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Approaches to Education for Sustainability  

Robert B. Stevenson

Approaches to education for sustainability, or education for sustainable development, have diversified since the normative concepts of sustainability and sustainable development came into common international policy discourse in the late 1980s. These terms and their conceptualization, somewhat controversially, largely replaced environmental education in international rhetoric and policies. The dominant goal of approaches to environmental education to this point had been promoting environmentally responsible individual behavior through increasing awareness and knowledge of the natural environment and issues related to its protection. This approach began to be critiqued as inadequate for understanding, accounting for, or responding to the complexity, unpredictability, and contestation of sustainability issues, as well as the sociocultural, economic, and political influences shaping such issues as climate change and loss of biodiversity. More discursive and collaborative approaches were conceptualized, such as engaging students in critical issue- or problem-based inquiries, including into the influence of institutional arrangements, social structures, and cultural features on unsustainable practices that characterize socially critical approaches. Action competence approaches provide a conceptual and pedagogical model for developing student capacities to engage in individual and collective local issue-based inquiries and civic actions on urgent socioecological issues to contribute to a more sustainable community. Social and sociocultural learning approaches offer a framework for and emphasize the potential meaningful learning that occurs from bringing individuals or communities together to share, discuss, and reflect on cognitive and normative understandings of local and global socioecological issues. Expanding on the identified positive elements of the previously mentioned approaches, an extension of a socioecological approach in the form of a critical socioecological justice approach embraces the development of a critical and transformative responsiveness to issues of people and place. In such an approach, sociocultural, ecological, and economic sustainability, as well as socioeconomic and environmental justice, could be addressed in grappling with the challenge of rebalancing human–environment and human–human relations. This perspective acknowledges that beyond the ecological imperative, there is a moral imperative to alleviate human suffering and provide basic material well-being for all humankind, such that sustainability has a concern for the human condition as well as the environmental condition.