As education for sustainability is a priority of the Hungarian Institute for Educational Research and Development, we created an extra opportunity on 9th September 2015 for our colleagues and members of the Environmental and Sustainability Education Research Network of the European Educational Research Association to meet and talk to each other.
The term ESE (environmental and sustainability education) covers research in the three areas of EE (environmental education), ESD (education for sustainable development) and SE (sustainability education). HIERD senior research fellow Attila Varga is a member of the network, which is also important for our Institute as the coordinator of the Hungarian ecoschool network, and also as the realisator of the Swiss Project (Widening the Green Kindergarten and Ecoschool Movements.). Dr. Varga, who is also a leader of the sub-project Developing Eco-school complex educational program (of SROP 3.1.1.) gave a presentation at the ECER conference about what measures are taken to mainstream ESD in Hungary. Based on the recent book of Rolf Jucker and Reiner Mathar, he argued that if the public could be won over for ESD, this would evoke political will for it. Both top-down and bottom-up approach are crucial for successful ESD, as well as full reorientation of the educational sector. Dr. Varga explained about the place of ESD in the Hungarian core curriculum and our system of ecoschools, which includes more than 700 Hungarian schools in 2015.
Among other network sessions, the panel with the title „All Our Relations”: Respecting People and Scholarship focused on dilemmas of ESE scholars. Participants were Alison Neilson from the University of Coimbra, Portugal, Reingard Spannring, from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, Jonas Lysgaard, from Aarhus University, Denmark and Per Sund and Louise Sund from Malardalen University, Sweden. As Dr. Neilson pointed out, this network has been existing for two years now, and they „think of their work as mutual becoming”.
Several dilemmas were discussed. Education came to the centre as something researchers promote, knowing that in many cases, it causes the breaking up of traditional communities: educated youth leave the community, as they want a more modern life. Also, education is seen as the tool for a better life, however, we must be more careful with defining „better” for other people, and not being arrogant and messianic as researchers. The presenters discussed their own bias (as they are all „products” of the Western education system), and the hypocrisy in encouraging traditional ways of lives while not living it themselves, fully benefiting from the advancements of the C21st.
Per Sund and Louise Sund brought excerpts of teachers’ voices from rural Africa and Guatemala, illustrating their point that sustainable development needs ongoing engagement with the lived realities of teachers. The inequities about what knowledge gets valued and what does not was also in the focus: as Dr. Neilson pointed out, the knowledge of local fishermen for example is never rewarded academically. Knowledge which is more intuitive, emotional rather than strictly evidence-based is not considered to be academically valid. How could they as researchers bring this knowledge in academic discourse?
The nature of the academic career was also debated, namely the tensions between the ideal, that is, serving a cause, and practice, which is about administration in 70% of worktime, and trying to get articles into peer-reviewed journals, which might not serve the same cause. Alison Neilson contemplated how to really respect researchers and scholarship with whom she very strongly disagrees. Jonas Lysgaard asked the question how can researchers not become cynical at the gap between ideals that they cherish and the practice, how to have fun with their jobs and always ask themselves what do they get from it.
Reingard Spannring elaborated on the limits of scientific research: we can only be familiar with works which were written or were translated to languages that we read. Academic writing is very English-centred, very cognition-focused and science itself is very much based on written arguments. How to bring in humour and art? She also pointed to one of the main obstacles in the way of ESE: when people deliberately choose to ignore a specific area or challenge. She brought up the example of a friend who refused to meet a pig which was kept as someone’s pet, saying she „wants to go on eating meat”. She have met the same attitude with a horse owner, whose horses caught some illness, and he explicitly said he does not want to change his horse management methods, he does not want to know whether his feeding practice causes this problem.
Impact of research – and its unpredictability – was also discussed, as well as the new challenges brought upon to the academic community by new technologies: for example, why be present physically in a conference room, why is a Skype talk not enough? The practice of giving lectures at conferences was also debated: frontal transmission of knowledge is something they fight against in the classroom, yet the whole structure of conferences largely follows this outdated pattern.
On the 10th September 2015, Anna Mogren (Karlstad University, Sweden), Jutta Nikel (University of Education Freiburg), Jonas Lysgaard and Katrien Van Poeck presented in the panel ESE Policy and Implementation. Anna Mogren explained about a research, conducted with Niklas Gericke, on the role of school organisation in ESD implementation. They have selected the top 10 Swedish schools with respect to ESD implementation, and asked the principals to explain what they consider to be quality. Overall 26 quality criteria were noted. Categories most often mentioned by the school principals were: creation of a holistic idea, target for planning school organisation, understanding the holistic idea, implementation of this, and finally, school climate and school identity in society. Many principals also mentioned education for sustainable development. Four distinctive focuses emerged that schools were using to keep high quality: 1. collaborative interaction and school development, 2. students as the base for developing the school, 3. cooperation with the local society and 4. pro-active leadership and continuity. Mogren and Gericke then analysed these schools according to the Scherp model, however, only one school scored high according to it, and very few schools used the concept of ESD to improve quality.
Jutta Nikel, chair of the session presented about a book she co-authored, and in which the recontextualisation of the task of German ESD multiplicators, that is, persons responsible for disseminating the ESD idea as change agents or advisors, working in teacher education colleges or in-service teacher trainings, was elaborated. They have examined the qualifying program for ESD multiplicators over a year, starting from the Spring of 2014. They were brought as new actors into the 5-level (student – classroom – school leadership – local education administration – education policy) education system by the government. The understanding of multiplicators about their roles varied, from focusing on environmental education to avoid being an ideologically loaded, missionary type of actor to the concept of multiplicators as subject advisors. The authors’ recommendations included supporting interview-based exchanges among multiplicators to enforce explicit thinking and a differentiated support program.
Katrien Van Poeck and Jonas Lysgaard have launched the Virtual Special Issue for the journal Environmental Education Research which they have put together in the recent months. In it, they were looking for the roots and routes of environmental and sustainability education policy research, which is a contentious and politically sensitive field, at the crossroads of research, policymaking and practice. The goal of the editors was to ensure dialogue with other fields and to investigate the history of ESE. They tried to identify blind spots in the field, and thus point to what interesting research could be. Further information is available at: http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/pdf/education/CEER-VSI-ESE-1.pdf Articles can be downloaded for free from: http://explore.tandfonline.com/content/ed/ceer-vsi