Education and sustainability: how do these go hand-in-hand?

21 min read

Censu Caruana’s mission in life is to inspire people to take action for a better self and a better world. He is currently a full-time lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Environmental Education and Research.  Censu has for the past 35 years been very active in the Social and Development scene.

With us today there is Censu Caruana. Censu’s mission in life is to inspire people to take action for a better self and a better world. He is currently a full-time lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Environmental Education and Research. Censu has for the past 35 years been very active in the Social and Development scene.

He describes himself as curious and determined so the purpose of this call today is to ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development. So that we may be able to achieve both personal behavioral changes as well as a genuine transformation of our economic systems.

We will be defining this in terms of sustainable development goals, particularly 4.7, which states that by 2030 we need to ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including amongst us ways through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and nonviolence, global citizenship and the appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture is a contribution to sustainable development.

Censu, this is by no means a simple task to achieve in the few years that we have left until 2030. So first of all, how are we going to start? I think that is my first question.

When you asked me to describe myself and I thought about the two keywords, curious and determined. I think in a way they give us a bit of a clue in the sense that we need to remain curious to understand both what the problems are and what the solutions are.

Then it's important, I think, to have a genuine determination to be part of the solution. I always stumble a bit when people start talking about problems, problems, problems, because sometimes they keep on feeding the problem and of course, we need to understand the problem.

For me, the best starting point is understanding the problem but making sure it is just a steppingstone to investigate solutions. And then once we are happy with some solutions, at least choose one and act on it.

Well, wise words indeed. Today the main subject really is going to be sustainability in education or education and sustainability. Yes, we have to be curious and determined as you have mentioned.

This goes hand in hand, so we need to understand what sustainability is, we have to, you know, yes, we don't have to focus on the problem, focus on how we're going to come out of the problem, but we need to appreciate how we can go about this.

One of the main things I think to understand the problem is to inform people what could be the problem. So how do you see sustainability in terms of the educational scene?

Yes, in my past life I was a mathematics teacher and I used to teach mathematics for 30 years and you know these pen diagrams where we have circuits that meet each other at some point, and in my mind, I always imagine three big circuits. One is called education; one is called sustainability and one is called values.

I tried to look at that point in the middle right these three intersect. So, for me of course, sustainability is an important issue, especially when it is directed towards the wellbeing of people, and even because of the planet.

The means to do it is through education because education is both about the knowledge, but it's also about the values and that is where I put a special ethics for values because the mindset and the values that will extract could have a huge impact. At the end if we have a vision for the future, which is not conducive to wellbeing. Do we want it to be sustainable?

In the sense, you know, so I really think we need to have a foundation, a worldview based on values and then I think like these three points intersect, we can dance, we can play to make sure that something concrete comes out.

Yes, I like your vision of this diagram and the intersection between these three, so to speak, pillars of what we're trying, you know through which we're going to be trying to achieve wellbeing.

We have to be careful I think because sometimes morals and values could be a little bit misguided and possibly whatever we do or there might be a possibility of things being rather superficial and you know we hear words about greenwashing things not actually being sustainable, but just given the label.

It's as if you know you get a gold star and you put it on your product, and it becomes sustainable and therefore possibly the wrong kind of education could lead to maybe superficial interventions of sustainability and wellbeing. What are your thoughts on how we could possibly prevent this from happening?

Censu: You're completely right. There is a particular environmental educator called David Orr and in his PhD speech, he actually said that the people who are ruining the world are people with MBA and PhD's. So basically, it's not how much education you have but it is actually the quality of their education. It is whether the education that you have today is actually relevant for the challenges that we face today.

I can take the agriculture curriculum of 50 years ago, if I am still teaching that curriculum, is it relevant to the challenges of climate change?

So, I think that's a very good point. It's about quality of education and not about the amount or type of education. Then of course there's the question of greenwash, which you mentioned. Today, the consumer is becoming more conscious. Today, more and more consumers are asking for ethical goods, so some businesses are seeing a business opportunity to respond to the consumer based which is more aware.

So those that are willing to reevaluate their structures, it would lead to real change. Those who just do it as an excuse to increase their pocket right? Then there's no change within the organization. It’s just another means to bring about profit and that leads to greenwashing. So, you remove a bit of the harmful chemicals and say this is my eco brand, but it doesn't really bring about any inside change in the organization.

So, at the end again, it does come to the mindset to the values, to the worldview that the organization hosts.

Yes, and this is, I think, a very important issue because you don't only need to have the good intentions of doing something, but you really need to believe in something deeper than that and therefore you can actually bring about change you.

You mention being an agent of the change, you need to really promote this, and it starts from within a sustainable company, even the way it treats its employees, the way it behaves within the general economy does not only do that, but it will also be taking a step forward at all of the services and products that it produces, it will be towards the common good.

Yes, it could be like the utopian idea of what is common good, but I mean who doesn't want to be happy and healthy? Let's face it, no? That is what we were here to strive. Within this framework I think it's important to point out that we're talking about the environment as a complete concept of the environment, so including the natural, the social, economic, the physical, there are many aspects of it.

One thing that maybe you can give us more information about is the cultural perspective, because different cultures will see sustainability in a slightly different way. How would you go about understanding different cultures?

Basically, context is key. If we look at the development of the concept of sustainable development.

First, you have the environment development, so it was a sort off two pillar; and then we said yes, but the economy is okay what about society and the distribution of wealth across the economy. So, we start talking about the three pillars of sustainable development, the social, the economic and the environmental.

For some time, we were happy with that but because of the need to translate such ideas at a very local level. It was actually the local councils that composed the fourth pillar which is the cultural pillar because they said that the ideas are nice, but they need to find that translation into the daily lives of people, into the rituals that gives people meaning, into the routines that give people meaning.

So, for me, this again points to the need of a very bottom up approach starting with where the people are so that any intervention is culturally appropriate, and it is not by coincidence, and it was the local councils that pointed this out because it is exactly the concerns at a very local and territorial level that can lead a genuine model of sustainable development that is nearly reflecting the needs of that neighborhood, of that society. The needs of neighborhoods are sold so quickly. So, we cannot stay with these very high up concerns, we need to find ways how to translate at a very local level.

So Censu, you said a very interesting word “translation”, that for me is basically communication. So, do you think that we have an issue from many sides? Because we were talking about the business side that for me, that is marketing. Do you think we have an issue with communication and even in the education, what are your thoughts about that?

One of the things that we actually train our students in is to organize participatory exercises. I was somehow involved myself for example, when the Design a Cluster in Valletta realized that you’re going to have a new art center, where many people from the outside will be coming in and they were concerned on how this will impact citizens around. The people who live immediately around. So, we had a discussion and we actually had meetings with people in the street using an open space technology where people could come out with their own ideas with their own concepts. Even coming out with what meaning they can give to the place it says and we did it in a really participatory manner, knocking on the doors of the residents that lived around this design center. So, for me the idea is that if we had a mindset of authentic and genuine participation we actually do start listening to the people and then of course this can be built up into an action plan, in points to follow up.

So, in the sense, our main concern was to reach out to people. The only way to do it was to actually knock on the doors. We had it in the same street so that we will not have many obstacles for attendees. We created an office space technology so that we don't set the agenda ourselves and who are willing to listen to the agenda of people.

So, I think the clue for me would be a mindset that privileges and acknowledges the importance of citizen participation.

That is really interesting because it's something that we have been talking about ourselves as well for a while and I would like to home in on this particular point, because we're talking about education, but we don't mean necessarily formal education in a school. Education is a far broader term and so some people might say about, you know, education from home, education from your family, education from school and obviously there’s tertiary education.

There is also an education through a community. The herd so to speak your tribe, how they give you information. How you're going to then pass it on to your own children eventually. So, how can we promote ways to encourage good education aside from the formal scholar, school setting?

This is a great question, because actually I am very much interested in the youth and community education.

Schools are wonderful because you have a certain age between 5 and 16, which is obligatory. So, if you have a decent curriculum, in a way you are guiding that people who passed through the system, we get a decent education. But we also realize that it is adults that are taking decisions today. We also realized that we want to talk about youth empowerment but where are the youths? What opportunities do youths have to actually voice their concerns?

So, in a way, you are right that adult education has remained a bit of the cindrella of education. It’s underfunded compared to formal education, there are less initiatives going on. However, when you actually talk to people, many for example, adults refer to the opportunities they had in their youth to do volunteer work as something which was live changing and that helped them choose their career.

So that is actually what I understand by non-formal and formal education. Creating actual spaces for youths to experience the reality in a different country. The reality in my own country, which is perhaps not the reality that I grew up in and creating new links, new friendships.

Many times, this type of education, which has the advantage that you can process your learning in a group because you’ve got a group meeting regularly, you can share with people your age is an extremely important part of education, and actually I myself always enjoy it when I get invitations from civil society organizations to support them in sustainability and campaign advocacy. Anything which I think is useful because I really believe that non-formal education and education for youth is what we really need at this point in time and of course schools still keep they’re important goal but not at the expense of the community.

We are perhaps sometimes too quiet. You know, in the sense that we don't know from where to start. We hear, an overdevelopment here, an overdevelopment there, we feel that things are getting out of control, but actually we have had examples of good practice.

Recently some 90 NGOs were not happy with the changes that the government proposed in the new (16.50), and they gathered together as 92 organizations to ask for a re-draft and this re-draft was given.

So, the moment these organizations found a way to come together, they actually brought about change. So, when you say education for advocacy it's not something in the air. It actually is this capability of coming together with a common aim to bring about change.

Of course, in whatever we're doing, we're not only doing it for the people who are with us now, yes? We're doing all of this because of the future generations. You know, the youngsters now, as you've mentioned, your passion in enhancing their knowledge of how they can take care of Mother Nature, so to speak and adjust society such that they can live in a better society later on.

I think this is where education needs a bit of an attention because the education needs to be future oriented. It has to have a perspective that doesn't only satisfy whatever we have now, but also what's going to maybe happen in the future.

You know that sometimes when I'm invited to these talks, I always say one of the biggest problems in Maltese society is the lack of opportunities to envision a different future together. We have so little possibilities where we come together to envision the future that we want, so we keep on fighting because we haven't come together to try and understand. This is how my city can look like, this is how Malta can look like.

We sort of remain on autopilot and keep on doing what we have always done, and sometimes we see that the problems are too big for us to deal with, and they are moving forward in spite of us and at a fast speed.

In the meantime, we do not really know when we are going. I remember when I was in my teens, I read a book that if you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else and this is what is happening to us. We do not know where we are going, and we are ending up somewhere else.

So, one of the actually exercises, for example, that I do with young people when I'm given the opportunity, is to actually create future visions. We usually talk about possible visions possible futures and then we ask our young people, like from all of these possible futures which one do you think is the most probable? Like with a business-as-usual scenario, which is the most probable? And if the most probable is not my preferable, it’s a bit of a game with the three p’s here, possible, preferable, probable you know? If the most probable future is not my preferable, then we need to steer the direction where we're going. This requires both or personal change but also community solutions also challenging sometimes economic direction.

Indeed, because sometimes the focus could be on the now rather than the then, and we are only solving problems that we see now and not thinking what our decisions now are going to be, you know how they're going to be part of the future. In a way, I guess one of the ways as you have mentioned, you're involving young people. We're talking young people as a group, but this could happen with all levels of society or ages or genders or everything, or races.

How can we empower people to actually say I want this change; I want my future; I want it to be this way. How can we empower them to actually do something about it?

From a very young age in schools when we talk about pedagogy when we talk about the methods we use with children, but then we can apply this to you, and we can apply this to the community. We always say more knowledge does not necessarily bring about a change in behavior.

So, we always try to move beyond knowledge, beyond even awareness and then we go into values. We go into skills and we go into actions. In reality, if for example, I am teaching young children to appreciate nature. To dirty their hands in the soil, we start by growing a crop. Which in 3-4 weeks will give me a result because that is empowering.

I feel that I managed to grow my own radish, I feel that I managed to grow my own basil and it is important to celebrate these many successes and use these many successes to go on to somewhere more challenging.

So, for me empowerment is starting perhaps with something which is achievable, celebrating success and using that success to go into something which is more challenging and keep on going in this dynamic session and at the same time I really think that we need mutual support.

One of the issues I have invested a lot in the past three and a half, four years is what I call peer mentoring. The idea that peer to peer in a horizontal wave, teacher to teacher educators to educator, youth worker to youth worker, we mentor each other, we support each other because it's so easy to get caught up in the status quo to get caught up with busyness to actually wear busyness as a badge of honor and then we don't have time to reflect.

So, I think this idea that the solutions are also created in a group, and you need the group not only to create solutions, but also to keep the hope alive, also to mentor each other, also to support and challenge each other especially when we feel that the issues that we are dealing with are just too big.

One of the people who has influenced me a lot in her writings is Vandana Shiva. She's an Indian activist, a physicist and activist. She always talks about how can we retain our joy while fighting against injustice and fighting for a better environment?

For me this is really important because instead of empowerment we can end up with burn out. This is not where we need to go. We need to retain our joy. Why? To envision a better future and focus on the solution.

This is, I think, one of the main takeaways for today really is to remain joyous, right while keeping the positive attitude of a change agent, of a person that would like to bring about change. But I guess there are other takeaways that people can take from our discussion today.

Say for example, in education, educators, people who are in a position to directly affect you know, generations, what do you think? How can we inspire them? What can they take from today?

Being an educator myself, I always say that my role is to sow seeds. Some will grow, some might not grow, some a bird will eat, and then we'll carry very far away, and it will grow without me ever knowing.

Some people say that most of the trees are nuts, this isn’t in the Maltese context, but most of the trees are nuts which squirrels buried, and they forgot about. So, they didn't go back to them. They forget about them and, but a tree grew.

So, I think for an educator it is about sowing seeds and then forgetting. So, that's so not to remain attached and tense to the outcome you know, but to keep on sowing seeds hope.

Yes indeed, and I guess similar, in a similar fashion sowing seeds, but maybe sowing a value of an economy we can translate this into business. That business should not only be seeing the profit margins but should be going deeper like we've mentioned before. So, business owners need to look into other ways of being sustainable and taking their message through.

What do you think Censu?

No, actually I am completely in favor of economic initiatives within the solidarity economy and within the social economy where we couldn’t be making, I don't know like opposition to all forms of discrimination, ecological sustainability, acting in solidarity etc.

I mean the whole idea of the triple bottom line within businesses. I think it is something which we really need and one of the advocacy points actually is to have a stronger voice in Malta so that the white paper on the social enterprises will become law because we want and make law to make it easier for organizations to act within this social economy.

Of course, and we've also mentioned you know the designers earlier on I'm trying to look at you know the main people, the main parts of society that could really benefit out of what we're chatting today.

You've mentioned cities before, and to make a city sustainable, it does not need a person only, it needs a society, it needs people to work together. I know that you are not a designer Censu, but your little words of wisdom, maybe for all those who are struggling to become better in in the way they do things.

Yes, I'm not a designer and recently I’m dabbling a bit with permaculture which is a bit of a design principle to try and mimic nature.

It’s a design principle built on fairness to people, fair shares, fairness to the earth and so on. However, I am pretty much actually influenced by an architect designer, a certain Buckminster Fuller and he said some very beautiful things that have always impacted me.

I think he's the inventor of Geodesic Dome if I remember well. He says at one point that when you tired of fighting the system, just create your own so that you automatically make the old system obsolete. He also says that when struggling with a problem, he doesn't focus specifically on beauty, but when the end result is not beautiful, he says then I know that my solution is wrong. So, perhaps this could be some guidelines for designers.

Goodness me very heavy, very deep. Yes, we need to take a few steps back and look at the at the macro vision and sometimes we focus on the little things so much that before we get the context in which our little things are within our society. Yes, I couldn't agree more with you or Buckminster.

And last but not least, I think we have mentioned you know bottom-up ways of doing things of really engaging the community, really understanding them, and perhaps also knowing how to ask questions because, you know, asking of the questions and being curious as you've mentioned at the beginning is a is a very vital part of what we're doing, but we can't not mention that there is going to be some sort of top down.

The authorities need to also, you know, guide in a sense because it's not just communities on their own, but it's the country that needs to function and the world needs to function on its own. So, we need authorities to put their weights in it as well so.

So, some ideas of how this can be done in terms of authority Censu?

Yes, so actually at some point I already mentioned the importance of involving citizens. The importance especially from public authorities and politicians, to learn how to listen more and talk less.

I think that would be a great takeaway because it is the people that are mostly affected by the issue under discussion that have the most to say about it. If it is a rural development plan; I have to listen to the farmers and the farmers don't come. I have to go; I have to listen.

So, I think that is crucial, however, I have also been myself influenced by a certain book by Robert Chambers. The title of the book was, ‘Whose Reality Counts.

I think that when it comes to authorities, it is very important to ask this question. Sometimes we see nice statistics and I have learned to reverse the statistics. So, if I read 95% of children here have been given a quality education.

I read 5% of children has not been given a quality education. I learn how to reverse this statistic and then I asked the question does their reality count? And of course, then it means to give special attention to those that are being left out and actually started in reference to the Sustainable Development Goals and actually the Sustainable Development Goals are about not leaving anyone behind.

So, that is for example, that is what I see is the main take of authorities and of course this fixation of economy gold and gross domestic product (GDP). I think we need to shift a bit more towards what brings wellbeing, what brings happiness, what are the qualities of our relationships, what is the quality of our environment, what is the quality of my air, the air I breathe, and so on.

Censu, I hope all of this, comes to reality, and it'll be all our reality then. It will be all our reality that counts. Thank you so much for being with us today. It's been an immense pleasure. This was Censu Caruana and you are listening to The Human Agenda. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

Read transcript +

← back

Design that makes people happier and healthier in their own spaces.

105 Valley Road, Birkirkara
BKR 9011. Malta

What we believe in
Book a Discovery Call
  /  Contact us
Spotify / Facebook / LinkedIn

Copyright © 2017-2024 Bureau 105™
Back to top Arrow