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Reflection among adult learners is very important for implementing sustainable lifestyle, thinks Emmy Pater of RELEARN Suderbyn. Photo: Art of Hosting Karlskrona Team.

Learning & teaching

”We have to be brave!” – Recommendations for sustainable development in adult education

Authors: Kaisu Sofia John Published:

Reflection among adult learners is very important for implementing sustainable lifestyle, thinks Emmy Pater of RELEARN Suderbyn. Photo: Art of Hosting Karlskrona Team.

How to promote education for sustainable development? Three specialists from different organizations in the Nordic region share their recommendations.

Have you ever thought about how to promote education for sustainable development in your work? Do you have a passion for encouraging others to embrace sustainable lifestyle, but you don’t know how to do it?

The Nordic Network for Adult Learning (NVL) has compiled a list of ten recommendations that aim to promote education for sustainable development in educational organizations.

In this article, we ask three organizations from the Nordic region what they think the three most important recommendations are. We also ask how their organisations implement the recommendations in the work.

The list has been developed as part of NVL’s pilot project “Normalization of more sustainable lifestyles.” Pilot project’s aim is to develop an educational model for supporting development towards the normalization of more sustainable lifestyles.

Ari Laitala, Specialist, SYKLI Environmental College, Finland

Ari Laitala thinks that it’s important to carry out feedback surveys constantly to maintain sustainable development in organizations. Photo: Ari Laitala.

“The most important recommendations for SYKLI are:

1. Be brave – you can learn from mistakes, 4. Plan (a bit) and carry out research-based action, and 6. Reflect! Evaluate. Rethink. Act!

These three recommendations come from our strategy. To encapsulate our strategy in one word, we could say ‘pioneering’. We’re teaching subjects that are not available everywhere. To be able to teach the latest sustainability-related topics, much is required of the educational institution itself. We must go forward even if we are not always 100% sure of the direction.

We must be brave! We know that there will be some mistakes, and the key is to recognize these in the early phase and smoothly learn the available lessons.

Recommendation number 4 refers to active development of projects. We are actively generating new project initiatives typically to be funded from EU-based grants. In the application development phase, we must research in the same way as we do in the actual project realization phase.

In any case, the emphasis in these projects is on concrete actions and practical outcomes, but just doing things is not usually enough. There must be some fresh research-based information as background knowledge.

Our third favourite is a classic: Reflect. Behind this there are also very practical reasons. We must be able to develop our everyday work on a daily basis. For example, we are constantly carrying out background questionnaires and feedback surveys, both for our staff and our students.

However, this kind of formal feedback is not enough so we must also hold discussions in order to feed and enrich our Reflect, Evaluate and Rethink actions.”

Emmy Pater, International Project Coordinator, RELEARN Suderbyn, Gotland, Sweden

“I think that the most important recommendations for our organization are: 3. If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable! Follow your passion, 6. Reflect! Evaluate. Rethink. Act, and 7. Be an example.

Being an example for others to live a sustainable life is very important! The eco-village itself is a living example of the type of future that we would like to have. We are working with renewable energy types, sustainable agriculture and locally grown food.

We are also working a lot with young adults and giving them learning opportunities to live a sustainable life, live in a spirit of communality and take care of each other.

In the eco-village, there are lots of spaces to share and reflect together. For example, there are sharing groups every week where people come together and talk about how things are going and share important information. We have this kind of learning structures that help people to learn from the past and improve over time.

There is also lot of space for everyone to bring their own passion and ideas. Of course, some things must be improved by the community, but in general things are allowed to flow according to peoples interests and passions. That means that they are working to stay committed in the long term.”

Einar Opsvik, Chairman of the Board Folkehøgskoleforbundet, Norway

Einar Opsvik encourages young adults to talk directly to politicians about climate issues. Photo: Courtesy of Einar Opsvik.

“Recommendation 5. Every living person and organism knows something about sustainability, 6. Reflect! Evaluate. Rethink. Act, and 10. Talk to your local politicians, are the most relevant for Norwegian folk high schools.

The pedagogy in folk high schools mainly focuses on dialogue between pupils and teachers, and the conversations between pupils. The starting point is the individual student’s life, knowledge and thoughts about climate and environmental issues.

The principal must ensure that teachers create space for conversations based on the student’s life and experiences. Such dialogue processes must characterize all teaching and all socializing in schools.

Reflecting on one’s own life and society is the most important element in the educational processes that folk high schools invite students into.

All schools have an educational program. This is prepared in collaboration between management, pedagogues, and other staff. This program is mainly linked to didactic issues and places great emphasis on facilitating reflection and new thinking in all subjects that the school offers. The educational program must also influence the pupils’ stay at the school during their free time, and the contact the pupils have with other members of staff.

Norwegian folk high schools are politically engaged and want to help students to become politically aware people. Young adults need to learn to express their opinions and become confident that their voice matters in the political debate.

We ask the schools to invite their local councils to talk to politicians. We also encourage those schools that have parliamentary representatives in their local environment to invite them to the school, both to discuss current climate issues and to present the school and pedagogy.”

10 recommendations: How to promote education for sustainable development

1. Be brave – you can learn from mistakes
2. Lower your expectations of direct results
3. If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable! Follow your passion!
4. Plan (a bit) and carry out research-based action
5. Every living person and organism knows something about sustainability, even if not framed as such or communicated yet—create spaces for expression and room for listening.
6. Reflect! Evaluate. Rethink. Act!
7. Be an example
8. Imagine the future and be aware of the past
9. Create supporting structures to help you stay on track
10. Talk to your local politicians

Source: NVL

SYKLI Environmental College, Finland: A national specialist vocational college, Sykli’s mission is to promote and strengthen environmental knowledge and improve customers’ operations in line with sustainable development objectives.

RELEARN Suderbyn in Gotland, Sweden: RELEARN is a non-profit NGO working locally in the Baltic Sea Region and internationally. It focuses on sustainable development, transition initiatives and permaculture practices.

Folkehøgskolene, Norway: The five national folk high school organizations in Norway adopted a sustainability resolution in 2019 to support the UN’s sustainability goals. Folkehøgskolen’s statutory goal is general education and public information.


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Kaisu Sofia John (MA) is the editor of ELM magazine. Contact: kaisu.kinnunen(at); +358 400 641 380 Show all articles by Kaisu Sofia John
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