An Active Perspective to Sustainability Education

Posted on October 24, 2012


Although education is considered as one of the most effective approaches in terms of addressing sustainability challenges and formulating solutions, my main ambition is trying to indicate the fact that traditional education methods remain inadequate in this regard. This is because these methods are based on passive and teacher-centred approaches to learning. 

So, inFebruary 2012 I went to Republic of South Africa for my field research and I have worked with South African Eco-Schools programme which is mainly operated by WESSA (a national NGO that runs numerous conservation, education and sustainability related projects) and WWF, but also with the help of government officials, schools and certain local NGOs.


In this sense, I have attended hands-on projects such as painting contests, language oriented environmental games, gardening activities etc. with learners who are between 5-13 years old. Activities I have attended and observed were multi-dimensional when it is compared to traditional teaching methods, and these were aiming to teach young learners though seeing, feeling, listening, watching and doing themselves. It was impressive and actually educational for me to observe them how quickly they involve in the activity and actually learn something out of them through their own practices. These are some of the photos I took at different primary schools within the city of Howick, Durban and Pietermaritzburg those are all located in KwaZulu-Natal Region of South Africa.
Students present their projects to their classmates
Re-use of PET bottles 
Wall art from bottle caps and other waste 
Material re-use for art
Global sustainability challenges poster    
My research results demonstrated that the South African education system still experiences major problems in providing a quality education for all learners, due mainly to existing socio-economic problems. Teacher guidance was crucial to the success of education for sustainability, especially in the context of significant social problems such as poverty, HIV/AIDS and resulting high percentage of orphans in schools, as well as limited resources for learning. 
However, if education can be perceived as a crucial tool and be prioritized, in spite of all these negative components, it is very likely  to achieve a more advanced state both in terms of the quality of environment and the educational system. As I also emphasized in the thesis itself, there is a vast difference between the efficiency of traditional education methods and these active methods that require student participation. One might think that these children are suffering from numerous social and economical problems already, why would they be caring about nature anyways?
This, I believe, is the point we should start changing our perspectives and try to explain to people (not only children) that these social and economical issues are very much linked with environmental problems. Like the enthusiastic and ambitious people I have met in South Africa, everybody should be aware that education is the most significant component of raising conscious and proactive individuals. In order to eliminate the destruction of natural resources and to solve the problems of our ill-functioning socio-economic systems, we must invest time, effort and money to education of future generations.
Children are more likely to be educated faster regarding sustainability issues, however it is not too late for anybody out there who might learn about these concepts and change their lifestyles accordingly.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

P.S. For the resource of the sentences in italic font, more photos and more information in depth please see my MSc. thesis: Ercan, E. (2012). Activating Primary School Learners: Sustainability Education in South Africa. Lund University.