30 SES 09 A, Education as Risky Business
In 2018, the IPCC Special Report 15 stated that we have only 12 years to alter course from devastating climate change. It posits that if we pass 1.5 degrees of global warming, we have a high risk of catastrophic events and even possibly, runaway climate change. Runaway climate change is a positive feedback loop of natural warming that will outpace anthropogenic warming as methane is released from frozen stores, and can be seen as an existential risk, in that it threatens the future of our entire species. Should runaway climate change bring about warming of 6 to 8 degrees, humanity would perish.
Concurrently human sustainability awareness and education has also been increasing exponentially. In 1992, at the Rio convention on sustainable development, the UN launched its landmark Agenda 21 document that called for a reorientation of education toward sustainability. In Sustainable Education, Sterling (2001) stated that “education must go beyond replicating society to changing it” and argued for education that transforms both learner and institution. A year later at the 2002 Rio +10 conference in Johannesburg, a decade for education for sustainable development was launched, which would further bring sustainability education to the masses and identify clear pathways for such a reorientation.
One such pathway is that of competence-based education (CBE) whereby the need was identified for education to help develop all learners to become competent as sustainability researchers, activists and change agents (Rieckmann 2012, Wiek et al 2011, 2016)
Risk as a topic in sustainability CBE can be seen as crossover between normative and anticipatory competence whereby values and probabilities are both key components. As such it is always expressed as a mix between the likelihood of an event occurring and the relative value of such an event. The topic of risk, the understanding of it, and the valuing of its consequences are therefore key components of sustainability competence (Wiek et al. 2011).
This paper presents a teaching intervention within an action research project, which is the ongoing course on Sustainability and the Future in the university of Vechta (Gardiner 2017, Gardiner & Rieckmann 2015). In this course students are participant researchers engaged in an effort to operationalise and map components of anticipatory competence. As part of this, they learn reflective skills such as journalling and meditation. This "existential risk" intervention was run with the class of 14 students at the beginning of their semester. Data were collected before and after the intervention, as the students had previously journalled their relative knowledge of their personal and collective future and self assessed how they had changed. Along with more open journalling they were also given a series of values clarification and probability exercises to answer, the former of which were based off of the New Ecological Paradigm Survey. Throughout the exercise the learners also documented their understanding of their roles as participant researchers and after the intervention they conversed in a focus group. The paper presents these data, supported with theoretical inputs as well as analysis of learner reflections and discussions (Howell & Allen 2016, Kopnina 2014)
Through ongoing thematic analysis of the transcripts, preliminary analysis points to the role of locus of control, emotion and coping skills in the understanding of risk. Learners are aware of the difference in levels of probability, consequence and the level to which the two combine. The final results will go on to refine the Existential Risk intervention that will also be presented in full for others to use.
Gardiner S. (2017) Futures loss, despair and empowerment work in the University of Vechta: an action research project. In P.B. Corcoran, J.P.Weakland and A.E.J.Wals (eds.) Envisioning futures for environmental and sustainability education.Wageningen Academic Publishers. DOI:10.3920/978-90-8686-846-9_17, Gardiner, S., & Rieckmann, M. (2015). Pedagogies of preparedness: Use of reflective journals in the operationalization and development of anticipatory competence, Sustainability, 7(8), 10554-10575 Howell, R. and Allen S. (2016) Significant life experiences, motivations and values of climate change educator. Environmental Education Research. DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2016.1158242 Kopnina H. (2014) Education for sustainable development (ESD): Exploring anthropocentric–ecocentric values in children through vignettes. Studies in Educational Evaluation 41, 124–132 Rieckmann, M. (2012). "Future-oriented higher education: which key competencies should be fostered through university teaching and learning?. ." Futures 44: 127-135. Sterling S. (2001) Sustainable Education: Re-visioning Learning and Change Schumacher Briefings 6, Green Books. UK. Wiek, A., et al. (2011). "Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development." Sustainability Science 6(2): 203-213.
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