How can education prepare us to engage in sober, sensible, creative and responsible ways with the harmful impacts of the climate crisis?
What type of learning will be responsive to the realities of a world hyperconnected by technological advancements, yet increasingly fragmented at the social level, polarised at the political front and changing at an unprecedented pace?
How can education support a shift towards a reconfiguration of the systems we rely on based on deep social and ecological accountability?
Over the last months, we have witnessed climate events that seemed like from a dystopian future. Dramatic floods across western Europe or unprecedented heatwaves at the Canadian Pacific coast happened at the same time that indigenous peoples in Brazil have been struggling to draw attention to the existential threat they face. The politicians in Brazil are voting to remove the rights of Indigenous peoples who are the ones who protect the Amazon, with the aim to open the protected lands to mining, logging, and farming exploitation.
There is momentum that makes institutions such as UNEP (2021) acknowledge that society has been failing to meet most of its commitments to limit environmental damage. UNEP calls for a recognition of the interconnection between the global challenges and for a response that encompasses a widespread transformation of systems and relationships between people.
UNESCO reflects the context of increasing complexity, uncertainty, precarity and fragility in The Futures of Education initiative that calls for re-thinking education and re-imagining its purpose, because „we cannot continue just doing more of the same if we want to address the environmental crisis“. This publication explores the potential of transformative education to support learners to face difficult and complex issues and navigate changing realities with a deep sense of social and ecological accountability.
Transformative education encourages learners to confront the „elephants in the room“. It can facilitate an understanding that we have been complicit in perpetuating a world-view that is both unsustainable and harmful, as it denies the limits of the planet and the entanglement of the living systems. And help us to realise that we are both part of the problem and part of the solution.
Moreover, transformative education can support the development of capacities enabling learners to relate radically differently to each other, and the planet, which is essential for imagining a life within the planetary boundaries with dignity and social justice concerns are core organising principles.
As the world of the future may be a world of increasing vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, a strategic response for transformative education may be to move beyond the transmission of static competencies or content and instead facilitate the deepening of learners’ capacities for ongoing self-reflexivity, accountability, and discernment.To host potentially difficult and painful conversations without feeling overwhelmed, we may need to learn to expand our capacity to hold space for uncertainty, tensions and failure, and learn to hold diverse affects, opinions, discomforts, and dissensus in generative ways.
In conclusion, transformative education can cultivate the stamina needed to face the unpredictable futures with dignity and ethical solidarity in the long haul.
Tereza Čajková is the author of Bridge 47's research paper on Why is transformative education a vital response to the multiple challenges of the future.