Transdisciplinary Learnings and Local Knowledge: UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development Network Global Meeting
Ensuring that Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) becomes an effective tool to face the current socio-ecological crisis is a significant challenge. It is therefore important to create instances to share successful experiences and initiatives in the field. It is in this context that UNESCO has worked to promote the training of agents of change that can contribute to a society on the path to ecological, social and educational sustainability.
These challenges require actions in different spaces and contexts, beyond schools or formal education; a key perspective for various specialists and educational agents who gathered at the first Education for Sustainable Development global meeting –ESD 2030–, organized by UNESCO. In December 2023, I was invited to attend this event in Tokyo in representation of Fundación Mar Adentro –an opportunity that allowed me to learn about different experiences and learning environments from relevant actors.
The meeting sought to exchange experiences and create bridges between multiple educational actors and citizens of different countries. Throughout various sessions, we worked on the objectives of the meeting: how ESD strengthens the quality and relevance of education in the context of its transformation; developing systemic educational responses to the current challenges in sustainable development; and strengthening stakeholder participation in the implementation of ESD towards 2030.
I had the honor of sharing with and learning from teachers, academics and representatives of communities from different socio environmental contexts, who shared their inspiring experiences of resilience and collective learning. Among these were managers from African countries that are facing droughts, such as Viktoria Keding from NaDEET, an initiative located in the Namibian desert; Ministers of education or representatives of ministries from countries such as Palestine, Egypt or Mongolia; and European education leaders, such as Jürgen Forkel-Schubert from Hamburg, Germany, who has worked with ESD for over 40 years and is currently the coordinator of the ESD group of cities at UNESCO. This diversity of attendees, as well as the value of their stories, allowed me to reflect on the local and global realities that have led us to this definition of actions for each different context.
According to UNESCO, we can identify at least five criteria when thinking of sustainability in education: promoting policies; transforming learning environments; developing the capacities of teachers and educators; empowering youth; and accelerating actions at the local level. These perspectives were previously discussed at the network meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Chile in August 2023, where I was also able to participate and present the processes and advances of the Active Teachers program.
The global nature of this meeting challenges us to think of ourselves as global citizens and become aware that formal education spaces are not enough on their own. The variety of realities remind us that there can be as many criteria as there are territorial contexts, as educational needs are varied by nature. While some countries identified technology and communications as areas for improvement, others, more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, emphasized the importance of practical skills to face or reduce natural disasters, as well as finding ways to respond to extreme violence. In this line, African activist Ayakha Melithafa, for example, expressed the need to train youth in agricultural and livestock farming, responding to the everyday reality experienced in the South African region.
Countries that have greater inequality face basic survival issues, in which cases ESD is linked to the most urgent needs, connecting issues related to human rights, such as lack of means for food, health, and access to educational opportunities. Thus, the real possibilities for education that a society can achieve are a central perspective that forces us to think about essential factors when projecting sustainable education that favors social, formative, and ecological justice. However, many countries in the world are far from this foundation. What can we do about it?
In this collaborative path, transdisciplinarity emerges as one of the central pillars to address these issues from a systemic perspective. As a foundation, we have sought to establish this perspective through the link between art, science, and other knowledge. The creation of knowledge that we aim to expand in formal and non-formal learning spaces arises from the bridge generated when human creativity aligns with the dynamics of nature, projected in the light of multiple perspectives of socio-ecological research.
While the importance of art appeared more as a statement or a desirable element at the UNESCO meeting, in our work at the Fundación Mar Adentro this dimension is crucial. We can see this, for example, in the implementation of our Active Teachers program, which seeks to provide tools for transdisciplinary education in the face of territorial issues faced by teachers. Through exploration and observation, we generate aesthetic experiences that allow participants to experience other ways of being in the world, inviting them to create a project with their students that can be implemented in their schools.
Our commitment has been to promote socio-ecological education inside and outside the classroom, as well as to create experiences to expand and diversify the roles of teachers, artists, scientists, managers, and communities, conceiving initiatives where art, science, and other disciplines blur their boundaries.
The presentations and talks that took place during this meeting reaffirm our vision of the Learning area of Fundación Mar Adentro. We want to continue nurturing co-constructed spaces based on creative processes, academic knowledge, and community input, aiming to enhance the training of citizens with transdisciplinary knowledge that can translate into survival tools –and future imaginaries– adapted to the particular realities of each territory.
The challenge will be to promote the involvement of educational communities and incorporate this perspective into their daily lives and ways of working. For example, in the case of Chile, in institutional educational projects (PEI), efforts could be directed towards creating more flexible instances that integrate socio-ecological education, supported by technologies and local knowledge or networks, in order to articulate and multiply diverse ESD experiences.
These reflections resonate with premises emerging from the Tokyo meeting, mainly regarding the need to stimulate sustainable learning and critical thinking that arises from the integration of local and traditional knowledge, with contributions from technical areas and the involvement of diverse communities. It involves knowledge, values, skills, and practical abilities articulated intersectorially to be incorporated into curricula and multiple learning experiences. As academic Leon Tikly reflected in the opening panel, education cannot be separate from local realities and, at the same time, must consider advances in modern science. It is time to recognize all types of knowledge.
Finally, I would like to highlight that there are global imperatives for humanity towards the Sustainable Development Goals set by UNESCO, despite the peculiarities of each country. Education must be understood in the dimension of service and from the perspective that research is for people. Only through these statements translated into concrete actions can the socio-ecological crisis be addressed as an opportunity for innovation, life, and peace, benefiting communities made up of multiple species, knowledge, experiences, life stories, and ways of learning. It is time to reconfigure the logic of competition and shift towards a collaborative approach.
1. Together with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (MEXT), where the United Nations University (UNU) was co-host.