Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Power to the people

WEEC 2007 - 3. Power to the people: a solar panel donated by a South African bank, not only provides ‘green’ electricity to the school, but also provides a daily lunch for one thousand students from the savings on the electricity bill. This example was given by Mr Envaserti, Deputy Minister of Education of South Africa. It illustrates the challenges his ministry faces in providing quality education to 12 million children. Basic provisions for schools often push the environment to the periphery. But the Minister is keen on environmental education as a basic need in an emerging democracy: “EE is not about trees, water or soil, but about lifestyle decisions, what we eat, drink, how we build etc.”

The morning session was opened by the Drameni Children Choir of the Lutheran Church in the Mlasi district of Durban. A well known local singer and the children manage to get the audience out of their seats and into swinging. There is loud cheering when the VIPs on the podium also get up and join the dance. It provides us all with energy and a positive mindset: we are ready for a whole day of listening to speeches.

John Ssebuwufu, Research Director of the African Association of Universities talks about the role of universities in sustainable development and the changes needed in his academic community: “Changing a university is like asking the inhabitants of a cemetery, whether the cemetery should be moved to another location.” The changes in our world of today he illustrates with the fact that even his driver now has a mobile telephone. He ends his speech with an African proverb: “One who does not learn from other peoples’ mistakes, is a fool.” I am thinking you are even a greater fool, when you do not learn from your own mistakes.

During the applause at the end of his speech, the lady next to me who forced me out of my seat during the singing – an extension worker of the Ministry of Agriculture’s department of water and forestry - grumbles to me: “Like yesterday that professor from Spain, this one also lectures in abstract terms about environmental facts and figures. We all know them very well from our daily experience in the field, and he only knows them from books and publications. It is almost an insult to our intelligence.

Indeed during this morning session the jargon of academia is overwhelming: conditions of uncertainty, the degree of rigor of research, theoretical understanding, transforming relationships, post-positivist paradigms, conflicting perspectives, EE as problem solving versus ESD as capacity building, continuous responsive learning, non-traditional forms of knowledge, categories of action oriented competences, sub components of action competences, learning efficiency, notions of authenticity, behaviorist and science approaches, participation as content. And so on, and so forth.

William Scott gives us an overview of EE research and shows the need for EE to come out of its niche and venture into mainstream education research and publications and prove there its relevance and added value. “Policy makers today turn to psychologists and not to EE experts for advice on changing attitudes and behavior on issues of climate change and the environment.” He finally asks the hard question: “EE: what do we have to offer?” He then almost with regret he ends: “I cannot answer this question with confidence, so I leave it with you to dwell upon during the coming days.

Professor Bjarne Bruun Jensen shares years of experience in researching environmental education with his Danish team. He explains the Investigation – Vision – Action – Change Approach in health and environmental education in schools.He explains the modalities of participation. He shares with us his newest publication “Participation and Learning” and two web addresses:; Finally he summarizes part of his lecture: “What we can learn from this, is that participation is a complex issue.” My neighbor is moving uncomfortably and whistles softly.

Justin Dillon, from Kings College is the last speaker. Here is a some one who can go beyond jargon, as he welcomes us to the world of public opinion polls: “this morning the BBC showed that the public is more concerned about terrorists and dog mess, than about scientific reports about climate change”. “Why is it”, he asks “why the public holds such opinions? The he answer is quite simple.” He waits a second and then says: “We simply do not know!” He ridicules our definitions of ESD: they are so long that you cannot remember them and they do not make sense anymore. His message is that we have to reposition science and environment education and provide students with the big picture and with a model of a scientist they can aspire to. At the moment research shows that boys want to learn from science education details about explosive chemicals, atom bombs and weightlessness in space; girls want to learn about, why we dream, facts about cancer and details of first aid. The message to take home he ends, is: “our identities are only artificially separated from the environment.

Prizes are awarded to universities by UNESCO and UNEP in the framework of MESA (Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainable Development into African Universities). In her introduction to the the handing out of certificates, Akpezi Obuigwe dreams up the new leadership values emerging for a sustainable African continent, leaving behind all greed, selfishness and corruption: “put others first, work with passion, have love and faith, sacrifice 20% of your own interests, live by example, use your inner wealth.

The morning session ends with teachers and students sharing their learning in projects of Durban schools: games, food gardens, drama, music, natural pests, energy saving, waste management. Teacher Sunita Doodhnath sums up her experience with environmental education: “nature: if you know it, you love it, then you will protect it and conserve it; and finally you will learn about it and from it.

In the afternoon plenary presentations are given - while I am typing this - about the Ahmenabad Tiblisi + 30 conference. Time to go back to the plenary.

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