HEADS UP or thumbs down? A postcolonial analysis of the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development

Is it possible to analyse a complex and multi layered initiative as the UN decade on education for sustainable development through Vanessa Andreotti’s postcolonial inspired HEADS UP checklist, which was featured earlier in this blog?

Such undertaking has certainly strong limitations, as the respective hermeneutics of the two approaches – a longterm, multilaterally negotiated UN process, and a short and experimental checklist aiming to stimulate doubt and questioning – are pretty much incompatible. Nevertheless, despite obvious shortcomings, the exercise proved to produce some interesting findings:

“The questions of the HEADS UP checklist provide evidence that there is a general lack of systems thinking in the texts on the decade, omitting, in a almost systematic way, questions of power, ideology and history (colonialism). These are, however, key elements for understanding and eventually achieving sustainable development. It is questionable how the DESD should achieve its objectives and make a meaningful contribution towards a more just and sustainable world without addressing these questions in an open and ambitious way. One could even argue that the absence of these questions reinforces the current unsustainable system, and the evidence that today, in year eight of the decade, the world hasn’t really become more sustainable, might support such an argument. [..] It seems that the decade has provided a powerful framework for a broad range of states and actors to advance the ESD agenda, to put questions of education on the national negotiation tables and to mobilise resources around the topic. However, considering the dramatic situation of the world and the lack of progress in challenging the current, deeply unsustainable system, we have to ask if this is enough, and if the DESD wouldn’t channel energies of well-meaning actors to address questions of sustainability and justice into an institutional setting were they don’t question the system as such.”

You can download the full essay, submitted as assignment in the “Development Education in the Era of Globalisation” module of the Development Education Master at the Institute of Education in London:

HEADS UP or thumbs down.pdf

Your critical comments are welcome, as always!


Rio+20: The night is darkest before dawn

Sugarloaf in grief

Even the Sugarloaf is veiled in grief after Rio+20 outcomes

The Rio+20 summit is over. What does it mean for development education, global learning, active citizenship, saving the world and the kind of stuff this blog pretends to address?
After one week in Rio, my personal wrap up is, with Antonio Gramsci, pessimistic in intellect, but optimistic in will:

The outcome document is disappointing. While there are important bits and pieces – like affirmation of human rights and particularly the right to food and water, or the emphasis on inclusion of youth and the mentioning of non-formal education, there is a lot of “where appropriate”, “volontary” and other possibility forms. The paramount role of empowering, values based, critical learning to achieve a shift in paradigm how we relate to each other and the planet, emphasised in a number of side events (including by UNESCO secretary general Milena Bukova) is missing completely from the document.

The dark forces are strong. Education for sustainable development is a very big umbrella, under which all kinds of approaches to learning can shelter, even if they are contradictory. Deutsche Bank vice chairman Caio Koch-Weser sees the main focus of education to produce the human capital to assure growth, meeting labour force needs of businesses and emphasising discipline, focus and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) – a very worrying conception of education, certainly not aiming to build whole and happy citizens which actively participate in the transformation of society. For Jeffrey Sachs, broadband for all and other technical fixes are main issues when it comes to education. A representative of the French ministry of education wants “to bring nature in the classroom”. Asked why the students should not rather go out of the classroom, in good Freinet tradition, he replied that in the cities, there is no nature – well, certainly more than in a classroom.
With these people – albeit in very powerful positions – a transformation of the way we learn and relate won’t the possible. How do we deal with this? How long will they maintain us in the night?

Day is coming. The nice thing about the days is Rio was the encouraging and increasingly focussed determination of civil society to shift the paradigm and to create another possible world. In particular the “Widening circle” initiative, which aims to catalyse the creation of a global citizens movement, seems promising: part of the “great transition movement”, a growing group of senior intellectuals and activists wants to connect the various people’s struggles like Arab or Marble Spring, Occupy or Indignados beyond their topical or geographical limitations through a international membership organisation – like a global justice union or party. While the name is maybe a little enigmatic (why not rather something like “citizens without borders”?), this initiative, about to kick off to a new phase in the coming months, certainly merits followup.

The night is still very dark, but dawn will come. The question is when. This depends also on us, I suppose.

PS: Check also out the report “The learning we want” from our Rio People’s Summit round table on “Empowering Future – Education as key for a just and sustainable world”, and a analysis of the Rio+20 outcomes from civil society perspective (with a special focus on education) by CONCORD board member Rilli Lappalainen on YouTube.

The dilemma with “adjectival educations”

Development education, global education, citizenship education, human rights education, peace education, education for sustainable development – there is an ever increasing number of “educations”, all with their own history and rationale. How to make sense of this multitude, and to to avoid that teachers get overwhelmed by various, always legitimate demands to their classroom practice?

Understanding how these different concepts relate can be a first useful step to create some order (and logical hierarchy) between the different concept. There is certainly not one right answer, but the chart above seems (though a little complex) quite useful to me (however, I don’t know the source, so if anyone knows where this comes from – please put a comment! And sorry to the author if any copyrights are violated..). A more simple version is my personal attempt below, which puts development education and education for sustainable development as “twins separated at birth” under the umbrella of global education and global learning (the latter emphasising the learner centred aspect of empowerment and self-directed learning, while the former is rooted in the more instructive concept of education of someone by someone else).