The Role of Education in the 21st Century: Education for Social Change

Mirian Vilela and Douglas Bourn discuss education for social change and the role of higher education in the latest episode of the Earth Charter podcast. Bourn’s latest book addresses this topic and the gap between theory and practice.

It can be difficult to differentiate between some of the current education agendas such as Education for Sustainable Development, Peace Education, and Global Citizenship Education. Dr. Bourn explains that the different names are not as important as understanding the context behind them. As these terms can be interpreted in different ways, it is most important to understand how the user is defining the word. It can be easy to compartmentalize different topics in academia and miss the connections between them. He sees the Earth Charter as an important tool to provide an ethical framework and to connect different topics and disciplines.

So, what should higher education’s role be and where should change begin? Doug sees the need for universities to create a pedagogy of hope to address young people’s anxiety and anger about the future because of inaction on issues like climate change. Higher education administrators and educators must promote a culture of creating space for dialogues about issues like sustainability and decolonization. This cannot simply be a list of checkboxes to complete, quick-fix solutions, or pre-made toolkits; there must be a long-term dialogue to create a culture of constantly asking these questions. The key is not for administration to impose policies and agendas, but instead to orchestrate and bring together different actors.

But what are the skills educators should have and be teaching students to adapt to the world today? Skills from fifty years ago may no longer hold any relevance. Bourn identifies critical thinking and the ability to adapt and change as the most important skills students currently need. Theory needs to be linked to real-word examples.