30 SES 07 A, Conceptual Work and Case Studies on ESE/ESD Learning in Higher Education (Courses)
Our planned research focuses on youth in higher education institutions of Kyrgyzstan , and examines their knowledge, skills and values to address the issues of extreme poverty and social inequality in the country – admittedly the most fundamental threats to sustainable development in any society (Doyle & Stiglitz, 2014). The overarching research question driving our study can be formulated as follows:
How do youth in higher education institutions of Kyrgyzstan aspire to engage with issues of sustainable development in their professional lives?
Within this broad research inquiry, the study will pursue a set of sub-questions:
- What kinds of academic opportunities and extra-curricular programs shape university students’ knowledge about sustainable development?
- What views do university students hold about poverty and social inequality in the country? How do they relate to the less privileged in the society?
- What constitutes the social relational universe of university students in Kyrgyzstan?
- What are university students’ career and professional aspirations?
- How do university students situate their career goals vis-a-vis addressing poverty and social inequality, and contributing to sustainable development?
Together, these questions will illuminate the academic and social-relational dynamics of higher education in Kyrgyzstan that foreground youth agency for sustainable economic and social development in the country and the region.
The multi-dimensionality of sustainable development (Sachs 2015) is evident in the very multiplicity of UN goals (17 to be exact) that underlie the SDG framework – from poverty reduction to health and education to climate action. Education is both (a) a SD goal by itself, and (b) a mean to achieving other SD goals (UNESCO 2014 & 2015). While the literature acknowledges a broad vision of education and learning for sustainable development (UNESCO 2015 & 2017, Barth et. al.2007, Gough & Scott 2003, Anderberg et. al. 2009, Forrant & Silka 2017), in reality, the notion of a physical environmental sustainability continues to dominate much of the educational offerings in the global south. This is equally true in the case of Kyrgyzstan – where the environmental focus overwhelmingly defines the scope of discourse on sustainability (Wooden 2013).
For most young people in Kyrgyzstan, higher education represents the first site where a substantive encounter with the multi-faceted dimensions – social, ecological and ethical – of sustainability takes place. Consequently, focusing on youth in higher education allows an opportunity to explore the preparedness and intent of the next generation of leaders of Kyrgyzstan to steer the country and the region to a sustainable future.
While it is customary to locate the scope of education for sustainable development in SDG Goal # 4 (Education), we posit that the SDG Goal #10 – Reducing Inequality – is an equally significant point of departure; one, if unattended will undermine the progress made on all other SDG goals. We make this argument by building on the important contribution of Noble Laureate Economist Joseph Stiglitz and co-author Michael Doyle (2014) that pointed to the “cumulative economic, social, and political effects” of extreme social inequalities – emphasizing that any realistic vision of working towards sustainable development must address the issues of inequality within societies.
We view this articulation as the crucial link between two SD goals: Goal 4 (Education) and Goal 10 (Reducing Inequality). Education becomes a key driver for sustainable development when it is directed towards reducing inequalities in society – with particular attention to the least privileged in the society. This is where we locate the rationale for our study, and seek to examine how youth in Kyrgyzstan – specifically those privileged enough to obtain a higher education –relate to the issues of economic and social inequalities in the society.
The study will employ a Case Study research with a mixed method approach to data collection and analysis. The contemporary university space in Kyrgyzstan is the boundary of this case, the student attending a university is the unit of analysis. To ensure the student population is minimally representative of the whole country – data will be collected from students attending universities in both the north and south part of the country (Bishkek and Osh). While these would be both urban locations, effort would be made to include universities that vary in academic quality and infrastructural resources. Particular attention will also be made in ensuring the student sample (approximately 600) represent ethnic, linguistic and socio-economic diversity, as well as a gender balance. A survey instrument is being developed to collect data from the students. Informed by the broader literature on youth development, social capital, purpose setting, empathy and contact theory, the instrument will reflect five domains, each roughly corresponding to one of the five sub-questions of the study: domain1 - education and knowledge, domain2 -notion of “other”, domain3- social emotional learning and social capital, domain4 - aspirations for life and career, domain5 – perspectives on career and life choices that address inequalities and sustainability. The study will also conduct in-depth interviews with approximately 20 young people – no longer students in university, but fully active in careers that explicitly address issues of sustainability and socio-economic inequalities. The survey data will be analyzed using general statistical techniques – yielding both rich descriptive and inferential analysis. The data from the interviews with youth leaders will be analyzed using standard coding mechanisms of qualitative data analysis. Together the quantitative and qualitative analyses will provide a nuanced picture of how youth in higher education institutions of Kyrgyzstan aspire to engage with issues of economic and social inequalities in their professional lives, and contribute to sustainable development in a country and region that is at the crossroads of globalization. Instrument design and validation is currently underway and expected to be completed by end of February 2018. Data Collection & Analysis will occur in March & April 2018. Drafting the research paper, and sharing the draft with participating universities and organizations will be accomplished over summer (May – August 2018)
The capacities and aspirations of young people to engage in sustainable national development is a question of critical importance to every nation today. This is particularly so for Kyrgyzstan – a young country with one third of its population in the 14 – 28 year age group. As an exploratory study with a grounded theory approach, our proposed research is not centered on a particular testable hypothesis. Instead, we are interested in uncovering the patterns of university students’ educational experiences and social relationships that might correlate with their sensitivities to issues of economic and social inequalities, and their intent to embed such issues substantively in their post-university professional careers. We posit that a responsive professional and personal engagement for sustainable development would not only require a keen understanding of interconnected fragilities in one’s society, but it would also require a deeper sense of empathy and shared responsibilities for those least privileged in society – suffering from the inequality of opportunity. Our proposed research effort is aimed at illuminating this interplay. By analyzing the preparedness of the future professionals and leaders of the country in addressing social inequalities and creating sustainable futures, the proposed research will fill a critical gap in the current scholarship on youth in Central Asia – which continues to be dominated by studies on employable skills and religious perspectives. By uncovering the educational and social-relational attributes of university students that correlate with their capacities and aspirations for bridging the economic and social divides, the proposed research would inform higher education strategies to unleash the potential of youth agency for sustainable development in unequal societies.
Anderberg, E., Nordén, B. and Hansson, B., 2009. Global learning for sustainable development in higher education: recent trends and a critique. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 10(4), pp.368-378. Barth, M., Godemann, J., Rieckmann, M. and Stoltenberg, U., 2007. Developing key competencies for sustainable development in higher education. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 8(4), pp.416-430. Brundtland, G.H., 1987. Report of the World Commission on environment and development:" our common future."United Nations. Doyle, M.W. and Stiglitz, J.E., 2014. Eliminating extreme inequality: a sustainable development goal, 2015–2030. Ethics & International Affairs, 28(1), pp.5-13. Forrant, R. and Silka, L., 2017. Inside and out: Universities and education for sustainable development. Routledge. Gough, S. and Scott, W., 2003. Sustainable development and learning: Framing the issues. Routledge. Kyrgyz Republic. 2012. National Council for Sustainable Development of the Kyrgyz Republic - National Sustainable Development Strategy for 2013 – 2017. Bishkek. Sachs, J.D., 2015. The age of sustainable development. Columbia University Press. UNESCO. 2014. Sustainable Development Begins with Education – How education can contribute to the proposed post-2015 goals. UNESCO. Paris. UNESCO (2015) Education 2030. Incheon Declaration and Framework for action for implementation of SDG 4. Paris: UNESCO UNESCO (2017): Education for Sustainable Development Goals. Learning Objectives. Paris: UNESCO. Wooden, A.E., 2013. Another way of saying enough: environmental concern and popular mobilization in Kyrgyzstan. Post-Soviet Affairs, 29(4), pp.314-353.
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