Live Chat with Dr. Arjen Wals: EE and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) | eePRO @ NAAEE
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Live Chat with Dr. Arjen Wals: EE and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In 2015, all United Nations Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. The agenda set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries in a global partnership. With many of you working to address sustainability in your work, the Global eePRO community wants to have a conversation about these 17 SDGs and the role environmental educators can have in this global agenda. We hope you can join us for a live chat with Dr. Arjen Wals on Monday, April 29, 11 AM – 12 PM EDT. Submit your questions here on eePRO, and Dr. Wals will answer as many as he can on the 29th.

Dr. Wals is a professor at the University of Wageningen and Gothenburg University in The Netherlands and has more than 30 years of experience in international research and practice in the field of environmental and sustainability education. He served as UNESCO chair in social learning and sustainable development, and was a senior policy advisor to UNESCO’s 2016 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report “Education for People and Planet” on the role of education in helping realize the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. At University of Wageningen and Gothenburg University, he is responsible for research, education, supervision, acquisition, and outreach in EE and ESE.

Read more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals:
https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

Here are a few questions for the live chat, looking forward to it! Thank you!

The 17 UN goals are critical to development of sustainability and resilience of future generations, but many of our emergent environmental problems require urgent action. How might we best instill in our youth the resolve they will need in order to bring about political change and hold leaders to account in the near-term?

Among the most intransigent obstacles to transitioning to a more sustainable future has been the paralysis of uncertainty, reinforced in part by misinformation, disinformation and information overload. How do we train our youth to navigate the clutter?

The UN is an inherently secular organization, but many of the Sustainable Development Goals have long traditions of teaching within faith communities. Are there plans to engage faith communities in the SDG?

Hi Anne!
1) How do I sign up for the live chat?
2) If you can't attend the live chat--will a recording be available?

Thank you!
Ellen

Thanks Anne! I can't make it, but I'm going to leave my questions here--if that is okay?

My questions pertain to higher education, NAAEE affiliates, and early childhood education (ECE) and ECE teacher-prep.

Higher Education:
In our experiential undergraduate place-based EE program we have students examine both the history and emerging trends & philosophies in the field. Currently, the SDGs are addressed as part of an "reorienting philosophical trend" that has more influence internationally than here in the U.S. (I've tried to contact the U.S. ESD group several times for a speaker, to no avail). After this brief day or two orientation in their Fundamentals of EE course, student move on to critiquing, creating, and implementing curriculum through the other courses utilizing a variety of methods and working with diverse populations. Currently, this is about their only connection to the SDGs in undergraduate program. The questions:

1) How do I, as the upcoming sole environmental education professor for our college, better integrate/support the SDGs in our program and our courses such as Fundamentals of EE, EE Methods, EE Planning & Practice, etc.? Are there are other courses you suggest integrate the SDGs? Obviously, we would love to have an entire class devoted to this topic but that is currently not feasible. Examples of syllabi and materials from other institutions would also be helpful.

2) In addition, as a higher ed. program working towards NAAEE Accreditation as well--is there a documented or perceived correlation between SDGs and NAAEE's Guidelines for Excellence (especially preparation for educators) that could be clarified to perhaps support a shift in our program's rubrics which guide the curriculum? (also may help other institutions aligned with these guidelines begin this transition?)

Affiliates:
As a board member for the Arizona Association for Environmental Education, how do you perceive the role of NAAEE Affiliates in supporting the SDGs? Are there specific resources we could share? Do you have suggested language for navigating areas where concepts of sustainability, environmentalism, and equity, are not mainstream dialogue and perhaps ideas on how a Affiliates might endorse SDGs locally or collaborate nationally in support of them?

ECE:
My current work involves nature & place-based professional development for early childhood educators. What role might the SDGs play in ECE; both in how the SDG's support ECE in particular---and how early childhood educators might create developmentally appropriate introductions to these goals for both children, families, and school communities. Are there examples of this or resources?

Thank you so much! I look forward to learning from your responses and sharing with my colleagues, students, and other educators.

P.S. Apologies for any typos, the text box is so small I cannot scroll up to see all my writing.

Hi Arjen, thanks for leading this chat session! I'll share just one question for now -- are there any early results (or plans to systematically measure) how we are doing so far on these 17 goals? I think most of the SDGs have 2020 and 2030 targets. Where you seeing any early bright spots? Are there goals/countries that are making better progress than others? Thank you!

Can you share of any examples of EE that integrates the SDGs into their program, particularly from countries where the SDGs have become a framework for national programs regarding development and the environment?

What do you think of the viability of the SDGs as a tool to connect educators internationally?

Which SDGs to you see are best addressed through the tools of Environmental Education?

Critical media literacy is essential in times of viral nonsense and fake news. Quality education (SDG 4) needs to include this - learners need to understand where information comes from, who put it there, with what intend, is is based on fact, opinion, myth or. Judging this is critical. Why to certain sites appear first on a google search, often out of thousands or even milliones... what algorithm might be behind it - did someone pay for this? etc. The European Union is prioritizing this at the moment. See the slide below for a guide against fake news and propaganda.

Let me first respond to your Early Childhood Education question. The SDG's can learn from young children, in a way. Young children seem better at seeing relationships and connecting with the world around them as it unfolds than adults who have been trained to see distinctions, draw boundaries and catergorize people, other species and material in categories. The SDGs risk that they become another way of dividing the world into 17 categories and subcategories. So in the spirit of early childhood the SDG's need to be a stepping stone for a more relational, a more connected way, of being in the world, where we see that whatever we do, it has something to do with water, life on land, gender, equity, fairness, sharing, etc. See Fulgrum's 'All I needed to know, I learnt in Kindergarden' poem. We must also be careful not to replace these innate experiences and qualities children have by digital experiences that disconnect them from the physical and cosial world around them. Too much screentime undermines much of what good environmental and sustainability education stands for. I wrote a paper about all this: 14. Wals, A. E. J. (2017). Sustainability by Default: Co-creating Care and Relationality Through Early Childhood Education. International Journal of Early Childhood, 49(2), 155-164. DOI: 10.1007/s13158-017-0193-5

"Not everything that counts can be measured and not everything that can be measured counts" (A. Einstein). I do think it is good to have indicators and try to 'measure' progress. Providing feedback can be stimulating but also lead to critical reflection on whether we are using the right process to achieve our goals. However, I am a little bit worried about the measuring taking over the meaning. In other words; when trying too hard to put a number on everything and disecting all objectives into measurable outcomes we might take all the learning out of the process. Environmental educators kno wthat it is critical to involve learners in setting their own goals and objectives, allowing their questions and curiosity to be central, engaging them in discovery and experiential learning, but also in expressing how they learn, what they learn and what they would like to do next. We need a culture of curiosity and reflection, not one of accountability and control. So, let the SDGs be stepping stones for mindful inquiry that can help learners live mor elightly, meaningfully, equitably on the Earth within planetary boundaries, focus on the learning space and the kind of learning that will allow for this to happen, and do observe and take note of what is happening, but do not try to measure and prove something as it might lead to adverse effects.

As suggested in my previous response; the key is not to get wrapped up in a game of 'ticking all the boxes' but rather in the challenge of seeing the connections. Take a tea-bag, yes, a tea bag. Now try to connect all 17 SDGs to this little tea bag. How is it related to climate action, gender, decent work, poverty, good governance, peace and strong institutions, to education, life below water, life on land, etc. etc. Now for some the link is more obvious than for others, this will also depend on your interests and background (which is why it is a much richer excercise when you have people with different backgrounds doing this together). When you have trouble seeing the link with one of them, say, gender, then that's where a little more effort will be needed, because there IS a link to that bag of tea - think of the women picking tea, not getting the pay they need and deserve, etc. See the picture below: the industrial bag of tea with all the SDGs nested around them.

As suggested in my previous response; the key is not to get wrapped up in a game of 'ticking all the boxes' but rather in the challenge of seeing the connections. Take a tea-bag, yes, a tea bag. Now try to connect all 17 SDGs to this little tea bag. How is it related to climate action, gender, decent work, poverty, good governance, peace and strong institutions, to education, life below water, life on land, etc. etc. Now for some the link is more obvious than for others, this will also depend on your interests and background (which is why it is a much richer excercise when you have people with different backgrounds doing this together). When you have trouble seeing the link with one of them, say, gender, then that's where a little more effort will be needed, because there IS a link to that bag of tea - think of the women picking tea, not getting the pay they need and deserve, etc. See the picture below: the industrial bag of tea with all the SDGs nested around.

To conclude - the SDGs are mostly helpful in (re)establishing a more holistic perspective on dealing with global challenges around food, water, energy, climate, justice, peace, equity and so on. Two of them are not so much about content - people-planet-prosperity but about process: SDG 4 'quality education' and SDG 17 'Partnerships'. They are both mechanism needed to help realize all others. In the end Environmental and Sustainability Educators need to build capacities, qualities and values in society that can help humanity live within what economist Kate Raowrth calls, the doughnut. The picture below shows her idea of the doughnut economy where the challenge is to establish a strong social-cultural foundation that guarantees good education, democracy, health and so on, while not overs-stepping our ecological boundaries. The SDGs can help guide us towards that. I have placed the SDGs in her Doughnut in the image below! NAAEE is well positioned to work with the SDGs!
More questions, email me at: arjen.wals@wur.nl or visit my blog at: www.transformativelearning.nl

Kate Raworth's (2017) Doughnut Economy with SDGs
Kate Raworth's (2017) Doughnut Economy

Hi Anna Umail,

It’s an exciting and complicated subject that you presented. As much I feel you well describe 17 Sustainable development goals. My question for you is if you consider simplifying the issue in a prodecst or video to make it easier for different audiences to feel connected to the topic. I believe that it's a very overwhelming subject and perfect to use some virtual tools instead of intensive research paper. Also, it would definitely be great for younger audience to see the goal and process easier. .
Best,
Mahra K