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Learning,

Sustainability and
Change
- a systemic approach
Dr Stephen Sterling

c Stephen Sterling
Part 1

Re-thinking our
thinking
To live in the third millenium we shall need
new thinking joined with new ways of
perceiving and visioning
ourselves, others, nature and the world around us.
- Ervin Lazlo 1997
The new conditions

Conditions of postmodern society:
unsustainability
uncertainty and insecurity
complexity
interdependence
globalisation
stress

Towards a whole systems
perspective.
Systemic understanding
To understand things systemically
literally means to put them into a
context, to establish the nature of their
relationships.

- Fritjof Capra
The Web of Life, 1996



Nesting system levels
Sustainability
Education
Education
Society
Biosphere
Systems thinking and sustainable
development
Both are about:
Thinking in a more holistic and integrative
way
Recognising and managing complexity
Making systems more sustainable
Situation improvement rather than simple
problem-solving

Systems thinking involves a shift of
attention
FROM.
Parts
Things
Static states
Linear cause-effect
Control mechanisms
TOWARDS
Wholes
Process and relation
Dynamics
Multiple influences and
feedback
Self-organisation and
emergence
Spot the difference!
Thinking - in boxes
Thinking - like a web
Part 2

Re-thinking education
Levels of educational thinking


Practice

Provision

Policy

Purpose

Paradigm



BIG QUESTION

WHAT IS
EDUCATION
FOR?!
Purposes of education

Vocational - preparing for economic
life
Socialisation - reproduction of culture,
promotion of citizenship
Liberal - developing individuals
potential
Transformative - education for change,
for a better world
Crisis of education
The fact that we see (social and environmental
decay) as disconnected events or fail to see
them at all is....evidence of a considerable
failure that we have yet to acknowledge as an
educational failure. It is a failure to educate
people to think broadly, to percieve systems
and patterns, and to live as whole persons.

-David Orr Earth in Mind, 1995

Is education part of the
solution?
or part of the problem?
'Sustainability is about the terms and
conditions of human survival, and yet we
still educate at all levels as if no such
crisis existed.
The content of our curriculum and the
processes of education, with a few notable
exceptions, has not changed.
- Prof David Orr Ecoliteracy, 1992.


The ability to respond
SUSTAIN ABILITY
RESPONSE ABILITY
Part 3

Systemic change and
learning
Key statement:
Making a difference through
education
requires
making a difference in education
Two sorts of change
Piecemeal change
changing parts of a
system
no consideration of
system as a whole
often imposed
often short-lived

Systemic change
change with effect on
whole system in mind
change with emergence
in mind
by purposeful,
collaborative design
often long-lived
Significant change depends on...

a) A deeper critique - of current
trends

b) A broader vision - of necessary
alternatives
c) An effective strategy - of
systemic change

Levels of learning and change
First order change Effectiveness/
efficiency
Doing things
better
Second order
change
Examining
assumptions
Doing better
things
Third order
change
Paradigm change Seeing things
differently


Part 4

Re-orientation and
strategies
Hidden dimensions the
education iceberg
Practice
Policy
Purpose
Paradigm
Provision
Sustainable Education
Does sustainability
require:

Re-Visioning
Learning and
Change?
Choose your metaphor.
Mechanistic
view of education
Reductionist view of
knowledge
Deficit view of
learner

Transmissive model
of pedagogy
Ecological (relational)
view of education
Holistic view of
knowledge
Appreciative view of
learner

Transactional or
transformative view of
pedagogy
Where we are (dominant ideas)

Purpose - education as preparation
for economic life
Policy - education as product
(courses/qualifications)
Practice - education as instruction
Where we are (dominant ideas)

Purpose - education as preparation
for economic life
Policy - education as product
(courses/qualifications)
Practice - education as instruction
Where we need to go
(newer ideas)
Purpose - education for sustainable
society, economy and
ecology

Policy - education as process of
individual and social capacity
building
Practice - education as participative
learning
From control to participation
FROM:
Overspecialisation and
fragmentation
Single issue
management
Top-down policy
making
Disciplinarity
Goal oriented planning

TOWARDS:
More integrated
structures
Integrated decision-
making
Participative approaches
Inter and trans
disciplinarity
Adaptive management
Shifts in curriculum, content and
process
FROM:
Curriculum as top-
down product
Fixed knowledge
Abstract knowledge
Teaching/instruction
Few learning styles
Passive learning
TOWARDS:
Curriculum as
experience/situated learning
Provisional knowledge
Real world knowledge
Participative learning
Multiple learning styles
Reflective/active learning
Shifts in structures and policy
FROM:
Disciplinarity
Specialisation
External assessment

Teaching system
Formal education
TOWARDS:
I nter and transdisciplinarity
Broadness and flexibility
Continous internal
assessment and reflection
Learning system
(As part of) life-long
education
Towards sustainable institutions
FROM:
Incoherence and
fragmentation
Large scale
Loss of connectivity
Closed community
Teaching organisation
Microcosm of
unsustainable society
TOWARDS:
Systemic coherence
and synergy
Human scale
High connectivity
Open community
Learning organisation
Microcosm of
sustainable society
Dimensions of change
ETHOS
PEDAGOGY, RESEARCH,
LEARNING, INQUIRY
COMMUNITY LINKS
CURRICULUM
RESOURCE
MANAGEMENT
PHYSICAL
STRUCTURES
MANAGEMENT
STYLE
Biodiversity
Zero waste
Community
awareness
Healthy learning
environment
Efficient urban
infrastructure
Ownership
and pride
Community
employment
Innovative
solutions
Regional Council
Dept of
Conservation Ministry for
Environment
Local Iwi
Community groups
Cultural diversity
Sustainable
business
City Council
Other
schools
Ministry of
Education
Employment
skills
Relationships to Create a Sustainable School
Enviroschools, Hamilton, NZ
SCHOOL
Part 5

Learning responses
Learning responses to the challenge
of sustainability
No response - no change
Accommodation - green gloss
Reformation - serious reform
Transformation - whole system
redesign
Different levels of engagement
Education about sustainability:
content and/or estate emphasis. Fairly easily
accommodated into existing system. Learning
about change.
Education for sustainability: values
and skills emphasis. Greening of institutions.
Deeper questioning and reform of purpose,
policy and practice. Learning for change.
Sustainable education: Capacity
building and action emphasis. Sustainable
institutions/communities. Learning as change.
Part 6

Keys to systemic change
Learning points from AFANet
Sustainability is imprecise.
Integrating sustainability requires the re-
thinking of institutional purposes.
Sustainability is complex and multifaceted.
Teaching it requires the transformation of
mental models.
Programming sustainability requires a
rethinking of teaching and learning.
There is no universal blueprint for educational
change towards sustainability.
Ingredients of systemic change
Ensuring feedback
Encouraging reflection
High levels of
connectivity and
communication
Inclusion
Shared ethos
Identifying champions
Alliances outside
system
Exemplars
Leadership
Channels to spread
innovation
Appreciative culture
Resources/support
AND?
Conclusion

Ways forward
Work towards transformative
learning...e.g.
"Once you experience such an
educational course, you are
changed forever."
Ferdinando Massamormile
Italian Course Participant







Schumacher College
Design fulfilling learning
environmentse.g.
reflective learning for individuals and the institution
cooperation and shared purpose
the enjoyment of learning
service and creating opportunity for service
treading lightly and living simply
the intrinsic value of work of all kinds
celebrating diversity
recognising limitations
a good experience for everyone


- Schumacher College values
Define necessary competencies
e.g
looking at problems in a global context
working co-operatively and responsibly
accepting cultural differences
thinking in a critical and systemic way
solving conflicts in a non-violent way
changing life-styles to protect the
environment
defending human rights
participating in politics (Cogan and Derricott, 2000)

Interdependence of society, economy and the natural
environment
Citizenship and stewardship rights and
responsibilities, participation, and co-operation
Needs and rights of future generations
Diversity cultural, social, economic and biological
Quality of life, equity and justice
Sustainable change development and carrying
capacity
Uncertainty, and precaution in action

- Sustainable Development Education Panel,
England, 1998

Decide whats important in
curriculum content..e.g.
Recognise systemic thinking e..g..
WWF Linkingthinking Project
Aim: to influence both policy
and practice towards the
recognition and inclusion of
systems approaches...
...so that young people, their
teachers and others might
be better equipped to
understand and address
issues of complexity and
sustainability.
Implement strategies...e.g
Regarding what we do now:
What is of value that we need to keep?
What might need modification?
What do we probably need to abandon?
What new ideas, principles,
methodologies, working methods, or
policies are needed?

Vision is absolutely necessary to guide and
motivate action. More than that, vision,
when widely shared and firmly kept in
sight, brings into being new systems.

- Donella Meadows,
Beyond the Limits to Growth, 1992
Develop a common vision.