30 SES 12 A, Early childhood sustainability education
During the last century the human way of life has changed the Earth in an alarming way. Humans have now reached the epoch that many researchers have started to call Anthropocene. The label is a proposed name for an epoch following the Holocene in the Earth’s geologic history, when humans have started to alter the whole earth system. The consequences of humankind’s way of life is, therefore, more dramatic and long lasting than ever before. How can anyone foster and educate young children during times of such tremendous change? The primary aim of our study is to define and outline what the mission of early childhood might be in the epoch of Anthropocene. Our research questions are: What kind of knowledge and skills will prepare young children to live in the epoch of the Anthropocene? Which focus will best promote learning in the Anthropocene? Although we do not deliver any precise answers on these questions, we will discuss various answers and communicate our standpoint from several views.
"Whatever climate change is, it is going to be unpredictable. And it’s going to get that way during my lifetime…While I’m likely to see some dramatic changes, it’s the kids being born now that will really feel it. What sort of world will a six year old today grow up in? One radically different to the one I’ve known." (Whitmore in Rawson & Whitmore, p. xx, 2015).
Despite the gloomy scenario he describes, Whitmore (2015) is not completely pessimistic. He advices his readers not to panic, but to start preparing instead. However, how can one prepare for something without being aware of it (Hamilton, 2017)? Hamilton asks for a cognitive leap, a shift from merely focusing on the humans and the human culture, to focusing on the earth’s systems, and human influence on these systems. According to Preiser, Pereira & Biggs (2017, p. 86) humans need to start “navigating the future-as-Anthropocene.”
Unlike one would expect, the discussion on how to educate people to handle this alarming situation is not the main topic in the contemporary education debate. In fact, the main topic when discussing future education is the digitalization of preschools and schools (e.g. Fadel & Trilling, 2009). This focus is also obvious in the so-called "21st century skills", a skill set mostly aimed at enabling children to cope with emerging technologies and the consequences these have on our lives. Digital skills are vital in the 21st century, and a part of preparing of children for the Anthropocene. Yet, they might not be the most crucial skills.
The climate crisis is, on the one hand, treated like something happening somewhere else, outside the human egocentrism and comfort zone (see also Hamilton, 2017). On the other hand, many people see a chance to fix the situation by use of advanced technology (such as geoengineering). McLaren (2018) warns of the tendency to see the Earth as something to repair, as if the problem would be merely a physical problem, and not an ethical issue (see also Minteer, 2012). Although technology might contribute to some extent in solving the global climate crisis, much larger changes in the human way of life are necessary. According to Hamilton (2017), humankind has reached a fatal decision, to continue conquering the Earth by technology or to become more humble and retreat. Yet, it will be a challenge to prepare the children of today to handle these unpredictable situations and still have a good life. The role of education for the smallest children will without doubt be tricky.
We searched the literature for conceptual explanations and structures on why and how the challenges of the Anthropocene are addressed in early childhood education. We searched the recent academic literature, mostly published after 2010, for various answers on that question. We chose to focus on literature within three topics: 1) various literature discussing future social perspectives related to the Anthropocene, 2) literature about education in general in relation to environmental issues, sustainability, and the Anthropocene, and 3) literature about early childhood education in relation to environmental issues, sustainability, and the Anthropocene. We compared our findings from this literature with the quest for necessary 21st Century skills both in general and in relation to early childhood education. In this paper, we will focus on a selection of relevant articles and books that best will stimulate a discussion on the topic. We have become familiar with the post-humanistic ideas and the critical voices of, for example, Preiser et al. (2017) and Keeling (2012). When studying the ideas about 21st century skills, we came across Bourn, who has written much about this theme in relation to global education. Bourn (2018) claims that there are similarities between the 21st century skills and sustainability skills. Yet, he also argues that there is too little dialogue between academic and practitioner groups focusing on the topics of sustainability and global issues, a dialogue crucial to promote change on a global level. Beside skills for work, skills to engage people from different cultures and skills to engage with a globalized world, Bourn (2014, 2016) also lists understanding what globalization means, ability to engage in global challenges (e.g. climate change) and skills to respect other cultures and critically reflect on one’s own value base. We see Bourn’s enlarged view of the 21st century skills as a good starting point for the discussion on the Anthropocene skills and abilities, and that this view may help us consider the mission of early childhood education in Anthropocene. We will use the review of the selected literature to construct a set of categories of knowledge and skills that the literature suggests as relevant for meeting the Anthropocene challenges. In addition to the outcomes from the reviewed literature, we will also develop our answers according to our own earlier research. We want to present our final answers and raise them for discussion on the conference.
The aim of this study is to define and outline what the mission of early childhood might be in the epoch of Anthropocene. Since climate change and the challenges of the Anthropocene are extremely complicated, complex and unpredictable, the children of today need a lot of knowledge and various skills to handle the future. There is not one way to go, but many, and education should take into consideration all the different aspects. Simultaneously, the children need to grow in comfortable environments without too obvious treats and frightening news. Education for sustainable development (ESD) and sustainability education (SE) have a short history, and there are few studies about education in relation to the Anthropocene. ESD and SE might not be enough to make a change anymore. The world possibly needs a greater shift. Sustainability education could be one of the pillars on which to build education in the Anthropocen, and the 21st century skills, according to Bourn (2015, 2016, 2018) could be another pillar. None of these pillars, however, appropriately supports the understanding of the earth systems. The science of sustainability needs to be based on knowledge about the physical world (Knight, 2015), and education in the Anthropocene needs to be based on both knowledge about, and abilities to relate to both the human and the natural world. Living as a human being in the Anthropocene quandary means to understand the Earth systems, and to understand what it means to be a social human being and thus a part of these systems now and in an unpredictable future (see also Knight, 2015). The mission of all education is to strive towards this.
Autin, W. J. (2016). Multiple dichotomies of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene Review, 3(3) 218–230. Fadel, C., & Trilling, B. (2009). 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Bourn, D. (2014). The Theory and Practice of Development Education: A pedagogy for global social justice. London: Routledge. Bourn, D. (2016). Global learning and the school curriculum. Management in Education, 30(3), 121-125. Bourn, D. (2018). Understanding Global Skills for 21st Century Professions. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. Hamilton, C. (2017). Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene. Cambridge, Uk: Polity Press. Keeling, D. M. (2012). Posthumanism rhetoric: theory and criticism for the more-than-human. Communication graduate thesis & dissertations 19. university of Colorado at Boulder. Knight, J. 82015). Anhropocene futures: People, resources and sustainability. The Anhropocene review, 2(2), 152-158. McLaren, D. P. (2018). In a broken world: Towards an ethics of repair in the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene Review, 5(2), 136-154. Minteer, B. A. (2012). Geoengineering and Ecological Ethics in the Anthropocene. BioScience 62(10), 857-858. Preiser, R., Pereira, L., M. & Biggs, R. (2017). Navigating alternative framings of human-environment interactions: Variations on the theme of ‘finding Nemo’. Anthropocene, 29, 83-87. Rawson, J. & Whitmore, J. (2015). The Handbook: Surviving and living with climate change. Melbourne, AU: Transit Lounge. (e-book) Sörlin, S. (2017). Antropocen – En essä om människans tidsålder [Anthropocene: An essay about the human epoch]. Stockholm: Weyler.
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