Reflections upon education for sustainability supporting student’s knowledge,understanding &practice

C Lohman Hancock and N Welton

1University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Carmarthen Campus, Carmarthen SA31 3E;

2University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Carmarthen Campus, Carmarthen SA31 3E;

23rd March 2016


The destruction of the planet is not the work of ignorant people. Rather it is largely the result of work by people with BAs, BScs, LLBs, MBAs and PhDs’ (Orr, 1994).

Developing university students’ understanding of what constitutes sustainability, sustainable communities, Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (ESDGC) and Global Youth Work has become high on the political agenda in Wales (WG, 2014). In turn this has influenced the development of a variety of modules which focus on this agenda. To this end these modules have been included in five programmes within the School of Social Justice and Inclusion: the Integrated Masters in Social Studies, MA Equality and Diversity in Society, MA Youth Work, BA Youth Work and the Flexi Learners route in BA Inclusive Education degrees (UWTSD, 2016). Certainly, when delivering content linked to sustainability students need to be aware of the theory, policy and legislation surrounding developing a sustainable society but in addition they also need to develop as critical reflective/reflexive practitioners. This can be achieved through engaging in learning as a transformational educational experience in line with Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) pedagogical and praxis approach (Sterling 2001, 2011, 2012). Through engaging students during lectures and the use of a range of assignments opportunities these students were asked to critical reflect upon the key themes associate with Sustainability and Sustainable Communities (Bell & Morse, 2003). Thematic analysis was undertaken of students’ engagement through lectures and assessment outcomes to explore their perceptions and understanding. The themes which emerged from the data indicated that students’ initial perceptions of sustainability were limited in scope; after such lectures students began to see that sustainability and sustainable communities permeate all aspects of our lives and in turn everyone has a role to play (Pernecky & Lück, 2013). This paper explores students’ reflections on their learning journey from a fixed mind set in line with society’s stereotypical response to the Sustainability Agenda; ‘it’s about recycling plastic bags’ (Mander, Brebbia & Tiezzi, 2006) to ‘it’s about societal attitudes and understanding of the needs of today set against future generations’ (Mathis, 2011). Also, within this cohort, students’ perceptions moved from a ‘techno-centric’ to either an ‘eco-socialist’ or ‘eco-feminist’ view after these modules (Burran, 2015). With many students actually challenging the ability of the modern society, and themselves, to engage with the sustainability agenda at all. Certainly they challenged their preconceptions of their own consumption and behaviour as being contributory to the unsustainability of current practice and considered that maybe only the ‘wealthy’ and ‘middle classes’ were equipped to engage in meaningful change. In addition students also challenged their own behaviours as practitioners; as they saw this as having an impact within their communities through educational practice. Within the context of a global concern for future generations such programmes are an initial step on the long journey to ensuring a sustainable world.