11 May 2011
Ingredients of Transition: Education for Transition
Here is the very final additional ingredient for ‘The Transition Companion’. It is still in draft form, so I’d really appreciate your thoughts, comments, or interesting case studies of things your initiative is up to… Thanks. My thanks to Isabel Carlisle for her input with this ingredient…
How can education, at all levels, best contribute to the Transition process, building resilient individuals, resilient communities and resilient institutions?
“Sustainability is about the terms and conditions of human survival, and yet we still educate at all levels as if no such crisis existed”.
The future that young people and those in further education are currently being educated for is not the future that is, in reality, approaching. The failure of government, and of much of the education system , to put resilience and sustainability central to their planning and teaching means that a whole generation is being prepared for business as usual while deep down most young people, and their teachers, know that the reality will be very different. This is a woeful neglect of duty.
Education, at all levels, will have to reappraise what it does and how it does it in the same way as all other aspects of society: a process that will be both deeply challenging and very exciting. Transition can help by provoking public debate, shifting government thinking, taking Transition Training into teacher training, supporting schools and universities to make their own transitions, developing new patterns of learning, and creating a presence that educators can interact with.
Schools are so constrained today in terms of the need to continually improve exam results that there can often be a sense that there is no space for anything else in the school timetable. There is good evidence however that for young people to spend some time each week in nature, doing physical work, growing plants, working together outdoors, improves their overall academic performance[i] and leads to better results and performance.
A GCSE in Transition (or perhaps in ‘Practical Sustainability’) could then in turn lead to an A Level where students can choose a mixture of practical skills as well as the necessary expertise to turn them into viable businesses. Leonardo da Vinci’s concept of schools and universities as ‘workshops’ feels particularly appropriate here. Adopting a Transition approach could also pave the way for schools and colleges to become Transition learning centres, opening up their facilities to the community once the teaching day is over, as well as being home to working market gardens and orchards which could lead to students setting up their own enterprises to retail or value-add the produce. One exciting new initiative which could also play a role is MyBnk, which works with young people teaching them about saving money through setting up their own bank in the school which then makes interest-free loans to those that want to set up small businesses.
A look at UK schools in 2011 (for non-UK readers I apologise for being so UK-specific in this ingredient) shows many pioneering developments underway. There are schools doing brilliant things in terms of food growing (having their own allotment or even, in some cases, market gardens or farms), healthy eating (using local, fresh and organic food in their kitchens and teaching students how to cook healthy meals), energy efficiency (there are some great low-carbon school buildings now, and some schools have impressive renewable energy installations) and social enterprise (teaching kids how to set up their own businesses in school). There is also a great deal happening in terms of supporting young people to be more resilient and versatile. However there isn’t, as yet, a ‘Transition school’ which pulls all of that together in one seamless whole. This would be distinctly different from a ‘green’ or ‘eco’ school. A Transition school would:
- Focus on the concept of resilience: how might it best enable individual students, the school itself, and the wider community, to be as resilient as possible in uncertain times? How might it best cultivate happiness among both staff and students?
- Be a school in Transition: one which strives to minimise the carbon footprint of the school and to build its resilience across all aspects of its activities as an organisation
- Be a school of Transition: one that weaves Transition throughout what is taught at the school, tweaking the existing curriculum as much as possible, making sure the teachers have the relevant skills to pass onto the children, where living sustainably becomes an almost taken-for-granted part of students’ everyday experience
- Help birth the local economy of the future (see 4.4): it could offer training in, for example, brewing, renewable energy installation, market gardening and cheesemaking, the repair of mechanical and electrical equipment, as well as the skills required for all aspects of running a successful business. It would provide space for businesses and enable its buildings to be used as a community resource
- Deepen participation: involving the students and parents much more in this work, enabling them to realise their ideas and wishes for the school.
Make space for inner Transition: as the school, along with the community, enters times of uncertainty, staff will need the inner tools to support their students, and students will need to be able to support and nurture each other. Giving people the skills for cultivating personal resilience will be vital.
A Transition Curriculum?
Many great patterns for learning already exist in education and are open to being configured in a new way, around a central core of teaching for a sustainable future. These include Philosophy for Children (Socratic dialogue around issues selected by the group in a community of enquiry); Non-Violent Communication; Forest Schools; Despair and Empowerment Work; leadership training; Action Research; Systems thinking; and others. In addition to these, what might be some of the elements that could comprise a Transition curriculum? What might be the key subjects it would need to comprise? It might include some of the following:
- Systems thinking and critical thinking
- Good problem-solving skills, an ability to design solutions to almost anything
- Developing a love for nature and for being outdoors
- Conflict resolution and good group communication skills
- An understanding of Energy Return on Investment (EROEI)
- Carbon sequestration at all levels
- Hands on practical skills across a range of subjects (food, energy, construction, cooking etc)
- Local building materials, local food, and their role in the process of economic localisation
- Leadership skills
- …and many more besides….
Transition in Action: Transition Newent’s garden at Newent Community School
by Tish Rickard
One of Transition Newent’s great successes is the vegetable garden at our local Community School. It is a unique and harmonious coming together of people and project. The story began early in 2008 when science teachers Des Marshall and Jane Price decided to run a new GCSE science course that was more relevant to students’ everyday lives. The course known as ELBS (Environmental and Land Based Science) offered a practical, hands-on approach to growing food. They needed to find a suitable site at school and create a working garden ready for year 11 ELBS students by September.
Transition Newent (TN) Food Group saw this as an ideal opportunity for spreading the Transition message with a high profile project. The gardeners, smallholders and growers in the group could readily supply some materials, physical help and plenty of expertise. In May, TN Food Group visited the school and Jane and Des welcomed our suggestions and offers of help. This included a polytunnel, which fruit grower Euan Keenan offered to install, free of charge, through his work with a local company, Haygrove. By July the polytunnel was up providing a superb classroom and growing space for the course.
During August, Jane Price arranged working parties with students, teachers and TN Food Group. These were fun occasions with a healthy mix of young and old, expert and novice clearing the site around the polytunnel and creating raised beds ready for the course to begin on schedule. TN Food Group continues to contribute with working parties, community activities and talks. The school ran a grafting workshop in the polytunnel in 2010 and it was good to see the students’ hard work flourishing in the beds. The ELBS course continues to strengthen and grow each year.
Jane Price, teacher told me “a huge thanks to Transition Newent. It’s an amazing group. They’ve been so supportive”. Of all school subjects that year, ELBS received the highest approval rating from students. Student Jamie summed it up: “…understanding how plants grow. I love it. It’s excellent”.
What might Transition look like at the university level? As with schools, there are many universities which run courses which look at different aspects of sustainability, but only one contains a course that is explicitly built around Transition. In 2011, Schumacher College, together with University of Plymouth, New Economics Foundation and Transition Network, developed an MSc called ‘Economics in Transition’ which includes an approved module called ‘Creating a Transition initiative’.
In addition, representatives of a number of universities have been meeting regularly, for example at the ‘Universities Leading the Transition’ conference in Winchester in February 2011. The idea of universities of Transition and universities in Transition is as relevant as it is with schools. Transition is a harder thing to do in a university with a transient population, but one could imagine a Transition university as:
- Having courses with both practical and academic components
- Offering students allotment spaces with training and support to allow them to grow some food to offset the costs of their education
- Supporting students to reducing their carbon footprints and also to minimise indebtedness through good money management
- Promoting the concepts of localisation and resilience both within the university and beyond
- Raising awareness about these issues in the staff, the students and in everyone who comes into contact with the institution
Transition in both these contexts, as well as in others there isn’t space to go into here, is very much an emergent aspect of Transition. There are many ways Transition initiatives can work with their local schools and universities, and it will be fascinating to see, over the next few years, where this goes.
Where possible, work with local schools and universities to support them in their journeys towards embedding Transition in their activities and becoming a powerful force in the Transition of the wider community.
You might also enjoy:
Transition Training (Tool 3), Awareness Raising (1.9), The Great Reskilling (2.3), Engaging young people (3.5), Street-by-street behaviour change (Tool 12), Social enterprise/entrepreneurship (4.2), Strategic Local Infrastructure (4.4), Community supported farms, bakeries and breweries (Tool 20).
[i] Louv, R. (2010) Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder. Atlantic Books. In addition to this you might also find Richard Louv’s interactive website that is posting evidence of the positive effect of nature on young people useful: http://www.childrenandnature.org/
11 May 2:08pm
I believe education is the main basis for transition. Not an education in the scholar sense, but the meaningful education that the brazilian educator Paulo Freire called Conscientização (I would translate it as “Raising Conciousness”). The importance and urgency of this awaking of awareness is specially true for developing countries, where most people are so busy surviving that they’re little aware of the ecological crisis we’re living in. Hence, I believe education, simultaneously for children, youth,adults and elders, should be the fundamental root of Transition initiatives in thne south hemisphere.
11 May 2:22pm
I loved this post, as a university prof who teaches courses in transition at the graduate and undergrad level, and who leads a small community resilience research team here at the University of Toronto (Canada). Excellent food for thought here on how to ramp that up. Can we start a global network of Universities in Transition to share experiences and learn from eachother?
11 May 2:28pm
Well said. I’m really glad this is a part of Transition. We cannot just focus on middle aged ethically concerned. Todays youth is tomorrows adult society and right now, commercialism, consumerism, is dominant in what they learn in and out of school.
There is hope. In Scotland the new Curriculum for Excellence, has 4 capacities – to enable each child or young person to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor.
Transition could really help in supporting these 4 elements.
I’m trying to talk to our local Academy about linking with our Transition Group.
Glad this made it into the melting pot for the new book.
11 May 7:18pm
About that polytunnel at Newent, the students’ grades all went up and the Biology department was accordingly given the money to take on a technician to organise the growing. This really is delivering the goods.
11 May 11:16pm
Sir Ken Robinson, who is a recognised world leader on the area of creativity and advises many governments on how education should be transformed to enable creativity to be placed higher up the school curriculum higherarcy says in his book ‘Out of Our Minds’: “Now more than ever, human communities depend on a diversity of talents not a singular conception of ability.”
If we are going to solve the problems we face in the future we need to encourage children to develop their unique talents and encourage the development of their creative thinking. Alongside compulsary courses in Market Gardening of course.
12 May 12:21pm
Transition to a sustainable world requires, as you say, rethinking education. I don’t think you are going far enough, because you are still taking for granted the existence of schools – albeit with a ‘tweaked’ curriculum and a few solar panels and a bit of gardening. Go back to Christopher Alexander – where this whole Pattern Language thing began – and look at his elegant and beautiful vision for education: think about what we could do if we abandon the current notions of ‘school’ altogether and start afresh. How can schools remain virtually untouched when energy supplies, food supplies, transport infrastructure will all be profoundly affected by Transition? How could we possibly justify shipping thousands of children and young people to large scale, energy-hungry campuses to spend their days in a system which even now fails about half of them? The school system as we see it now is neither effective, resilient nor sustainable. If we can successfully revision energy supply away from a tightly controlled national grid to a network of producers and consumers, a diverse system less susceptible to shocks and shutdowns; if we can rebalance food supplies away from an industrial system towards local production and consumption; then why not move away from the current monolithic industrial model of education towards something really different?
So, revisit A Pattern Language: and allow yourself to be inspired by this ‘Network of Learning’ rule:
‘Instead of the lock-step of compulsory schooling in a fixed place, work in piecemeal ways to decentralise the processes of learning and enrich it through contact with many places and people all over the city: workshops, teachers at home or walking through the city, professionals willing to take on the young as helpers, older children teaching younger children, museums, youth groups travelling, scholarly seminars, industrial workshops, old people and so on. Conceive of all these situations as forming the backbone of the learning process; survey all these situations, describe them, and publish them as the city’s ‘curriculum’; then let students, children, their families and neighbourhoods weave together for themselves the situations that comprise their ‘school’, paying as they go with standard vouchers, raised by community tax. Build new educational facilities in a way which extends and enriches this network.’
First, we have to remove the custodial role of schools. We can never deconstruct schools if parents need them to do child care while they work; even in a Transition world, where many parents may be freed up to do some home education, there is still a need for somewhere that children and young people can be welcome and safe in their neighbourhoods. So, adopt and adapt Alexander’s idea of Children’s Centres (he calls them Children’s Homes, but the connotations of that term are too negative now). These would be centres open 24/7 where children and young people can be without their parents, looked after for an hour or a week as necessary by caring live-in professionals, and with a full range of opportunities and social activities, forming the foundation of the Network of Learning.
‘Instead of building large public schools for children 7 – 12, set up tiny independent schools, one school at a time … locate it in a public part of the community, with a shopfront and three or four rooms.’ (This is exactly what the Small School, in Hartland, North Devon, set on the main street in a lively village, did.) And with low teacher-student ratios: ‘even though everyone knows that the secret of good teaching lies in low student-teacher ratios, the schools make this one central thing impossible to get, because they waste their money being large’ comments Alexander, drily.
Each child to have a learning mentor who accompanies a group of say, 8 – 12 on their learning journeys, setting up opportunities for them with tutors and skilled craftspeople in the network, and making sure they are progressing, both in basic skills and in the areas that interest them. Using these learning opportunities is optional, and encouraged, not compulsory.
Thirdly, as the children become teenagers, provide opportunities for them to become as independent and self-governing as possible: Alexander’s ‘Teenage Society’ pattern.
To quote Alexander again: ‘Just at the time when teenagers need to band together freely in groups of their own making and explore, step back from, and explore again, the adult world: its work, love, science, laws, habits, travel, play, communications, and governance, they get treated as if they were large children. … There is no new form of society, which is a microcosm of adult society, where they can test their growing adulthood in any serious way. And under these circumstances, the adult forces which are forming in them lash out, and wreak terrible vengeance. Blind adults can easily then call this vengeance ‘delinquency’.’
So this rule emerges:
‘Replace the ‘high school’ with an institution which is actually a model of adult society, in which the students take on most of the responsibility for learning and social life, with clearly defined roles and forms of discipline. Provide adult guidance, both for the learning and the social structure of the society; but keep them as far as possible in the hands of the students.’
Here, with their learning mentor, young people design their own programmes of study, accessing knowledge and interacting with others via the amazing powers of the internet, undreamt of when Alexander was writing. (I am assuming, in a Transition world, there is enough energy supply to run ICT networks: if not, we are in a very different scenario). Using all the facilities in their community and further afield, they become more adventurous and capable of being an autonomous learner.
There’s more: but I hope that’s enough to encourage you to be more radical with your ideas on education for, in and as Transition. What we need to learn is important, and you have great ideas there; but I would argue that how is even more crucial, and demands a fundamental rethinking of the whole system.
12 May 3:08pm
I agree with Caroline. Structural changes in the educational system is required if we want to meet the goal of a sustainable world. Of course, if we’re talking about transition, we have to hold in mind where we’re starting from and where we want to be at the end of the journey. In this sense, I believe we should: 1) make children schools more free, small, teaching human and environmental values and giving the opportunity to get the infants hands on arts, growing and preparing food. 2) inserting more art in the teenage curricula (at least in Brazil, they’re so busy in getting into college that human and creative skills are overshadowed) and making it possible to choose disciplines accordingly to personal interests (here we have a default, rigid program for everyone). 3) giving undergraduates and graduates the freedom to construct their own particular path with the help of a tutor, without being constrained by a pre-defined curricula, and being able to choose lectures, books and e-courses in different subject areas, places and institutions.
12 May 4:33pm
This really is the key.
Networking with your local schools and colleges, running creative writing or artwork projects, giving talks to students is great to do for all Transition initiatives.
The next step of influencing a cultural shift in the nature and purpose of education is a quantum leap as most schools and colleges are driven by results and targets. It’s a microcosm of society at large with its addiction to growth and overconsumption. Breaking away from this blinkered vision of what ‘success’ means would be a necessary first step.
12 May 6:52pm
I’m trying the figure out why the tone of this piece does not resonate with me. Sure it would be great to have more awareness of sustainability in schools, and to introduce students to basic skills.
Perhaps the mood is different in the UK than in the US, but here the issue is not how the public schools should update their programs, but whether they should exist at all. University education is increasingly out of reach. The career of teacher or professor is a dead end.
In this case, priority number 1 should be protecting public education. If public education goes, it won’t be replaced by a less regimented, free-er, more relevant system. It will be replaced by ignorance and a more complete domination by corporations and elites. Schools will still exist, but they will be private and out-of-reach by the many.
Unfortunately, I think we are headed in this direction. For that reason I’m interested in grassroots education, such as study circles. These are cheap, flexible, and not dependent on large institutions.
I think a critical skill for Transition people is learning how to initiate and run study circles.
12 May 8:32pm
Excellent discussion here. Agreed eduction sector has a long way to go to be more humane, more engaging, more relevant, more learner-centred, and more transformative.
For me this discussion also highlights another issue. How much attention to put on “educating” versus other aspects. As long as we have compulsory education we should work for educational reform. But I see a lot of transition groups focusing a lot of attention on “educating” the public on the issues at hand. I’m increasingly inclined to believe this is misplaced energy. There is no longer any shortage of people willing to roll up their sleeves and do something meaningful together to build resilience while also building community, learning together, and having fun. Rather than trying to “convert” more people, our responsibility, it seems to me, is to build the networks, knowledge and local skills so that when the collapse of global systems accelerates we have something positive and pragmatic to offer. If the pace of change is any indication, we have our work cut out for ourselves building a base in our communities that can constructively harness the energies of growing numbers of people disaffected with the status quo. We’ve had some interesting discussion and debate here in our own transition initiative here about this. Some of our folks really like to go out and “educate”…
12 May 8:38pm
Blake, unfortunatelly, it
12 May 8:47pm
Blake, unfortunatelly it’s not true for Brazil, as well as, I believe, not to other countries usually called “developing” ones. We still do have to wake up most of our society around here. Comparing to the whole population of my country, the number of people enviromently aware is insignificant. We could say now most of people know environmental questions are important, but aren’t prepared to make a real change. So, here in the shouth hemisphere, it’s still necessary to (I wouldn’t say “convert”, but) give people of all regions, economical and educational levels the chance to get to know what sustainability really is about, how the world is changing and what is their role in this change. Say, we have to show the wide picture, because our society isn’t convergent enough.
At the same time, I do believe we have to develop networks and new skills to give people the basis for transition. And I don’t think we should wait the first step to get to the second step. I really think we’ve got to deal with both challenges simultaneously.
12 May 8:53pm
hi Carol. I respect that regions differ in what is required, even at the local level. I should have clarified that what I shared was a bit of an “ah-ha” moment for me in terms of where I felt most drawn to devote my energies. What feels right for me is not what will be true for everyone else. One of the virtues of this movement is that diversity is valued and we put aside arguments about what is the best way to get where we’re going in favour of “letting a thousand flowers bloom” (respecting there are many ways to achieve sustainability and that we each contribute best where are most drawn to contribute.
12 May 8:57pm
Got it and agree with you! 🙂
13 May 7:40am
Thanks for the comments all. Just one point I want to make here… the idea of this ingredient is not to write a long treatise on what education should be, on what the ideal form of education for Transition would be, but rather how to engage with what is, with the current mainstream education system. That feels, in the space available, to be the most useful thing to explore for Transition initiatives…although the wider conversation is also very useful…best wishes all and thanks…
16 May 10:27am
A system does exist – its called Sustainable Schools. I agree it is hard to find a lot of schools doing everything on the list but many are on the journey. There are also 300 organisations and individuals who have shown an interest in the developing Sustainable Schools Alliance (http://sustainable-schools-alliance.org.uk/. This is a crowded area and schools must be getting confused with EcoSchools, Green Schools, One Planet Schools, Green Generation, Rights based schools, One Earth Schools and now Transition Schools. The goal of Sustainable Schools Alliance is to make this clear and simple for all schools – not just the committed. Another emerging alliance is emerging for learning in the natural environment. Happy to come and update the Transition Town movement – or Rob?- on all this so you can join in, and not waste time reinventing the wheel with more and more branded stuff. The article is good and I don’t disagree with the approach – but the trick is still engagement not getting the most perfect list of ‘to do’s for schools. So pleased with this initiative but lets talk! Best wishes
16 May 7:56pm
While not exactly on the subject of transition and transitioners, the music of the New White Trash (www.NewWhiteTrash.com) may leave you with a wry smile as you transition your lawn into edible soil. The NWT is a collaborative effort, musically speaking; one band member of the group is uber-activist Michael C. Ruppert. Videos are available for several of the songs at: http://www.youtube.com/user/VeniceArtsClub
17 May 12:04am
Although my program is not explicitly linked to the transition movement, we do study many of the same issues and address how to implement change. Sadly, my country, Canada, is not doing very well at all to deal with this issue currently.
The Environmental Governance program is highlight of the University of Guelph (UoG), and the Geography Department is something I very much appreciate. There are aspects of the agriculture department(s) I like(e.g. urban organic farming), and dislike (i.e. I think the research in genetics is important, but the process [released to public too quickly], and funding is suspect).
I am taking part in transition training, as are many other UoG members, with/through Transition Guelph. I’m a bit concerned that many issues will be a very redundant for me, after having studied them in decent depth already. However, I’m sure there will be many aspects of the training course that will be useful to me, and I can work on my various TG projects whenever I find it appropriate to keep myself productive.
17 May 2:32pm
Have just returned from an ESD academy in Saskatoon called SEdA run by Chuck Hopkins ( York Uni and UNESCO) and Learning for Sustainable Future.
Academies have been held in Ontario, Manitoba and Sask. over the past 3 or 4 years. School Boards and teachers and managers all attend and make plans for their school district. Many seem to have moved in that time to thinking a little about Peak Oil – but I understand your frustration. Some are also involved in the provincial ESD groups – but I think these might just be talking shops, but maybe an opportunity. http://www.lsf-lst.ca/
26 May 9:55pm
Great discussion. Not sure about the format for the ‘ingredient’, but I’m sure we need a vision as well as the practical engagement things. It’s great to see sustainable schools initiative still going in UK even after government cut funding. I agree that we should avoid multiple ‘brands’.
I’d like to add to the mix of practical things that Transition Liverpool has set up a community garden, working with the local school and supporting their ‘extended school’ – before and after school sessions – this is a great opportunity to work with the school, as staff time is precious (and schools are becoming more secure and protective). My research with primary schools in Liverpool has shown many community groups are working with schools – eg food growing and cooking. Greater networking and sharing of ideas would help though.
For universities, I think the whole system is about to implode (in UK at least). Online courses threaten traditional teaching, and so much info is available online anyway… Personally I believe the way to go is modular learning, sandwiching ‘academic’ (abstract thinking) with work/volunteering (gaining skills). Add to this one or two ‘learning mentors’ who can help you reflect on your ‘life-long learning journey’ and that’s it.
Unfortunately, in UK at least, university is tied up with independent living and ‘lifestyle’. I like earlier posts about teenagers developing independence in a positive/supported way.
I don’t know about schools, but think it would be great if we can set up further/higher education (life-long learning) network for transition, each of us facilitating learning (face to face or online) about our particular area of interest. There’s always issue of quality and accreditation/value, but these will come. I’m sure this didn’t keep Plato up at night when he developed his akademia. How about we start a group on Transition Network forum?
27 May 1:44pm
Loves the idea of a modular learning for universities, alterning abstract thinking and learning skills through volunteer activities!
2 Jun 3:43pm
For those who read Portuguese, I recommend the text recently posted by brazilian philosopher Joao Sergio Carvalho: http://mercadoetico.terra.com.br/arquivo/educacao-capital-humano-ou-iniciacao-numa-cultura/
“Educating a nation is not limited to prepare individuals for a job market. It means, first of all, insert the new generations in a cultural world structured by values, beliefs, behaviours, knowledge and languages we assume to be valuable because they are consequence of cultural traditions and historical realizations that make an individual part of a community; a citizen, and not a competitor in job markets.”
(I can translate for those who are specially interested, send me an email: email@example.com)
16 Jun 5:18pm
In my area my friend set up a project at Okehampton College called “Grow for Future” and is part of the Curriculum. I am not sure if they teach about Peak Oil and Climate change or if they are learning about a sustainable future.
I am passing your article onto secretary for Education. I have enough problems trying to get a group together in my village and so tired of the apathetic responses you get from people who refuse to see the challenge to change there way of life. HELP