Why it matters how we frame “education” in ESD

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

This is the title of a new paper by Kerry Shephard and Pete Dulgar in Applied Environmental Education & Communication [2015, 14:3, 137-148, DOI: 10.1080/1533015X.2015.1067577]

You can access it here. For those who cannot, a limited number of copies are also available here.  This is the Abstract:

We analyzed two educational frameworks that seek to embed “education for sustainable development” into higher education (HE).  Both identify that HE is failing to educate graduates able to address the sustainability needs of society and suggest approaches to remedy the situation.  We used discourse analysis and framing analysis to explore the communication frames that the text activates in the context of education. Our results suggest that exponents of this form of sustainability-education have struggled to situate affect within HE learning and teaching and as a result may have underestimated the extent of pedagogical change necessary to achieve desired outcomes.

One of these frameworks is the HEA's Future-Fit.  The other is the recent HEAQAA attempt to change the nature of UK HE.  Rather predictably, this has now vanished from sight, and this paper suggests reasons for this.

The paper ends:

"Although these frameworks do not limit informed and motivated university teachers from teaching what the frameworks aspire to, the limited viability of their constituent frames casts doubt on their likely general efficacy.  ESD seeks higher order affective outcomes, but the Future-Fit and QAA/HEA 2014 frameworks promote only cognitive and lower order affective outcomes.  The stumbling block for HE appears to be higher order affect and it does matter how we frame this concept in the frameworks and guidelines that are designed to help HE.  If, in general and for whatever reason, we must educate doers and stewards who will assume their global responsibilities, HE will, indeed, need to transform itself to something very different from what it is today and these two frameworks are unlikely to get us there.  An alternative is possible:

  • We could, in particular, remove these higher order affective rationales and assertions from the frameworks that promote HE’s involvement in sustainability-education.  To some degree, and in some senses, they set us up to fail.
  • We could address our limitations. It may be stating the obvious and certainly moving beyond the confines of framing analysis, but many of us are not the doers and stewards able to assume our global responsibilities in the context of sustainable development.  Educating our students, in general, to be what we are not ourselves, may be outside the ability of HE teacher.
  • We could alternatively, and in general, focus on what we are good at.  Our role may indeed be to develop higher order cognitive and lower order affective skills of our students, with respect to sustainability.  Perhaps we should attempt to encourage our students, in general, to listen, to respond and to decide the worth and relevance of sustainability ideas for themselves and so think deeply, and effectively, about sustainability.  These objectives may not in themselves achieve the aspirational hopes of Agenda 21, but they may be far in advance of what we currently, and generally, achieve in HE.

Framed in these ways, specifically with clear definition and cognizance of affective outcomes, the “education” in ESD may develop fidelity and credibility for all who teach in HE."

At last, some realism about HE and sustainability.  Essential reading, I'd say; especially for HEAQAA if they have any residual interest, which may well be unlikely.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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