Sustainable Learning?

How to realize tangible regeneration

The quest to find the perfect pedagogy and learning system is as old as humanity itself, going from instinctual learning based on imitation, to trial-and-fail, all the way to systems grounded on complex reward and punishment methodologies, massive progress was made during the millennia and, as our understanding of both how societies and the human brain function, so our educational systems keep on improving. 

There is also a need to underline that educational systems always, or almost always, reflect the environment in which they were developed and put into practice. In ancient Greece Spartan military society had a need to create soldiers, therefore educating the young in building physical, combat and competitive skills. The complex bureaucratic systems of the Chinese Empire required an army of accountants and administrators, seeing the development of complex scientific and mathematical competences. When comparing Sparta and the Chinese Empire we see in both educational systems a need for coping with the environment in which they lived and of course their own survival as state entities, an efficient administrative machine to manage a large empire and a strong large army to cope with strong neighbours. 

What about today? Well today’s environment is, to many extents fortunately, very different from those described above, and nonetheless it still should respond to the needs of the environment we live in, and does it really?

Let’s take a step back, we humans, as part of the animal kingdom, are also partly driven by instincts, mostly the ones that are in place to keep us alive,  and among basic ones like feeding, sleeping, and having a shelter we have learning, learning is a very basic human instinct we are wired and prone to learn, especially in childhood and, as recent studies show, not only in children. The little human living in a hut tens of thousands of years ago needing to learn from the elders how to handle a spear or treat a wound is actually not that different from the child today needing and therefore wanting to learn how to live and thrive in today’s world. So what can we say about failure at learning? Dropping out of education? Bad marks? Is there a dysfunction in the learner’s instincts or an inadequate system delivers learning? And what about the preparedness of the learner to apply the learnings to life, and therefore coping with the existing environment? These are very basic and yet very important questions to ask when dealing with implementing any sort of educational pathway, be it school curricula all the way to corporate training courses. 

The ice age tribe’s child coped with a hostile natural environment and needed to learn how to survive its threats in order to live; the spartan child needed to learn how to fight and be a brave unyielding warrior in order to maintain its city’s independence and power over the neighbours; the Chinese clerk had to learn accounting and administrative skills in order to manage a massive empire to prosper over its barbaric neighbours. What about today’s child? Or rather today’s human? Probably the first thing that came up into many of our minds right now, as what to cope with, is the environmental and climate crisis, as the greatest present threat to our existence and lives which needs, quite badly and urgently, new coping mechanisms, and the real question now is, are our educational systems and lifelong learning approaches equipping us with those living and survival competences, or are they pushing us even faster towards the cliff? 

Humans today are fortunate enough to have at their disposal so many scientific and technological advances and unprecedented progress in pretty much every field, we possess the know-how and technology to deal with today’s existential threat, and not using it, or even misusing it, often on the argument that it is not “economically convenient” for example when hearing arguments that nuclear plants are better than solar farms because they are more profitable. What does this show? That we are living in a suicidal society rushing towards the edge-of-no-return without any survival instinct or self-preservation, therefore going totally against our nature as part of the animal kingdom? What this likely means is that, while we have extensively invested in technological and scientific progress we belittled the investment on our own education and learning. School educational curricula still glorify the nation’s achievements and accomplishments, portraying romantic conflict between human societies or humans versus nature. Corporate training courses often focus on increasing and multiplying profits and sales; and these are just a few examples. Is this the learning, the coping mechanism, we need for our survival today? Are those the necessary competences that would ensure the individual, society and species to continue its existence and quality of life? Or rather are these learning and educational mechanisms and systems already obsolete answering to past problems and environments which do not exist anymore? Yes I know, lots of questions. Do we not have an answer of course, just a reflection, that perhaps the failure in implementing all the sustainability, regeneration and environmental policies and practices are not due to the lack of science and technology, rather a deficiency of our mindset, one that education, from children to adults, is failing to foster and provide to actually apply, use and implement that knowledge and technology to our best interest. 

Published by Lorenzo Nava

Consultant, Trainer and Coach, on participatory learning processes, experiential learning dynamics, non formal education and NLP certified practitioner

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