Academic journal article Educational Research for Social Change

Emergence of Environment and Sustainability Education (ESE) in Teacher Education Contexts in Southern Africa: A Common Good Concern

Academic journal article Educational Research for Social Change

Emergence of Environment and Sustainability Education (ESE) in Teacher Education Contexts in Southern Africa: A Common Good Concern

Article excerpt


Environmental and sustainability issues prevail in modern society. It is widely documented that southern Africa is one of the regions most at risk from climate change and ongoing environmental degradation (Southern African Regional Universities Association [SARUA], 2014), a situation and vulnerability exacerbated by intersecting concerns such as health-, economic system-, and poverty-related ills (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], 2014).

Environment and sustainability concerns in southern Africa and elsewhere have a long history. They emerged via industrial and agricultural revolutions that, despite bringing forms of progress, were also responsible for reprehensible colonial intrusions, creating substantive degradation of the natural environment. This has led present-day scientists to suggest that the earth systems and their functioning are being fundamentally altered by human activity, ushering in a completely new geological epoch: the Anthropocene (Steffen, et al., 2015). The rise of modernity and colonial intrusion patterns have also fundamentally transformed the social and cultural fabric of societies around the world, including in southern Africa, as the model of societal development became homogenised in the image of the West and the modern marketplace (De Sousa Santos, 2014).

From a recent policy perspective, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)' Education 2030 agenda (UNESCO, 2015b), which also forms the foundation of Goal 4 of the sustainable development global goals (Global Goals, 2015; UNESCO, 2015a), foregrounds the need to integrate sustainability and global citizenship concerns into education in ways oriented towards the common good. UNESCO (2015b) argued that inclusion of sustainability concerns into education at all levels should be seen as a core dynamic of what counts as quality education. The argument is that education is likely to lack contemporary relevance if such concerns are not included. UNESCO subsequently prioritises teacher education and the professional development of educators in its Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development (UNESCO, 2014c)-an integral part of the Education 2030 framework. Although teacher education and academic professional development of educators are distinct notions, we worked with both as we focused on the professional development of teacher educators who are integrating ESE into their practice via a reflexive change project process, linking the professional development course to teacher education work. To fully understand the changes in teacher education work initiated via ESE, it is necessary to consider this body of work in the wider context of rethinking education for the common good (UNESCO, 2015b).

Rethinking Education in Practice

Education has the potential to facilitate catalytic transformation of society through development of understandings and actions that contribute to more sustainable social practices. These understandings and emergent social actions would be oriented towards the common good as reported at the end of the UN Decade of Education monitoring and evaluation report (UNESCO, 2014a) ' report (Mukute, Marange, Lotz-Sisitka, & Pesanayi, 2012). In both these reports (regional and international), teacher education was prioritised and seen to be a highly catalytic arena for investing in educational transformation oriented towards the common good. In 2004, UNESCO reported that the teacher is one of the most significant influences in the creation of quality education (UNESCO, 2005). In order to facilitate the notion of quality of education that foregrounds transformation and transformative learning, there is need to reconsider the usefulness of current approaches to education in the lives of the learners. This calls for the need to rethink the way education is conducted in various settings (UNESCO, 2006).

ESE, however, needs to be critically reflexive (Lotz-Sisitka & Lindley, 2014) and should allow people to think about and consider a view of development and progress that charts new and alternative pathways to reduce human impacts on the earth system, while also seeking out new social progress models that take future generations into account. …

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