Closing words March 4, 2022

Dear seminar participants,

After the opening words, we have now listened to Michiru Nagatsu’s keynote, seven paper presentations and Marianna Vivitsou’s open talk and discussion on ‘Boundaries’.

The Dean Johanna Mäkelä started her introductory words with the terrible war that is going on in Ukraine, something that in more than a week has cast a shadow over everything we do. However, without facing the issue, we cannot go forward, and there are many other problems that create the need to do our best jointly for a better world. As Johanna Mäkelä said, sustainability must be more than a buzzword, and it is not only about how to protect the environment, but, importantly, about democracy and social justice.

birds eye view photography of cloudy sky
Photo by Łukasz Łada

Michiru based his keynote on three books ─ the first written by Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis, the second by James Scott and the third by Bryan Caplan. Michiru raised the issue about how or, rather, if education can actually lead to any radical change. He showed how education, or rather students, are trapped in a system in which they start to behave in accordance with what is expected by educational politics and the labor market, striving for good grades and degrees. This system splits the students into winners and losers. According to Caplan, education is even a waste of time. Education is then a useful predictor of job success and the use of it, even if it is not necessarily the most intelligent students that succeed. Education fosters conformists. If I relate this to Foucault’s ideas about power, the students may completely adapt the ideas of the system, and, thus, themselves start to live and mirror these ideas. Michiru’s message, as I see it, is that education needs to focus its development interest on the systems that make humans who they are.

In the first paper presentation, Aikaterini Velentza told us about maritime archaeology research and its role in sustainability education. She emphasized cultural heritage and local indigenous knowledge as sources of creativity for climate change. She also presented two interesting courses, and stressed both the importance of working with the public and academics.

Since we are researchers our tools are research, and especially to perform research that changes education. As you all know, changing something with such strong traditions as education is all but easy. Many educational procedures, like the disciplinary split, has been the same for hundreds of years. This separating procedure has also been more or less self-evident.

Inna Sukhenko told us about energy literacy as well as nuclear literacy and how narratives can support the understanding of these difficult issues that relate to energy production, energy transition and energy consumption. She also raised the point about criticism and a call for new narratives.

Riikka Hohti talked about children of the Anthropocene and divided current challenges in three types of crises: environmental , ontological crises and crises of imagination. In her presentation, Riikka urged us to turn our attention toward polyphonic assemblages. She especially mentioned atmospheres, in both a material and affective sense, both collectively and cognitively.

3 brown hand with white background
Photo by Rod Long

Jenny Niu discussed how to support children’s sustainable growth by rather focusing on the root causes of a specific behavior than on the solution without knowing the cause.

Satu Valkonen’s presentation dealt with the role of sustainability in early childhood education (ECE), and how to encourage social emotional competence in the early years.  Her study shows that equity and diversity are difficult issues in ECE, and as I understand, this is often neglected or handled shallowly in ECE.

Tapio Rasa and Antti Laherto talked about futures education, and how to prepare students for the time to come. In this process, understanding of the past and the present also play important roles. Their study deals with what young people think about the future. Tapio and Antti see it as important to focus on creativity, agency and ownership of the future, if the aim is to change education.

Hannele Cantell told a personal story about her development as environmental educator and sustainability education researcher. This was an important historical narrative. However, Hannele forgot to tell about her role as an influencer teaching thousands of students about sustainability issues and her writing of hundreds of textbooks on the issue.

Marianna talked about boundaries from a post humanistic point of view, based on the work of Karen Barad, and raised thoughts about the melting of boundaries, and how change is enacting and interacting in the world. Since I have had an interest in Zen Buddhism, I hear a kind of yin yang thinking in the story Marianna tells based on the metaphor of diffraction – that there are always something of yin in yang and something of yang in yin, and that these elements are flexible and steadily changing.

Aikaterini mentioned that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was published a few days ago. This report has a depressive messages and needs to be read and acknowledged. But in this situation when we in this part of the world is paralyzed by the news about the war in Ukraine, the IPCC report is easily neglected. Inna also showed that the war in Ukraine can have extremely serious consequences. With these words, I am not suggesting that the one threat is more important to notice than the other. On the contrary, as educational researcher I see these both as huge problems that shake our worlds in many ways.

We have also heard ideas about how we can continue and create new cooperation methods – erätauko (timeout-dialogue) – and how to involve colleagues at the Faculty and outside the Faculty of Educational Sciences in the discussion about and development of Sustainability Education. I must say that I am really glad that we have had several participants today that represent other Faculties, and who have brought in new perspectives in the SusEdu discussion.

Yet, the spring is here, the sun is shining and we do also need to take care of ourselves and each other to have enough strength to tackle all the challenges we face in our work and in our private lives. So, with these words, I want to thank you all who have attended this seminar independently from your role. We have listened to many really boundary-crossing and interesting thoughts.

My heartfelt wishes to you, take care of yourselves and enjoy the weekend.

gray and black stones near body of water during sunset
Phot by Joakim Honkasalo

The SusEdu leader’s opening words on the Sustainability Education Research Seminar March 4, 2022

Dear seminar participants,

First, I want warmly to thank the dean Johanna Mäkelä, for her opening words and her willingness to encourage the sustainability work at the Faculty of Educational Sciences. The SusEdu group highly appreciate this.

Photo by Andréas Brun 

It is now my turn, as the leader of the SusEdu group, to welcome you to the second SusEdu seminar called Sustainability Education Research beyond Boundaries. In 2019, the group SusEdu was established, and it focuses especially on sustainability education research. All the initially eight members belonged to HELSUS. Today the number of members have grown to twenty-seven, crossing both the HELSUS and faculty boundaries. From the very beginning, the ambition of this group has been boundary crossing, and we continually welcome new members.

These days, humanity faces terrific problems threatening basic life-supporting systems as well as human dignity; the thought of boundary crossing is more urgent than ever. Climate change, war, poverty and inequality are some of the most disastrous dilemmas with global expanse and complex, intergenerational, and unpredictable consequences. The ethical-political foundation of Modernity has turned delicate, and need to become more sensitive for diverse cultures and ecological boundaries, and to recognize temporal and spatial challenges. Education research definitely has to start rejecting varieties of dualism and other divisions and boundaries.

First, educational research might need to cross the boundaries between disciplines. The cross-disciplinary concept includes multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches, of which transdisciplinary stands for the most complex blend. According to the Nicolescuian approach, transdisciplinary is about transcending the disciplinary restrictions. Sue McGregor describes transdisciplinary knowledge as “complex, emergent, cross-fertilised, embodied and alive”.

There are also many other boundaries, for example, the boundary dividing humans from non-human nature neglecting the rights of other than human forms of life. Sustainability requests responsibility, not only for other humans but also for all life-supporting earth’s systems. If humans regard themselves as divided from the rest of nature, they might treat it as mainly a resource.

I want to especially mention the boundaries between generations, ignoring future life on Earth. Future generations of poor countries are likely to be among those hit hardest by climate change and environmental degradation. The now living humans need to realize essential changes in their existence to prevent both future humans and non-humans from suffering, and enable them a decent life.

There are boundaries between various cultures and worldviews. Sustainability requires learning processes considering diversity, complexity and dynamic issues related to individuals as well as the society and all nature on the entire planet. There is a need to decolonize mainstream methodologies that inform contemporary research, and to reclaim indigenous epistemologies.

Boundaries are obvious between education and other society supporting functions. In the sustainability discussion, the role of education has often been to change both the individuals’ behavior and the entire society. However, education alone does not lead to a more sustainable world. The boundaries between education and other spheres, like politics and economics need to become visible to initiate new ways of dealing with sustainability.

Transformative learning is emphasized as a kind of boundary crossing. Elizabeth Lange thinks sustainability demands a transformative learning approach that is a shift from modernist assumptions of outcomes, measurements, managerialism, and colonization. She asks for decolonization and a deep transformation into new ways of thinking and acting within the mutual circles of humans and non-humans.

On a personal level, there are traditionally boundaries between body and mind emphasizing cognitive knowledge at the expense of emotions and embodied experiences. And there are also boundaries between body and technology, and in this case, we might need to consider, in what extent boundaries can be crossed. We might need to think about where do I stop and where do my computer begin, as Robin Zebrowski says.

It is definitely time to decolonize educational research and orient it toward a more sustainable future. Yet, is this possible? And what is the role of philosophy?

Our keynote speaker Michiru Nagatsu, who is a HELSUS linked Associate professor in practical philosophy at the University of Helsinki, will help us reflect on these questions. His speech is called The case against (sustainability) education? On the convergence of Libertarian, Marxist and Anarchist view. Very welcome, Michiru, the screen is yours!

from Sustainability Education Research Day, 23.10.2020

Extract from Lili-Ann Wolff’s opening words

Education has always been regarded as a means to correct the society’s inconveniences. Yet, we shall not underestimate the role of politics and economy, if we want to change the world.

Politics and economics govern education and we are all, as teachers, teacher educators and researchers, more or less entangled in contradictory values and power constellations. In the contemporary Covid-19 crises, one might ask, what is the basic role of education? Maybe, the entire idea about education needs a transformation. As long as there is an illusion about education, including sustainability education, as neutral and unpolitical without connections to economic interests, nothing will ever change.

Education needs to raise doubts about questions like the immanent idea about what education is, what it means to be human, and what a just global society is. How education research can become more critical and itself make a change and promote societal change, is another side of the sustainability education quandaries. Simultaneously, education must leave the door open and inspire the students of today and tomorrow to create new visions and paradigms to make this world a better place.

The present time is the time to act and make a change.