Youth

The only Priority in Education
for Sustainable Development

Intro


As obvious at it might be, positioning Youth as key in the course of sustainable development lingered for too long, politically as well as in the ESD discourse. Although action would have been called for much earlier, imagine if we had implemented the OPEDUCA Concept broadly as of 2004 when we started out from the age 10-16, then by 2022 a generation of young adults could have wielded the helm of development profoundly today.
The OPEDUCA Concept as of the start positioned youth as the future itself, literally. Not just because the road ahead is generation-spanning but given the conviction in the beginning individual development underlies a more sustainable society. One in a future that is not as uncertain as we are made to believe, for it is right here in our midst already - from the youngest age on we can hold it in our hands, lift it up, look it in the eye and support (J. Eussen, 2004, 2010).
If we truly honor the magnificent transition capacity of a young generation we can sit and reason with the future. As we obviously became disassociated from generations past and the earth whose air we breathe, water we drink and fruits we feed from, got nearly lost in a treadmill of the production of welfare over wellbeing, our best chance to break free is to grant the future itself the capacity to look forward with untainted eyes and resilience to make it theirs. 

Following the conviction the individual person is central to sustainable development and seeing humanity as the constitution of the individuals it comprises, it is the individual from who (un)sustainable development springs. Regarding learning own to the individual, ESD has first (and per definition) to be understood as individual learning for sustainable development. Therefore each human, beginning at the youngest age when learning is still natural to its life, should have unlimited opportunity to look at life as it is and unfolds, learn anytime, anyplace, with anybody and through any device about those themes that will most prominently define its own and our common future. 

The Future is not Adult

Since the future is beyond the horizon of those ruling the present, it can eventually not be governed by powers presently in place. However good intentions of present adults are, their thinking, disposition, interests and considerations are not of the future. Our capacity to govern the future is limited as we are not able to radically cure, either in ourselves or others, that narrowness of soul which makes us prefer the present to the remote (Hume, 1739). What we define as causes of unsustainability occurs as we grow up, harden, make a living through careers, create, enter and uphold systems with values of their own.
Our youngsters is the only “We” we have - Youth can unite and bind us as it presents our most magnificent common value. As it was already written: “I speak of the life of a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children; who has undertaken to cherish it and do it no damage, not because he is duty-bound, but because he loves the world and loves his children” (W. Berry & Meatyard, 1991). 

Youth doesn't 'have' a Future

The saying ‘Youth has the future’ is no longer valid given what previous and present generations have caused and forsaken to do; Youth no longer has the future, they are.
Instead of reasoning from uncertainly, the future can be looked in the eye and reasoned with, not about, comprising future society in its own design.
Youngsters can be regarded as initially good, have no reason to not live sustainable lives and might even be equipped by nature with the qualities needed thereto, respecting children as ‘gentle’ and indispensable to involve if we seek long-term societal changes. Thereto we should take a positive vision of the future (Eckersley, 2002) and distance ourselves from negative images. Instead of problematic visions drenched in despair, ESD can be a beacon of hope and a means of progress.
This means we should no longer see youth merely as subjects and actors in the present but as owners and factors of the future. 

The Future cannot be Taught ...

Students cannot be ‘taught’ a worldview from out an academic ivory tower, but they can be guided to develop one in their daily educational practice, a mission however which takes people with personality and understanding wrought in life’s practical reality, tried and assessed in the world themselves. Such qualities cannot be arranged by building further structures, rules, regulations and new institutions, not commanded by politics or research strange to life itself, not be left to commerce. 

... we can only Support

“We're never going to have respectful and reverential relationships with the planet and sensible policies about what we put in the air, the soil, the water, if young children do not begin learning about these things in their houses, backyards, streets and schools. We need to have human beings who are oriented that way from their earliest memories”
(E. Boulding, 2000).

Awakening Youngsters'
Transformative Potential

For sustainable development, it is strategic to awaken young minds, to challenge and motivate them to grow into critical individual learners in search of meaning and resolve. ESD should have a pro-active rather than reactive nature, providing the (young) learner with a strong foothold to stand on, roots to feed from and wings to fly. The challenge to create a prosperous future invites us to think, think again, even to dream, fantasize, re-consider, to create lines of thought towards it. Therefore ESD has to be kept away from the organizational or system-perspective that massages old-fashioned notions and ill solutions in curricula - ESD is about supporting a young individual’s understanding, decisions and actions in the congruent logic of the Dimensions of ESD.
While scholars in the ESD discourse propose education should prepare students for the unknown rather than learning what we already know (for example Perkins, 2014), such appears based on the presumption that, given the rate of knowledge creation in this ‘knowledge' economy’, what is learned tends to be outdated rather fast. I am principally opposed to that conviction since the past and present can be regarded to be construed of facts and rest on values with longer-lasting quality. Although for example, globalization calls for more understanding of cultures, trade mechanisms, a better mastering of (more) languages and an understanding of the interdependence of value exchanges, there is a vast landscape of resistant knowledge to start out from. The appearance and behavior of most phenomena did and will not change overnight. Youth should be enabled to first gain a thorough understanding of what is and construct an informed opinion on how it came about to then engage in the exploration and development of the future. An over-accentuation of continuous change, the relativity of knowledge and uncertainty can put that learning at risk and is not to be seen as a motivating factor. I reason in line with the Socratic view, expecting that ‘learning from the roots’ will eventually contribute to learners’ autonomous capacity (Kumaravadivelu, 2003). As a later commentator on the OPEDUCA Concept worded it: “… to imagine a better world while standing deep in the science of the world they live in” (Smith, 2020).    

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For academic reference and publications: Eussen, J. F. G. (2022). ESD-based education - https://doi.org/10.26481/dis.20220201je - ISBN 9789464235906