30 SES 06 B, Research on Progress towards Sustainability in (Higher) Education Systems
Internationally, the Agenda 2030 and the global SDGs have become a shared reference framework for educational reform strategies. UNESCO’s Global Action Programme (GAP) on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) (2015-2019) makes a substantial contribution to the Agenda 2030. International and national monitoring approaches have emerged to monitor the progress towards the SDGs (i.e. UNESCO, 2017). In regard to the quest for enhancing our understanding of modes of action of global policies, the National Monitoring of GAP in Germany seeks to launch a better understanding of the implementation of ESD in the German educational system.
In recent years, ESD has become increasingly important in the German educational landscape and therefore can be referred as a social innovation (Bormann, 2013). In particular, the UN Decade (2005-2014) has led to a broad spreading of ESD. The bodies established during the UN Decade (Round Table, National Committee, Working Groups) were referred to as diffusion centers in a wider process of diffusion (Michelsen & Rode, 2012, p. 56). The diffusion theory has also been applied to the implementation of ESD in secondary schools (Buddeberg, 2014). It offers several starting points for the reconstruction of the diffusion of the social innovation ESD during the UN Decade and the GAP.
The research project presented is part of the national ESD monitoring process by the Freie Universität Berlin and interlinked with the Scientific Advisory Process of the GAP in Germany, coordinated by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
Through expert interviews the presented study captures the characteristics of the social innovation of ESD against the background of general characteristics of innovation (Coburn, 2003; Fullan, 1985; Rogers, 2003) in order to gain knowledge about the mechanisms of the adoption of ESD in the German educational system. Furthermore, diffusion theory can be used to determine specific perceptions about the process of diffusion of ESD and thus focusses on the relationship between centralised and decentralised diffusion systems (Rogers, 2003). Last but not least, the specific channels of communication, i.e. the committees of the UN Decade and the GAP, can be grasped and investigated. The actors involved in the implementation of the GAP have been chosen to be heterogeneous, both in terms of their knowledge and their professional function. Examining the impact of this composition of the expert bodies can provide crucial insight about the diffusion process of the social innovation ESD.
Furthermore, in sustainability research, there is a growing attention towards identifying leverage points (Abson et al., 2017) in order to find out how to effectively intervene in complex systems. With the concept of leverage points, Meadows describes “places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything” (Meadows, 1999). Meadows points out that the diversity of systems and the roles and opportunities that people have in systems should always bring together different levels of leverages. The education system represents a social subsystem, differentiated into different subsystems, educational areas. Since their respective system goals and characteristics vary widely, it makes sense to elaborate the typical and sometimes also counterintuitive logics of the educational areas and to analyse their effects on the diffusion of social innovation ESD in terms of leverage points.
This paper presentation will focus on the results of the expert interviews. Thereby, it will show a differentiated picture of the diffusion process and leverage points of ESD in seven areas of the German educational system: early childhood education, school education, vocational education and training, higher education, education in context of local authorities as well as informal and non-formal learning and youth.
The research project is comprised of four phases (Desk Research I, interview study, questionnaire study and Desk Research II). During the second phase, qualitative expert interviews (Meuser & Nagel, 2009) have been conducted in summer 2017. The target was twofold: On the one hand, to identify leverage points for ESD in the German educational system (see Meadows, 1999). On the other hand, through the lenses of diffusion theory, to investigate the process of diffusion of ESD in the German educational areas (see Rogers, 2003). In order to better grasp the complexity of educa-tional real world processes and gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that are driving them, the interviews aimed at complementing the limitations of a standardised monitoring ap-proach, which was applied in the Desk Research, where a content analysis of central documents in the different educational areas was conducted. Through an indicator-based monitoring, it is possi-ble to give an overview of the implementation of ESD in the different educational areas. But it cannot provide answers to the questions of how ESD has been implemented and why ESD has been implemented on different levels in the respective educational areas. This was the reason for the second phase of the research project – the interview study. The experts for the interviews were selected depending on their expertise in specific working fields such as educational practice, educational administration, academia, politics and civil society with expert-knowledge in the respective educational areas, sustainability science and/or educa-tional science. In total, 66 expert interviews were conducted, at least 8 to 10 interviews per educa-tional area. To analyse the expert interviews, a Qualitative Content Analysis was applied (Mayring, 2015). The coding process was carried out with the help of the software MAXQDA 12. Due to the specifics and logics of the educational areas of the German education system, the respective edu-cational areas have been analysed separately in terms of the objectives and characteristics of edu-cation, the process of diffusion of ESD, and characteristics of ESD as well as leverage points. Addi-tionally, there was one part in all interviews that was analysed independently from the educational area: the evaluation of the GAP-process in Germany. This differentiated approach guaranteed that the interviewed persons stayed anonym, although they were directly involved in the process of the GAP-implementation.
The process of diffusion of ESD appears to be very heterogeneous in the respective educational areas as it is influenced by the structure of the specific social system. For example, more formalized areas of education such as school, vocational training and higher education seem to have a low permeability to innovation due to their structural conservatism. Furthermore, the prevailing under-standing of education in the educational area seems to affect the diffusion of ESD. In early child-hood education for example, experts have an understanding of education which is based on norms and values and occurs as a holistic concept. Thus, ESD is more compatible with people’s existing understanding of education. Discussions about the goals of the respective educational area are considered to be particularly significant against the background of the leverage point theory, but only mentioned by some experts. In regard to the BMBF's heterophilia strategy of the bodies of GAP (in particular expert forums), experts agree on the fact that this strategy have had a positive impact on the diffusion of ESD. In general, the central management strategy of the BMBF has led to greater anchoring of ESD in formal documents/strategy papers such as a National Action Plan for GAP implementation defining 130 objectives and 349 measures to scale up ESD in all areas and at all levels of the German education system. But it has also led to a disappointment of some ESD-change agents (especially from the civil society) and a changed role of all actors involved. Thereby, it highlights the ambivalence of ambitious plans of politicians and the acceptance by and realisation of the wider society. The project results will be synthesised in recommendations for a more profound and effective im-plementation of ESD in the German educational system.
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