of lifelong learning to ensure that everybody from a young age through to adulthood can acquire those competences and skills; 
  • facilitate the sharing of policy-maker, researcher and educator expertise and best practices at system and institution level;
  • support initiatives at EU level to foster learning for environmental sustainability; and encourage investment in the above areas.

How?

The proposal recommends that Member States establish learning for environmental sustainability as a priority area in education and training policies and programmes; this will likely bring not only extra attention to this topic, but also – crucially – more funding. Among its provisions to support learners, we find that it needs to “[s]trengthen, including through financial support, high-quality lifelong learning for environmental sustainability, including traineeships, apprenticeships, volunteering, extra-curricular activities and other forms of non-formal and informal learning. Recognise and reward civic engagement in environmental sustainability”. This would mean that Europe is about to take a huge leap forward as it will recognise the active role that all forms of learning play in making human activities more sustainable, in line with its commitment to meet all Sustainable Development Goals. 

Moreover, this proposal also supports a) educators to facilitate learning for environmental sustainability, and b) education and training institutions to effectively integrate environmental sustainability across all their activities. Such ambitious objectives will hopefully steer Europe a little more on the track of environmental sustainability. To achieve them, Member States are encouraged to agree on the mobilisation of national and EU funds for investment in infrastructure, training, tools and resources. The EU programmes and financing schemes that will support the actions to be taken under this recommendation will be the Erasmus+, the Recovery and Resilience Facility, European Solidarity Corps, European Social Fund Plus, European Regional Development Fund, the Technical Support Instrument, Digital Europe Programme, Horizon Europe and InvestEU. When it comes to instruments, it will be important that such noble purposes are met with funding that is adequate to revolutionise European education systems. 

At the same time, as is often the case with Council recommendations, the implementation process and measures will be as important as the recommendation itself. It will be important to stay within the framework of a learner-guided implementation, where education is implemented for its own sake. 

Systemic cooperation for a green transition

It is nonetheless crucial to realise that the burden of reaching the objective shall not be placed entirely on individuals or on education systems. Alone, atomised individuals or educators will not make the world greener overnight: such a titanic effort shall see the active involvement and commitment of decision-makers and major economic players and polluters. Environmental challenges are first and foremost of economic nature (e.g. production and consumption models) and have societal implications (e.g. migration, inequalities). The system cannot be changed by only looking at the environmental dimension without questioning our economic and social system. Education is a place where its actors can understand what is wrong with the system and identify solutions to fix it, but education stakeholders cannot do that in isolation from the community and society that they live in.  

As a way of illustrating this, integrating education for sustainability in the education system can only succeed if the economic and productive policies supported by employment and civil society stakeholders fuel the creation of green jobs and occupations as well as the development of green skills. The same applies to social policies addressing inequality gaps; intergenerational sustainability can only be achieved if intragenerational wellbeing is given proper attention. Close cooperation between stakeholders can support that and is essential in that regard.  

Lifelong learning as guiding principle 

Likewise, it will be important to not conceive education and training only as a means to cover the jobs needed as part of the green transition as the first aim indicates, but keep in mind that the ultimate goal must always be to improve education in itself.

At the same time, it is revitalising to acknowledge that the European Commission is envisioning to put education and lifelong learning at the centre of this new journey. All the more, because many of the guiding provisions in the proposal had been put forward by the Lifelong Learning Platform in its position paper on “Lifelong Learning for Sustainable Societies”. And we like to believe that well-grounded documents such as the position paper, informed with values of inclusion and solidarity, will always end up being the backbone of progressive decision-making. 

 

EAEA – New Report on Greening Adult Learning and Education

Adult learning and education is a fertile ground, not only for the provision of skills, knowledge and competencies for sustainable development, but also to empower social transformation as a whole“.

The opening lines of EAEAs recent report on greening adult learning and education sets out a clear position: adult learning and education is a key policy tool to navigate a fair and equitable transition to a sustainable society. The report, however, offers a word of caution:

Without taking this opportunity we lose the chance to build up a society of critical thinkers, collaborative doers and equipped citizens – paving the way into a shared sustainable future“.

A key hurdle to overcome being that most of the examples of “green” education are driven by and up-skilling and growth rhetoric – the intrinsic humanistic value of education often taking a back seat.

What is the problem with this? The report makes a valid point: the intrinsic value of education, and its transformative potential, is a fundamental component for realising a sustainable future. It is only through emancipatory education where the appearance of a natural order can be revealed as neither necessary nor inevitable – what was once deemed impossible suddenly seems attainable.

A sustainable society will not come to be through a top-down approach; people need to be afforded the capacity to envision an alternative world – adult learning and education offers one avenue for this to transpire.

EAEA’s report is an excellent guide to affirm and envision further what the future of adult learning can look like – and how it can support and compliment sustainability.  Take a look at the report in full here.

Lifelong Learning for Sustainable Societies – Let’s make it happen

The European discourse on sustainability has gained the centre of policy arenas and has spilt over all fields, including lifelong learning. Nowadays, it is no longer enough to have an outlook on the future of education, and we rather have to imagine the future of learning with sustainability as a polar star. Such was the spark that lit the debate for the LLLP webinar “Lifelong Learning for Sustainable Societies”, that took place on May 27th. 

To be sustainable, education and training needs to have a broader focus, on transversal skills and on key competences. In our current landscape, lifelong learning is a fresh, positive and transformative force, as it enables learners to think laterally. Education should be appreciated by its own benefits, and yet there is too much focus on the education-employability link. To narrow the scope of education to employment ends would mean to undermine its primary function, which is personal development – hinted Prof Jonathan Michie from the University of Oxford in his keynote speech. The moment when we will get rid of this ballast will be the moment when our systems will turn sustainable. As such, lifelong learning is essential because it enables people to face contemporary challenges: in his vision, a sustainable education system is a system that allows all of its citizens to enrol in learning at all times.

Looking at education through this perspective, it seems like the road ahead is still long. A lively panel discussion brought us to the question on everyone’s mind: what is Europe doing to make education systems sustainable, all the more in this crisis? The European Union is focusing on empowering teachers and trainers (see here the Council Conclusions on Teachers and Trainers). Ms Daria Arlavi, representative of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU, stressed how important it is to have a forward-looking union that addresses the many challenges our educators are facing. Because, in her view, a sustainable education system is a system that addresses the needs of its pillar actors: teachers and trainers

While it is difficult to predict where new technologies will bring us, and what pedagogical methods will be developed, it is essential that our education systems teach us how to learn. Dace Melbārde, Member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chair of the CULT Committee, chose to address the importance of key competences for lifelong learning to give meaning to “sustainable societies”. In her eyes, our collective efforts should go towards diversification of learning environments, with a renewed importance of non-formal education and lifelong learning, which are truly indispensable to foster one’s adaptability. In this, a sustainable education system is a system that does not let change lead us, but that enables us to be the leaders of change. 

This is particularly obvious in the current health crisis, which rapidly turned into an economic and social emergency. But, if it is true that a crisis often accelerates existing problems, it is also true that it lets solutions surface more rapidly. Such was the focus of Ms Catherine Sustek, member of the Cabinet of Vice-President Schinas, as the current scenario is bringing the European Commission to reconsider its strategies. She updated the audience about the upcoming initiatives of the Commission, including the much-needed revision of the Skills Agenda and the European Education Area: a portfolio that, if it successfully puts the learner at the centre of the process, will invariably bring us closer to the idea of a sustainable education system. 

2019 was the year when the whole world was made aware of the environmental disaster that lays ahead of us. According to Rilli Lappalainen, Chair of the Steering Group of Bridge 47, environmental education is the biggest priority for curricula and must be reflected in education policies, too. The “leave no one behind” principle that made the top of EU jargon must be translated for climate justice and environmental education and thus climb the list of the European Education Area priorities. With this angle in mind, growing attention to adult education is needed: cooperation and intergenerational learning can be a crucial step to foster a “greener” education. In his view, a sustainable education system is a system that equips learners with the knowledge to face such immediate and potentially-disastrous challenges. To this extent, involving civil society organisations in the forward-looking discussions is a must. 

The debate around a sustainable lifelong learning society is, by its own nature, adaptive. Participants and panellists to the webinar agreed that the first step shall be a truly multidisciplinary approach and representatives of the European institutions will put efforts to mainstream such an approach and promote it among EU Member States. Because mainstreaming sustainability in education “is the only way to save planet Earth and its people”.

The Lifelong Learning Platform is excited to take the lead in the joint efforts to link sustainability and education. In fact, this webinar was the first step that will feed a year-long discussion and inform our work for the future months. For the full content of the webinar; please see the live recording

ESU – Sustainability and the responsibility of education institutions

This article first appeared on ESU’s website.

Sustainable development can be defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”(1). It is crucial to view sustainability holistically as encompassing not only a safe climate and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but all different dimensions of sustainability. This includes aspects such as ecological thinking, sustainable communities, environmental and social justice as well as sustainability mainstreaming in politics, economics, production, consumption and education. 

Science clearly shows that the current way of living is not sustainable. Climate change caused by human activity, over-consumption of natural resources, mass extinction of species, lasting damages caused by pollution and persisting social injustices are well documented. We must listen to the scientific community and act with the necessary urgency to respond to the crises we are facing.

It is clear by now that the current mode of production and consumption is not sustainable; without a radical transformation process, we will continue to compromise the prospects of future generations. Because the necessary transformation needs to be science-driven, education institutions play a crucial role. Young people and students make up almost half of the world’s population and we have a vital role to play in driving the transformation towards a sustainable society. ESU is aware of the necessity to take responsibility, but it can not solve the problems alone. Urgent action from education institutions, corporations and policymakers on all levels is needed.

When our educational institutions, corporations and governments avoid taking action on sustainability, they are not just avoiding the issue, but are in fact making a political decision to continue unsustainable development. Globally, less than 3% of people go to university, yet 80% of societal leaders have been to a university. Our educational spaces create future leaders, yet our institutions are not ensuring that all their graduates are equipped with the knowledge and competencies needed to be leaders for a sustainable and just future we want to see. Policymakers have the responsibility to think beyond the end of their own time in office and build a society that meets the needs of future generations. Education institutions have a responsibility to provide relevant research, communicate the results of their research to the general public free of charge and to fulfil the multiple purposes of education within society.

Read the full statement here