Open Educational Regions

The idea of an OPen EDUCational Area/region, an 'OPEDUCA'


A general idea underlying OPEDUCA is to regard a social demographic region as a young learners’ cradle and home for development. The scope of such an OPen EDUCational Area/region is grossly determined by its social, cultural and economic cohesion, the locality where people are inextricably part of multiple manifestations, indissolubly bound together (a group of villages, cities, provinces). 
The world of knowledge, work and adjoining forces that largely mold and shape our future, is out there. It can be found in companies, science institutes, a mayors' chamber, TV stations, restaurants and the small blacksmith on the corner of the street. In an OPEDUCA all these are Partners in Education. The project found ways to continuously involve relevant partners in the learning process of youngsters and open a unique world of experience and applied knowledge for them, bridging the worlds of schooling and work, and folding them together. In an OPEDUCA region companies and schools team up, a re-value of good working practice dating back decades but lost along the way, create a contemporary approach that will address youth unemployment and required skill- and knowledge development in a most effective way.

Following the conviction learning takes place anytime, anywhere, with anybody and through any device, the learner is envisioned to note, experience, interact, take in data and create information while moving around in her natural and societal habitat. Regional society is considered an accessible space that brings sources of education within reach of the learner and provides a rich opportunity in a real context for meaningful observations and experiences. The world is seen as a network of relations, our being not locked up inside us but spread throughout a web of worldly inter-actions in which our existence continually unfolds (Fisher, 2002).

The OPEDUCA Project was initiated bottom-up, by the field itself, building on the concept of ‘OPen EDUCational Areas/regions’ (social-demographic communities with a degree of coherence) in which Industry, Science, Education and (in a 2nd phase) regional Governmental authorities join in purpose and strength to address the most important en effective aspect of sustainability: the development of the next generation

Personal Learning in a Sociatal Real World context

Open Educational Areas can be seen as Learning ecosystems, personalized learning being central and unfolding across regional and then global communities, from local to global

As our society grew more advanced, we detached and even alienated ourselves from nature, invoking the (unconscious) notion one might do without. Such can also be argued for the realm of Well-being when compared to social structures and cohesion in earlier decades. The working of an OPEDUCA-region is perceived functional to partly correct for this, believing youngsters’ more frequent direct contact and exchange with natural phenomena and society contributes to their wonder and understanding, enhances awareness, bases respect, allows the educational potential of nature and social interaction to regain position. This potential should also be seen as a countervailing power for the Welfare-Dimension, enabling students to (re-)consider and question present-day phenomena as abundance and waste through the (re-)discovery of natural values as biodiversity and silence. Invoking a feeling to be part of Earth and learning from and through it, I regard a critical requisite for future courses of action. Avoiding instead of repairing youth’s disaffection with the outside is congruent with the need to make alive for them that the relationship between people’s values, emotions and activities is (no longer) connected to ecology (Kellert & Wilson, 1995). 

As schooling prepares for life, education should be close to life, learning processes interlinked and embedded in the environment outside school. The participatory process thereto involves all areas of civil society, including businesses and public services (Fien, 1995). A strategic quality of an OPEDUCA lies in connecting and immersing youth in each Dimension of ESD simultaneously, the learning process a boundary-crossing reality.

The OPEDUCA Concept includes the involvement of ‘Partners in Education’, meaning persons and organizations outside the realm of the school contribute to education by providing place, practice and presence, articulated in first-hand data, information, narrative and personal experience. To distinct these persons with an educational value from teachers, I proposed to use the general term ‘Educators’. Partners in Education are not expected to have the pedagogical skills and competencies of teachers, they contribute outside the boundaries and restrictions of schooling, offer additional qualities - a complementary multitude of Educators manifesting an abundance of (re-)sources across the board. In principle, an OPEDUCA calls for the participation of all in society to be(come) Educators, therewith substantially increasing schools’ and teachers’ educational potential.


From the broader perspective of ESD, the constellation of other OPEDUCA nearby and across the world is seen to form a complementary network, a ‘Local-to-Global Learning space’. Envisioning an OPEDUCA-region to allow youngsters to grow firm roots, an outward development towards (global) citizenship offers perspective(s) for the (regional) learning and allows to relativize as well as accentuate experiences and their understanding of phenomena. Thereto the learning process is situated in continuous connection with others, the universal character of the future defining themes supportive to that course. As youth faces the global dimension of human development, a deeper understanding and sense of belonging to one’s own region and the global realm go hand in hand, merging realities and contexts. 

The application of the concept is observed to also partially offset and correct amorphous images presented by questionable (multi-)media and politically induced opinions presented by (social) media. Understanding that life-wide and -deep experiences in the natural and social outside can replace media-induced images of the present and future. 

Re-Booting in Nature

As our society grew more advanced, we detached and even alienated ourselves from nature, invoking the (unconscious) notion one might do without. Such can also be argued for the realm of Well-being when compared to social structures and cohesion in earlier decades. The working of an OPEDUCA-region is perceived functional to partly correct for this, believing youngsters’ more frequent direct contact and exchange with natural phenomena and society contributes to their wonder and understanding, enhances awareness, bases respect, allows the educational potential of nature and social interaction to regain position. This potential should also be seen as a countervailing power for the Welfare-Dimension, enabling students to (re-)consider and question present-day phenomena as abundance and waste through the (re-)discovery of natural values as biodiversity and silence. Invoking a feeling to be part of Earth and learning from and through it, I regard a critical requisite for future courses of action. Avoiding instead of repairing youth’s disaffection with the outside is congruent with the need to make alive for them that the relationship between people’s values, emotions and activities is (no longer) connected to ecology (Kellert & Wilson, 1995).

Re-booting with nature should be understood most literal, as actually re-connecting with earths’ basic elements, with wind, water, energy, soil, with the life thriving in and on it. In OPEDUCA the outside is the primary, not an addition to schooling by ways of an incidental visit. A transcendent personal experience cannot be programmed or scheduled as it is a matter of the heart, of being raised not taught, thus requiring more continuous presence in nature. Raising youth in the shelter of the inside was excellently dramatized by placing a future generation in giant caves of steel, like beehives below the surface, people eventually having become afraid of the open (Asimov, 1954). Louve speaks of a ‘nature-deficit disorder’ as metaphor to describe the human costs of alienation from nature, mentioning a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses, a rising rate of myopia, child and adult obesity, vitamin-D deficiency and other maladies (Suttie, 2016). Numerous studies indicate that direct exposure to nature can relieve symptoms whereas indoor activities in our paved, non-green areas, leave children functioning worse (Kuo, 2011).

Beyond Community Based Learning

In an OPEDUCA students embed their learning in the community. They explore, inquire and draw on sources within their reach in their own habitat. A learning that goes beyond projects in welfare or care-taking: Community Based Learning in OPEDUCA is about seeking and using all the possible sources of knowledge and experience the community offers. Thereto pupils and students actively participate in the community, but their activities are driven by their learning demands and based on intrinsic motivation.
Community-wide education is found conceivable and practically effective if building on learning processes instead of institutions and regulations, such opens perspective for an essential quality and added value of ESD, being the realization of a local-to-global learning sphere for students.
Where the school is positioned as the nexus of learning in its own community it provides a solid foothold to reach out and structurally connect the ongoing learning pathways around the globe to further effectuate the transformative potential of ESD.  

"Community-based learning just might be the missing piece we are looking for on our competency-based, personalized learning quest for our students. If we can bring this work together-if we can connect them to their passion (personalize), move them along when they are ready (competency-based) and ground them in real life experience (community-based), perhaps we can truly give them the roots and the wings we have only been theorizing about for fifty years.”

Dr. Sandra Dop
Iowa Department of Education

towards Global Citizenship

From the broader perspective of ESD, the constellation of other OPEDUCA nearby and across the world is seen to form a complementary network, a ‘Local-to-Global Learning space’. The outward development towards global citizenship in turn offers perspectives for regional learning, relativizing and accentuating experiences, strengthening understanding - the universal character of the future defining themes supportive to that course. As youth faces the global dimension of human development, a deeper understanding and sense of belonging to one’s own region and the global realm go hand in hand, merging realities and contexts.

A Patched Education Landscape


Even though the benefits of a joint approach in OPEDUCA regions were acknowledged and remain undisputed until today, the educational potential of a region was found more scattered and at risk than eventually perceived. Metaphorically speaking, it is a ‘patched blanket’ of countless commercial offerings, governmental projects on various levels, NGOs, advisory, etc.,
where new ventures challenging the inertia of the system get interlocked with it or disappear altogether. Where patches were torn loose, offering initial room for innovation if not transition, were mended in place by power structures in an indiscriminate fashion. 
To bring all and everybody with potential value for youngsters’ development together, not only requires immense effort and persistence but also contradicts the societal fabric as it requires the de-patch of a blanket many stand on and lives from. Moreover, since people change role and positions, alter opinions, preferences, interests and reshape their disposition, the orchestration of a hornet’s nest to play Bach seems a walk in the park.


Continuing the analogy, the conceptual strength of the OPEDUCA Concept delivered a strong new yarn and sharp needle drenched in the potential of transition, therewith holding the promise to transform the societal patchwork to a coherent whole. Therewith those seeking coherence and togetherness found a joint momentum led by vision. It was however a mistake to believe that also most prominently colored patches, namely those in the field of STEM and Environmental Education, would eventually develop. Even though the benefits of a joint approach were acknowledged and remain undisputed until today, such proved credulous. We had to acknowledge:

There appear to be quite some double-ups (for example because of the establishment of alike Centres for Environmental Education by neighboring cities or private sponsors having their sponsored facility) but also institutions installed before others while still enjoying funding (for example resulting from older Government grants, EU-subsidies, etc.).

Jobs (formerly) granted, commercial interests i.e. competition, people holding double or more (alike) functions and positions, etc. lead to personal agendas prevailing over the actual value of an organization i.e. institution. Inward-turned 'live and let live' networks were observed frequently. 

Not all organizations or projects assumed to be active are actually so.

Mostly in the realm of Governmentally subsidized organizations, but also occurring in the private domain, organizations were found to do little more than present themselves on various occasions, establishing visibility incongruent with actual activities.

Partly due to ignorance, not being aware some functions already existed and activities carried out, time and again nearly alike organizations were found to be established as new governmental programs were launched, new CSR initiatives called for attention, etc.


Although schooling requires a grade of governance and organization that leads up to the manifestation of an institute commanding attention of its own, the educational system not only comprises rules, regulations, standards and facilities to enable schooling and organize education but manifests itself as an institutionalized infrastructure of its own right. A vast landscape, home to the ‘layers of fog’, populated with actors and interests away from ‘educating’ and far from ‘learning’. And precisely there, at the base of the personal realm, is the home of ESD.

A fundamental change in thinking about the practice of education and education policies is called for. Instead of beginning from the perspective of education systems we should think about building common public spaces for education. This should be led by teachers, working in conjunction with families, communities, local and national authorities, universities, public and private entities. While we have great cultural heritage and wisdom to build upon, there are no ready‐made solutions. Solutions must be built, collaboratively and taking into account the diversity of contexts and cultures in the world (UNESCO, Futures of Education, 2021) 

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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