ERG SES G 12, Countries and Education
This paper explores education’s role in building a more sustainable world, questioning whether citizenship education can contribute to the development of the capacities of young people to live as sustainable citizens in the necessary transition from unsustainability to sustainability. Critical theory is used as a theoretical framework. In terms of transition, critical theory contends that we must respond to new problems and the new possibilities for liberation that arise from changing historical circumstances (Bronner, 2011). Unsustainability has created circumstances to which new possibilities must be considered.
UNESCO’s ‘Decade of Education for Sustainable Development’ ended in 2014. The Bonn Declaration states that “education for sustainable development is immediately necessary for securing sustainable life chances, aspirations and futures for young people” (UNESCO, 2009, p1). However the question arises as to how this can be secured firstly, through ‘education for sustainable development’ as opposed to ‘education for sustainability’ and secondly, without connecting sustainability to citizenship in education. As Barry (2006) states, fundamental sustainability education taught in a local context with a global perspective encompassing the socio-economic and political dimensions to environmental issues is currently lacking.
The attitudes of young people are explored to examine the extent to which young people in Northern Ireland exhibit features of ‘sustainable citizenship’. Sustainable citizenship previously defined by Micheletti & Stolle (2012) appears to be influenced by sustainable development as defined in the Brudtland Report (Brundtland, 1987). The definition used in this research differs and is influenced by the concept of sustainability as defined by the World Council of Churches (1974). The definition in this research is that a sustainable citizen thinks about how their behaviour affects the environmental, social, and economic parts of the world and the people in it. A sustainable citizen is critical of how life is lived in order to change the systems that perpetuate unsustainable behaviour, similarly critical theory is concerned not merely with how things are, but how they might be and should be (Bronner, 2011). Below the aim, objectives, and research questions are outlined.
- To explore how young people in Northern Ireland connect sustainability and citizenship.
- To develop, theoretically, the concept of ‘sustainable citizenship’
- To develop a reliable and valid measure of ‘sustainable citizenship’
- To examine the extent to which young people in Northern Ireland exhibit the features of ‘sustainable citizenship’
- To ascertain how this varies at various levels: jurisdiction, school, and individual
- To consider the implications of the findings for future research and for curriculum policy and practice
1. What factors influence the extent to which young people exhibit features of ‘sustainable citizenship’?
2. To what extent do young people understand sustainability in relation to its environmental, social, and economic dimensions?
3. How do young people conceptualise citizenship as it relates to sustainability?
In relation to the Research Questions 1, 2 and 3
• How is this mediated by young people’s identity (e.g. gender, social class, religion, ethnicity/cultural background, and their perception of local/global citizenship)?
• How is this mediated by young people’s interdependence awareness?
• How is this mediated by young people’s political and self-efficacy?
• How is this influenced by young people’s experience of education for ‘sustainable citizenship’ (e.g. in formal and informal educational contexts and through the media)?
4. What is the role of schools in developing young people’s attitudes and behaviours towards ‘sustainable citizenship’?
This research provides ways of assessing ‘sustainable citizenship’. This has the potential to be applied in other contexts and compared internationally. A nationally representative and in depth exploration of the issues surrounding sustainability and citizenship adds to existing knowledge of education’s role in building a more sustainable world.
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