30 SES 07 B, Perspectives on ESE in Schools
Introduction and research questions
In 2015, the UN described 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sparked by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, who recently addressed the UN Climate Plenary, children are taking the stage, wanting to be heard on sustainability issues. With actions such as weekly school-climate strikes that urge politicians to implement measures for mitigating climate change, they draw attention to the current risks we are facing globally. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is seen as a means to achieve a sustainable future for present and future generations (Boeve-de Pauw, Gericke, Olsson, & Berglund, 2015). An ideal outcome of ESD is Action Competence (AC; Breiting & Mogensen, 1999), which is the ‘commitment, will, and ability to act’ (Jensen, 2000, p. 149). Action is defined as behaviour that is decided upon by the actor and targeted at bringing about change or solving a problem (Jensen, 2000). Research has typically been directed at possible actions to be carried out by children as proposed by adults (e.g. Cincera et al., 2017). However, to the best of our knowledge, few studies have focused on children’s own opinions and suggestions as to what constitutes viable SD actions for people of their age. Therefore, the objective of the current study is to learn what actions for SD children suggest they could carry out. We are interested in 10 to 14-year-old children because civic involvement is shaped in childhood, while social reference shifts from parents to peers in early adolescence (Smetana, Campione-Barr, & Metzger, 2006). We have one central research question, and several follow up questions:
RQ : What actions do children describe that they can undertake for addressing sustainability issues?
RQa. Are these actions directed at the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) they selected?
RQb. What (in)direct actions do children propose?
RQc. What individual and collective actions do children propose?
Action Competence (AC) is defined as the ‘commitment, will, and ability to act’ (Jensen, 2000, p. 149). An action is behaviour decided upon by the actor, and is targeted at solving a controversial problem (Hungerford & Volk, 1990). Furthermore, Jensen and Schnack (2006) distinguish between direct and indirect actions. Direct actions focus on making a direct contribution to solving the problem at stake, while indirect actions are aimed at influencing others to do so. When indirect actions lead to direct actions both types are combined. A political decision to implement a certain agenda aimed at mitigating climate change (direct action), affected by activists’ inducements to do so (indirect action) is an example of such a combination. Another distinction is that between individual and collective actions. Collective action often targets ‘management or conservation of a natural resource on which the actors depend’ (Clark, 2016, p. 569). This resonates with Sustainable Development as a process in which socio-cultural, environmental, and socio-economic perspectives mutually interact (UNESCO, 2014).
In 1997, Jensen posited that the capability of picturing visions of the future supports children in developing perceptions about what kinds of lifestyles or environment they want. Visions of the future are clear views on what the world could be like and how society could move closer to this ideal image. The same study revealed that on top of developing a common vision, also children’s engagement increased when they were given the opportunity to discuss and share their visions. To avoid a moralistic approach, AC should also focus on building competences in transforming power relations (Räthzel & Uzzel, 2009). Consequently, if ESD is to promote children’s AC through empowering strategies such as transformative and participatory teaching (Jickling & Wals, 2008) it stands to reason that research should respect the same principles of participation.
For answering questions about children’s reality as they live it, we opted for qualitative research methods (Greene & Hogan, 2005). Workshops started with a discussion about sustainability. After selecting the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) they found most urgent, participants discovered what lifestyle or environment they wanted, discussing their visions for the future. Following principles of participatory research, participants co-decided the (creative) means of expression to be used (Veale, 2005). For selecting a sample with wide variation of perceptions and understanding, we used purposive sampling. In this, Gardner’s (2006; 2011) Multiple Intelligences Theory (MI) inspired us to acknowledge contrasting cognitive styles. MI describes seven intelligences that occur in various combinations of strength within individuals: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, inter-, and intra-personal. Approaching ideas and concepts from a variety of perspectives enhances understanding (Gardner, 2006). Consequently, next to covering diversity in gender, ethnicity, and age (between 10 and 14), we included a variety of intelligences when selecting participants. Participants were respected as researchers, building knowledge in cooperation with the adult researcher. Thus, we aimed for a realistic appreciation of children’s action abilities (Alderson, 2008). Allowing both cooperative and individual activities, groups of up to four children were formed within four class groups. Groups offer a safe environment for children, in which the imbalance between adult and child is redressed (Hennessy & Heary, 2005). Cooperation was established with a traditional primary school, one that focuses on education through investigation, and a 7th grade at a secondary arts school. Each of the class groups participated in a workshop that aimed at catering for different intelligences profiles. Groups were added until minimally ten different actions for SD emerged. During the workshops children were informed about the concept of SD in language they understood and group discussions promoted a common understanding of SD. Then, participants selected the SDG they found most urgent. After describing how they thought they could contribute to reaching that goal, they either continued to develop their views individually or started working in groups of up to four. In these groups, they further discussed what SDG they found important as a group, and what action they would take to address it. Finally, participants shared their results with classmates and researcher using tools such as slideshows, artwork, and roleplays. Presentations were audio recorded, photographed and filmed. Using NVivo, a codebook was developed based on selected SDGs and distinctions between direct-indirect and individual-collective actions.
At the ECER we will present what sustainability issues the participating 10 to 14-year-old children want to see addressed. This will provide insight in what the participants themselves see as most problematic in their current and future society. Furthermore, we will report on what actions for Sustainable Development the participants presented both as individuals and through groupwork. We will report on the (absence of) consistency between the selected Sustainable Development Goal and the action they proposed. Furthermore, we will share which direct and indirect actions, and which individual and collective actions they described. From a methodological point of view, the experience gained in the course of conducting our research, may further insight into the challenges and opportunities of researching this age category. Respecting various intelligences profiles should allow for a rich variety of viable action possibilities for 10 to 14-year-old children. Furthermore, this approach may allow researchers to give voice to a greater variety of children in the search for ways to respect children’s rights to be heard (Greene & Hill, 2005). A detailed description of our experiences with the procedure as outlined in the method section, may further insight into the qualities and shortcomings of this methodological approach. We will welcome an exchange of views on our results as well as feedback on the methodological approach we used.
Alderson, P. (2008). Children as researchers. In P. Christiansen & A. James (Eds.), Research with Children: Perspectives and Practices (276-290). New York and London: Routledge. Boeve-de Pauw, J., Gericke,N., Olsson, D., & Berglund, T. (2015). The Effectiveness of Education for Sustainable Development. Sustainability 7, 15693-15717. Breiting, S. & Mogensen, F. (1999). Action Competence and Environmental Education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 29(3), 349-353. Cincera, J., Kroufek, R., Simonova, P., Broukalova, L., Broukal, V., & Skalík, J. (2017). Eco-School in kindergartens: the effects, interpretation, and implementation of a pilot program, Environmental Education Research, 23(7), 919-936. Clark, C.R. (2016). Collective action competence: an asset to campus sustainability. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 17(4), 559-578. Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons. New York: Basic Books. Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of Mind. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books Greene, H., & Hill, M. (2005). Researching children’s experience: Methods and methodological issues. In S. Greene & D. Hogan (Eds.), Researching Children’s Experience (1-21). London: Sage Publications. Greene, S. & Hogan, D. (2005). Researching Children’s Experience. Approaches and Methods. London: Sage Publications. Hennessy, E., & Heary, C. (2005). Exploring Children’s views through focus groups. In S. Greene & D. Hogan (Eds.), Researching Children’s Experience (236-252). London: Sage Publications. Hungerford, H.R. & Volk, T.L. (1990). Changing learner behaviour through environmental education. Journal of Environmental Education, 21(3), 8-21. Jensen, B.B. (1997). A case of two paradigms within health education. Health Education Research 12(4), 419-428. Jensen, B.B. (2000). Health knowledge and health education in the democratic health‐promoting school. Health Education, 100(4), 146-154. Jensen, B.B., & Schnack, K. (2006). The action competence approach in environmental education, Environmental Education Research, 12(3-4), 471-486. Jickling, B. & Wals, A.E.J. (2008). Globalization and environmental education: looking beyond sustainable development, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 40(1), 1-21. Räthzel, N., & Uzzell, D. (2009). Transformative environmental education: a collective rehearsal for reality. Environmental Education Research, 15(3), 263-277. Smetana, J. G., Campione-Barr, N., & Metzger, A. (2006). Adolescent development in interpersonal and societal contexts. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 255-284. UN (2015). Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. UNESCO (2014). Shaping the Future We Want, the final report of the UNESCO Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). Veale, A. (2005). Creative methodologies in participatory research with children. In S. Greene & D. Hogan (Eds.), Researching Children’s Experience. Approaches and Methods (253-272). London: Sage Publications.
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