At a summer meeting with a university's ESD team, we heard that its students have described the skills they see relating to sustainability. The ESD team noted that these could be applicable to just about any subject area, echoing the idea of sustainability as a place where many subjects intersect and overlap. They stressed that these are enablers not prescribers – "a new kind of student learning journey, ... discovering voice".
The skills identified by the students are:
- Future thinking
- Critical thinking
- Social / collaborative thinkers
- Making a difference
- Creative solutions
- Self belief
- Self efficacy
- Adaptive capacity – evidence based thinking – the ability to handle risk, uncertainty
- Holistic /integrative thinking
- Personal ethical code
- Vision, motivation and resourcefulness
When these came up in the meeting, it struck me that none of the items had anything particularly to do with sustainability in that they did not relate, specifically, to economic, social or environmental issues and their intersection. When I mentioned this, the immediate response was that these skills had everything to do with sustainability. For example, a sustainable society would need people and structures with critical thinking skills, etc, etc – you know the argument.
Well, it might, but that's not the same thing. As David Orr might have (and probably has) pointed out, the world is full of people with these skills (and institutions that promote them) who are often part of the problem. Many of these skills are purpose and value-neutral. It all depends on how they are used in the world, a point which the ESD team acknowledged.
That said, it surely follows that some sort of value framing is needed if such skills are to be acquired in a way that renders them restorative, rather than destructive of, say, natural capital or social justice. I couldn't see where such a framing has been adopted by the university as a whole, as it has, for example, by the University of British Columbia which seems to have a better understanding all this – on paper at least.
More to come on all this ...