30 SES 02 A, Schooling and ESE
At the beginning of the new UNESCO program “Education for Sustainable Development: Towards achieving the SDGs (ESD for 2030)”, the situation of sustainability issues is highly ambivalent. At the one hand, challenges like the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity are accelerating and exacerbating into the direction of reaching critical and irreversible tipping points (Lenton et al. 2019). On the other hand, more and more (young) people are ready to take action and are understanding and realising the need for disruptive practices by demonstrating and being critically involved in high-level political discourses. This ambivalent situation stresses questions regarding research in general, and for ESD research in particular, that draws on the classical question of normative vs objective-descriptive research: What is the right dosing of observing and analysing the history, current state of the art and possible future scenarios regarding scaling ESD and in how far should research actively contribute to an intensified capacity of actors to solve sustainability problems in the sense of a solution-oriented (Miller et al. 2014) or transformative sustainability research (Schneidewind et al. 2016)?
The paper aims at discussing some of the consequences that occur when researchers also commit to solutions-oriented research by using the example of the national monitoring on ESD in Germany. In general, monitoring studies can be defined as indicator-based and systematic observations of the input, output and process aspects of an education system for the purpose of comparison and quality improvement (Ioannidou 2010) and thereby following a rather descriptive and analytic approach. There is an ambitious political process for scaling ESD in Germany and a National Action Plan on ESD (National Platform on Education for Sustainable Development 2017). In this context, our project follows the plea for mixed-methods designs in ESD monitoring projects (Stepanek Lockhart 2018). The central goal is to capture the extent, quality and development of ESD on different levels (documents, educational practices, public awareness, etc.) and in different educational areas (early childhood education, school education, vocational education and training, higher education, non-formal and informal learning as well as local authorities). Results from the project are informing the scientific state of the art and the interested public. They also feed into political decision making in the realm of ESD and the structures (ca. 650 actors involved) that has been set up by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to support this educational concept. The research project is located at the department of the scientific advisor of the National Platform for ESD in Germany.
Currently, there is the potential for, in total, a 7-year funded research program (since 2015 up to now, and expected further funding until 2022). The previous projects generated results from different substudies with varying methods (document analysis of curricula and other central documents, expert interviews, quantitative online-studies, focus group discussions etc.). Additionally, encompassing experiences have been collected on how to communicate to, cooperate with, and also to maintain the critical distance from central actors in the ESD-policy environment in Germany necessary for scientific monitoring. Against this background and the need for solution-oriented research projects in the context of sustainability, the basic orientation of the project has been adjusted towards a monitoring approach that is more reflexive and supportive. Besides gathering and analysing further data in the process of ESD-implementation in Germany, the new monitoring approach explicitly aims for contributing to strengthening the capacity of the actors of high-quality ESD-implementation and for understanding the complexity of scaling an educational innovation in a multi-level educational system and finding effective ways to deal with tensions and conflicting aims.
As the scaling of ESD is considered to be a question of learning (Mickelsson et al. 2018), the reflexive and supportive monitoring approach is aiming for providing more in-depth information what is necessary for setting up good ESD-settings including their soci-cognitive-emotional determinants. At the same time, it aims for reconstructing indidvidual and collective learning processes of the actors involved in the multi-stakeholder process as well as the target groups of ESD. By following such an approach, the goal is also to identify individual and systemic inertia, path-dependencies, lock-ins and windows of opportunities (Moore et al. 2018) for future strengthening ESD. Additionally, it strives for stimulating further activities by supporting actors to better understand and reflect on their respective sectoral logics and rationalities when working together to scale ESD. To reach these ambitions, we build on experiences and research results of reflective monitoring approaches (Arkesteijn et al. 2015), which have been applied in different sustainability transformation processes. In detail, the multi-method-approach will be continued. This implies, firstly, an indicator-based longitudinal analysis of crucial documents in the German educational system for the four formal educational areas (early childhood education, school education, vocational education and training and higher education) to capture trends in the implementation of ESD. Secondly, different workshops will be organized with actors from the multi-stakeholder process (and beyond) to foster a common understanding of different scaling priorities, strategies and future activities. These workshops will be observed and analysed in using methods from ethnography (Bernard 2006). Thirdly, (informal) transformative learning processes (Mezirow 1991) for sustainability will be analysed based in an interview study to generate knowledge on the occasions and conditions for individual transformation processes. Lastly, a large-scale online-study focusing on the implementation of ESD in the formal sector will be replicated in order to track dynamics and developments in the last years – especially given an increased public and media attention for the climate crisis and other sustainability problems that developed between the two points of data gathering.
The contribution will provide an overview over and connections between the past and present research phases. This also involves a critical discussion on the (dis-)advantages of the reflexive and supportive monitoring frame. Bridging the scientific and non-scientific world more proactively leads to different expectations, tensions, as well as advantages (Singer-Brodowski et al. 2019). Therefore, it is a crucial task for researchers to “alternate between critical detachment and constructive involvement“ (Læssøe et al. 2013). Given the high trust in science and scientifical expertise and the potential conflicts in sustainability transformation processes (i.e. about the expectations regarding the speed of scaling ESD), it becomes even more important for scientists to moderate or even mediate between contradictory potions of different actors. Against this background, we want to discuss the potentials and limitations of our reflexive and supportive monitoring approach with a focus on methodological and ethical questions that occur, when researchers aim for solution-oriented ESD research.
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