The territorial anchoring of education : a major condition for the transformation of education systems and territories

Introduction to the dossier «  School as a field of experimentation for the engagement of young people in sustainable development experiences on a local scale  »

Pierre Calame, 2016

The case studies developed in this dossier lead us to discover the collective experience of the international network Let’s Take Care of the Planet. The general lessons that are drawn from it underline the conditions for a profound renewal of the relationship between education and territory.

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Environmental education and sustainable development, education for responsibility and citizenship, development of the desire and power to act in young people, territorial partnerships between actors in the service of a common goal, discovery and management of complexity, interdisciplinary approach, project-based pedagogy, development of a taste for experimental research and critical thinking, sense of belonging to a territory, combining individual initiatives in a perspective of systemic change, transforming the relationship between society and nature, developing governance based on shared responsibilities, the relationship between unity and diversity, the ability to network experiences in different contexts in order to identify common principles : all these fundamental questions for the education system, for the territories and for society as a whole are illustrated concretely in this dossier.

It is based on the experience of a very original network, « Let’s take care of the planet ». Let us begin by saying a few words about it. In the 1990s, through the reflections of the Alliance for a Responsible and United World, an idea became clear: responsibility will be at the heart of the ethics of the 21st century and the development of a sense of responsibility is a condition for the transition to sustainable societies. The question then arises as to how education can contribute to making children and young people aware of their responsibilities towards their immediate or distant environment without making them feel guilty and moralizing.

This reflection, supported by the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind, initiator of the Alliance for a Responsible and United World, took shape in Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century from the first experiences and reflections on education for the environment and sustainable development. For a long time now, international institutions have been stressing the importance of environmental and citizenship education, but until now, these efforts have remained on the bangs of the educational system itself. In Brazil, on the initiative of members of the Alliance for a Responsible and United World, who are well placed within the ministries of education and the environment, this perspective is becoming national. Buoyed by the wave of major national conferences that characterized President Lula’s first term, these actors organized a first national conference. Its originality was that it was not a conference of teachers but a conference of young people, placing the stakes at the level of a collective commitment of children and young people, hence the name of this movement: Let’s Take Care of the Planet.

The power of this dynamic, which has mobilized thousands of schools and millions of children in Brazil, makes it the prototype of a new and promising dynamic, both in its scope and in its methods. The first page of the dossier describes the methodological principles that emerged from these conferences: children and young people are taken seriously, as full-fledged actors in their own education and in society, but this is accompanied by rigorous methodological principles, which are essential to avoid their instrumentalization and to allow a meeting of young people to produce results of which they are the collective authors, of which they can be proud and which will be a solid basis for the future.

This dynamic proved so fruitful that the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind - FPH - proposed that it give rise to a large-scale international dialogue and cooperation. This was the origin of the International Conference of Children and Adolescents for the Environment - « Let’s Take Care of the Planet  » - which was held in Brasília in June 2010 and brought together young people and teachers from fifty three countries from different continents.

Bringing together more than 400 young people in a climate of extraordinary enthusiasm, this conference had the characteristic of bringing together delegates of young people who had committed themselves to concrete actions in the service of the environment in their class, in their school, in their neighborhood, in their city. It showed all the strength that could be born from this pooling of concrete experiences, where reflections and actions were always inseparable, as a lever for transformation of both the educational system and the management of territories.

In Europe in particular, and on the initiative of a Grenoble association, Monde Pluriel, which had actively participated in the preparation of the world conference, the Brasília meeting gave birth to the European network « Let’s take care of the planet ». This network is now anchored in a great diversity of territories. The examples presented in this dossier are essentially related to the Rhône Alpes region and the Île de France region, in France, and to Catalonia, in Spain.

The concrete experiences that it presents show that education for the environment and sustainable development, as it is still very often perceived, as a marginal complement, more or less alien to the school system itself, added to school programs, disciplinary divisions and unchanged teaching methods, can only have a very marginal scope. On the contrary, if young people’s discovery of their territorial environment and of the necessity and possibility of acting on it are taken seriously, this territorialization of the educational approach becomes, from one step to the next, the ferment of a radical transformation of the educational system, of the understanding of territorial ecosystems, of democracy and citizenship, and even of territorial governance itself, by placing at its center the partnership between actors, the emergence of collective dynamics of transformation, the exercise of shared competencies, and the learning through the exchange of experiences of guiding principles that can effectively guide action in a wide variety of contexts.

The dossier shows that seemingly limited actions, such as the creation of a compost in a school in the Rhone Alpes region to recycle canteen waste or the decision of a few teachers in Bobigny, in the Ile de France region, to work together to help young people discover ecosystems and the relationship between man and the planet, are in fact extraordinary levers for asking fundamental questions about education, responsibility and territory, provided they are networked to disseminate this type of innovation and draw general lessons from it; But it is precisely this innovative character, one might almost say revolutionary, so much so that it calls into question the methods of education, the institutions and their relationships with each other, that comes up against so many obstacles and reveals so much resistance.

The dossier is therefore made up of two parts : a series of concrete case studies at several levels, mainly the school level and the level of a city or a region, case studies that show the diversity of possible applications of a few fundamental principles, which are well highlighted, and evaluation sheets that analyze the obstacles encountered and reveal the extent of the necessary questioning. The interest of the case studies is precisely to show through practice that, with the joint will of teachers, school heads and local authorities, these obstacles, apparently insurmountable as they are so numerous, can be removed in practice.

In this respect, the dossier is also an excellent illustration of the relationship between the local and the global: it is indeed at the territorial level that the processes of transition to sustainable societies can be invented, but only the networking of local experiences and the formulation of a theory - in this case that of the relationship between education and territories - can make it possible to move from the addition of sympathetic innovations to a more global strategy of transition. In the same way, the examples presented in the dossier show how, for children and young people, the discovery of the exercise of citizenship at the local level is also an apprenticeship in global citizenship.

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