The best way to achieve a more sustainable society is through the continuous development of the young. They should have every chance to learn about those themes that will define a more sustainable future. Therefore the OPEDUCA Concept builds on the creation and implementation of ongoing learning processes like a thread throughout the formal educational system. We no longer think in a stacked and fragmented structure of schooling, see the line from primary up to and including higher education as an ongoing process, bridging schooling with the world of work and leading to lifelong learning. The learning is no longer commanded by age- or year-based curricula, the education through schooling is not organized through class structures, the theme-based aspect not to be misunderstood with assignments or 'challenges'. To create a prosperous future for all it is essential to invite and enable youth to think, think again, even to dream, fantasize, re-consider, to create lines of thought towards it. Thereto ESD has to be kept away from the organizational or system perspective which still builds on 'telling students what is best'. ESD is about seeing and empowering an individual’s understanding, decisions and actions in the congruent logic presented of the dimensions of sustainable development. Such is only possible when envisioning ongoing student-driven learning pathways through the system.
The formal educational system is still a historically grown assembly of formats of schooling, incoherent and disjointed, both during the various stages as well as in relation to future (working-)life. It is a structure throughout which the individual can stumble and get stuck, even fall out in between. The consecutive parts of the educational system constitute a fragmented pathway of schooling, one divided and split rather harshly in level and sequence, providing gaps between following segments that allow for student dropout and mismatches with society - gaps likely becoming traps.
Moreover, the command exercised by curricula and assessments that dictate examinations to mark the end of a segment is apparently based on a common 'mold'. The stacked and pre-defined level, tempo and sequence of schooling, meant to accommodate an amorph mass, per definition does not match (the differing phases of) a youngster’s personal development.
Even in cases where the curriculum seems open to societal developments, learning from the real is found to be limited by structures and consequently prearranged activities, efforts in primary- and secondary education and work-based learning during vocational training that are not naturally connected in ecology and society.
Following the Dimensions of ESD and the key positioning of youth, pupils and students should not be seen as objects in the process of schooling but as learners in search for education. Consequently, their learning enhanced by education is facilitated but not commanded by a system of schooling in place, the learning process to be understood as perpetually future-oriented and ongoing. Thereto it was proposed to envision ongoing learning pathways as a tread throughout the formal educational system embedded in society and differ between learning, education, schooling and the system.
To mark my point at the beginning of presentations, I virtually picked up a child and held it as the future itself, stating a child is a learning organism with its own mind and identity already, its learning a most natural presence that cannot be stopped nor prescribed. At its best, it can be supported, facilitated and guided but not commanded, arranged, organized, measured and judged upon. Seeing education as the facilitation of learning, school as the organization of education and the educational system as the institutionalization of schooling, we created a construct where learning apparently left the minds’ eye.
J. Eussen, 2004
Respecting the added value of the amenities and facilities of schools as such and understanding their limitations as learning environments, in 2007 school leaders and teachers from over 80 Dutch schools in primary, secondary and further education set out to re-think education, starting out from the interest and position of the individual learner - acknowledging the Personal Realm over the Educational System.
In searching for the person, the individual developing in present-day education, it is essential to unclutter the scene and terminology by a consequent distinction between learning, education, schooling and the educational system.
Understanding the principle and essence of personal learning, hence the development of the individual, students' learning process is to be respected as ongoing, unstoppable and not commanded by structures in place but as a continuous thread throughout the formal educational system, the latter explicitly in service of.
Although obvious and irrefutable, students like us all learn in a constant flow, also and likely namely outside the system of schooling - understanding that education can and likely takes place in both eco-systems. It is this combination that makes up the ongoing learning process and deserves acknowledgment as an integral perspective on a students' education. The educational process through school is seen as intertwined with sources of education and learning outside the system. For reasons of accessibility, meaningfulness and social identification, these are first projected in the students’ own regional social-demographic realm (their OPEDUCA) with an emphasis on connections in the world of work, presuming an extensive availability of relevant sources of content and experience.
4. Meaning giving and motiving future defining themes
Supporting the students' unbridled and coincidental learning, from a school-based educational perspective but also ever more from a societal relevance, the ongoing learning process are contextualized by future defining themes derived from the Dimensions of ESD, providing relevance, meaning and a sense of direction.
Learning process as a thread throughout the system
(original sketch, 2007)
As time passes, for each student in their own tempo, the ongoing thematic learning process unfolds over the years, 'spreading their wings' in and throughout society. A society in which people and organizations with educational value are Partners in Education, together comprising a multi-disciplinary partnership for education that is accessible for students. During the entire learning process, the students ever more profoundly learns to see, understand and eventually base life/career choices thanks to a development nested ever more in the real.
Seen through the lens of transition capacity sought for in sustainable development, the choice to base the learning on future defining themes is seen to work out most constructive i.e. effective, if not directly where employers see the opportunity to dovetail their HRM efforts, bridging the worlds of schooling and work.
In general, the students will have learned, through daily application of theory in practice i.e. in the real, they are and can be in charge of their development and well-being - (be)come the entrepreneurs of a more sustainable future.
Granting students an ongoing learning process allows for longer stretches of time to let (conflicting) data trickle in, to gradually collect, interpret and store information as well as conceptual relations in memory. From early on, the developers of the OPEDUCA Concept envisioned the importance of the gradual construction of vast ‘roots’, expanding and reaching ever deeper. A process granting students years of time to connect and draw from real-life experiences, enhance meaningfulness and build a sense of purpose. This time-element is essential for ESD as it allows the student to generate an understanding of and from within herself, also learn to value values instead of pushing them upon them, something too many contemporary ideas in the realm of sustainable development appear to practice. If granted natural pace, comes peace of mind to gradually develop identity, sense agency, be(come) active when noticing undesirable currents that depict the future. Engagement increases over time and can gradually manifest itself, however, requires time to be installed. Alike, values considered inherent to sustainable development cannot be forced upon youngsters in the relatively short term and from a normative standpoint.