30 SES 03 B, Diverse Perspectives on Sustainability and Sustainability Education /ESER
Having its origins in the Stockholm and the Tbilisi Declarations albeit with an overwhelming focus on the human environment (UNESCO, 1972, 1978), sustainable development coincided with higher education for the first time in the Talloires Declaration when over 320 university administrators from 47 countries officially agreed on the urgency of the actions for a sustainable future and signed their commitment to sustainable development (UNESCO, 1990). Since then a growing number of higher education institutions indicated their endorsements of the notion of sustainability through a number of international declarations.
In conjunction with higher education’s engagement, another crucial role has been placed upon the division of teacher education. Having a pivotal role in societal transformations, teachers have been frequently mentioned as essential actors to spread the contemporary vision of sustainable development in diverse educational settings. That being the case, teacher education has become a space that reflects signs of an increasing momentum for sustainability by fostering ESD through capacity building and training (CMEC, 2012; Evans et al., 2012; Falkenberg and Babiuk, 2014; Ferreira et al., 2009; Liu, 2009; Öztürk, 2017; UNECE, 2012; UNESCO, 2005a, 2005b).
Being constructed at the intersection of the two fundamental agents (higher education sector and teacher education division) and on the preposition that knowledge, awareness and dispositions are the fundamental drivers of sustainability, this paper focuses on a special group of prospective academicians who are assigned to Education Faculties in various well-established universities of Turkey as research associates to obtain necessary skills and experiences in research and teaching so that they could become the teacher educators of many recently-founded universities around the country. For that reason, the significance of the study is mainly twofold. If sustainable development is conceptualized with a futuristic viewpoint that attaches a great importance to next generations’ needs, focusing on prospective academicians’ dispositions is a reasonable way of addressing the current gaps and eliminating the future inefficacies. Building on the assumption that ESD would remain imperfect without commitment of teacher educators who have the potential to bring changes in educational systems and shape knowledge and skills of future teachers, in turn future generations; this study becomes even more valuable as it includes specifically the prospective academicians in the field of teacher education.
As derived from the literature, a lot of studies involved tertiary students and an adequate number of studies focused on academics’ views; however, there is a scarcity of research on prospective academicians or future teacher educators, which is the target group of the current study. The sample of the study is attributed to be a special group, having a unique role in future direction because they are the trainees of today but the faculty members of future. Since each of them pursue to be a teacher educator in one of the Education Faculties of Turkey in a five-to-six-year period, tracking their current dispositions towards sustainable development is vitally important for future directions. On the basis of the aforementioned rationale, this study aimed to portray current dispositions of prospective Turkish academicians and how such a global phenomenon is articulated within the local context of aspiring teacher educators. We designed this research to answer the following research questions:
- How do young academics conceptualize sustainable development? How do they interpret the urgency of local versus global problems within the contemporary vision of sustainability?
- How knowledgeable do they feel about sustainable development?
- How concerned are they about environmental, economic, and societal issues? How do they place accountability for sustainability problems on different agencies within the community
- To what extent do they embrace ESD as a part of their professional responsibility?
The study was designed as a survey and the data were collected through a cross-sectional online questionnaire including a variety of sections. In the first section, an open-ended item was used to portray the participants’ conceptualizations of sustainability through their own associations. With the help of thematic coding, we re-organized the responses given to this specific item under six categories: literal descriptions of sustainability, associations oriented to environment, economy, or society, futuristic associations, and other associations. In the rating scale, the participants were provided with nine specific problems that could be perceived as locally and/or globally urgent cases within the contemporary scope of sustainability. The responses were then used to compare the participants’ interpretations of local versus global sustainability problems. In measuring the perceived knowledge dimension, we included five items asking the participants to indicate the degree of their knowledge on certain historic events and key concepts of sustainable development on a scale from 1 to 5. The other section consisted of three parts and 18 items that were used to measure environmental, economic, and societal concerns of the participants. Every six items focused on a specific pillar of sustainability and the participants were required to indicate how concerned they are about the issues addressed in each item on a scale from 1 to 5. Within the same section after each set of items on a specific pillar, the participants were also asked to place the accountability for sustainability problems on different agencies within the community by rating each as a responsible body. As a follow-up item of the whole questionnaire, the participants were asked to reflect to what extent they see ESD as a part of their professional responsibility on a scale from 1 to 5. The sample was limited, through purposeful sampling, to the young academics being trained to become teacher educators in Education Faculties of various newly-founded universities across the country. The online questionnaire was distributed to 100 young academics (research associates) in teachers colleges of different universities in Turkey. 72 academics responded to the questionnaire, which indicated a 72-percent response rate. The data were analyzed through both quantitative and qualitative methods. For quantitative analyses, STATA software was used to perform descriptive and inferential statistics such as frequencies, percentages, t-tests, chi squares, Pearson correlation coefficients, and reliability tests. For quantitative analyses, thematic coding was used.
The general results of the study indicated that young academics as future teacher educators are highly concerned about sustainability issues. However, their concerns are not reflected to the same degree on their knowledge level and the way they embrace ESD. Although limited in scope and number, previous studies done with academics indicated a high or an adequate level of knowledge and consciousness about sustainable development (Cotton et al., 2007; Wright, 2010; Yücel-Karakoç, 2005). Our findings, on the contrary, indicated fairly low level of knowledge on the side of prospective academicians. This low level of awareness is also apparent in the findings obtained from the conceptualizations as 43% of the participants could not go beyond the literal meaning of it when they are interpreting sustainable development. Even though they did not seem to have sufficient knowledge on sustainable development, the perceived knowledge dimension appeared to be a significant factor for young academics to embrace ESD. As the level of perceived knowledge increased they tended to perceive ESD as an essential part of their work. Similarly, as their concerns on environment and society increased, they tended to embrace ESD more. Other striking findings revealed that hunger and poverty, loss of biodiversity, climate change, and epidemic diseases, were all perceived to be urgent more in the global context than in the local context. On the other hand, unemployment, refugees, and terrorism were perceived to be more locally rather than globally urgent problems. For different types of problems, different agencies within the community were addressed to be accountable for. International organizations and governments were held more accountable for environmental issues while educators, NGOs, individuals and families were held more accountable for societal issues. As for economic issues, super powers, corporations, and governments were addressed to be more responsible.
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