If the youth of today can learn
anytime, anyplace, with anybody, through any device,
on future's most relevant themes,
rooted in regional society, connected globally,
then that is the best way to bring near a more sustainable world.
For an accurate understanding of the OPEDUCA Concept and the resulting reconceptualization of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), it is relevant to consider some preliminary thoughts, formulated around 2004 and put to the test in daily educational practice during the years following. This moreover since our thinking is rather controversial compared to the academic discourse in sustainable development that lingered on back then for many years already and even today only too often presents ESD as an additional feature to schooling, even one with a directive (value-laden) character.
Despite the fact our ideas and those of others alike have by now trickled upwards to policy desks and found their way in amongst others in UNESCO plans, a closer study of these, unfortunately, reveals that vision, as well as effective notions for implementation, are still lacking. On the other hand, numerous examples of smaller pockets of practice have found their way long ago, as we found basically sharing the same vision and working with an alike conviction to change 'ordinary' practice. Seeking an understanding of the OPEDUCA Concept and its practical implementation, one needs to realize that also the OPEDUCA Concept primarily arose from the dedicated efforts of such practitioners, coming from industry, schools, (semi-)governmental organizations, the arts, sports, culture and numerous walks of private life, joining hands as 'The OPEDUCA Project' - beyond the environmental scene and the academic world dominating the discourse. It was a truly grass-roots initiative, steered by the desire to save Earth and improve well-being, not following or serving contemporary politics, policies, academic achievement, status, roleplay or ego-centric motivations.
This page is meant to indicate the gross basics of our initial thinking, what we observed, the questions we raised and what we proposed as a way forward. These elements of the vision underlying the OPEDUCA Concept obviously still hold today.
The thinking and reasoning underlying the OPEDUCA concept lead to a merger of learning (and consequently education and schooling) with sustainable development. The result was found to be a groundbreaking proposal and pathway to a healing society
and safe Earth.
The (re-)conceptualization of ESD the OPEDUCA concept provides did not result from the sheer endless series of UN Conferences since Brundtland nor was it informed by anything else than simple daily practice of ordinary people in education and the society it thrives in. Likewise, it isn't rooted in the gloomy prophecy of doom and the well-known narratives most scholarly publications in the field of ESD start out with. Along the way, when becoming accustomed to the contemporary discourse, we considered that pointing out mankind’s efforts by summing up an ever longer and dated series of politics- and policy-induced programs, plans and agreements, does not reflect brave actions in challenging times but an institutionalized process kept upright to stay away from such most truly. Also we started out way too late, many years after The Club of Rome (1972) provided its wake-up call, but before the endless parade ESD-development parade that turned into a charade. We realized that our former Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands already in her 1988 Christmas speech noted: “The earth slowly dies and the unthinkable, the end of life itself, becomes conceivable …. We people have become a threat for our planet”. This basic and most inconvenient truth is worded in an endless variety in policy reports and literature that pulls our attention to uncontrolled population growth, excessive deforestation, destruction of habitats, extinction of species, increased greenhouse effects causing climate change, acid rain, erosion of stratospheric layers and the social-economic aspects of it all. Restating, reconfirming, re-acknowledging and so forth these claims and notions in an endless series of conferences and research papers adds no value. While it has been clear for decades that too many people devour too large chunks of not replenishable resources, the world of policy development and academia apparently lost itself by (over-)stating that sustainable development as such and then also ESD in its wake is marked by uncertainty and complexity, pointing to a re-alignment of existing systems, social learning an the like; as if enforcing a problem-complex in stead of unraveling a complex whole through improved understanding followed by learning to behave as future-proof citizens.
We argued we might be more divided than perceived, with ever more people living in times more certain than believed. What if we took learning more seriously, understanding that not primarily present but most of all next generations would need profound insights and competence for action - why not grant them the chance to not first learn about and with the world, about our planet, as it came to being, functions and is today. Search and seek understanding how (and even if) ever more people could live in well-being before accepting our present (illusion of) welfare. For is the future so vague and uncertain as we claim it to be in the course of Sustainable Development? Don't we have it swarming around us already? What if all these kids could be held high, showing and empowering them to learn and develop in unlimited ways - wouldn't that be the best way to improve the future? Wouldn't that be the essence of ESD?
These children and youngsters we sat with back in 2004 will be around 22 to 35 years old today - could and should have been today's leaders, each of them comprising the very essence of our society today. If ESD had been taken seriously, defined, agreed on, make practicable and then implemented in ways most effective. That was our cri de coeur back then as it is still today.
In line with the vision on Sustainable Development, the OPEDUCA Project focused on the development of youngsters, enabling and empowering them to learn Anytime, Anyplace, with Anybody, through Any Device about future defining themes to create a more sustainable future. We spoke about education as a magnificent work of humankind being treated unfairly and expressed that ESD as the convergence of our strive for sustainable development through education did not live up to its promise thus far. Most of the work still had to be done.
Forming an alliance of schools (principles as well as their teachers), industry leaders and experts in the fields representing what we defined as future defining (Water, Food, Energy, Construction, Health) we studied and in parallel put to practice (with students in daily education) what our ideas would mean and could lead to. Finding the OPEDUCA Concept would require a full-scale transition of education- and school practice, at the same time making that possible - building from present capacity, meeting today's standards while effectuating future possibilities. It would take learning beyond conventional practices by introducing innovative learning methodologies and whole system learning strategies that improve education from within, positioning teachers and students as the owners and drivers of transformation through learning.
Acknowledging a natural order of Earth, Well-being and Welfare, the OPEDUCA Concept starts from these as “Dimensions of Sustainable Development” (Eussen, 2007), deriving future-defining themes from there, eventually informing an integrated transdisciplinary education. One that connects Primary, Secondary and Further education through students’ permanent inquiry-, problem- and community-based learning on these themes, thereto tapping into regional society as a source of knowledge and practice, expanding their wings around the globe from an ever more deeply rooted base. The learning as then truly student-driven, providing for an ongoing pathway as a tread throughout and beyond the system.
How come present disciplines and school-subjects start from the inside out, from the present (notions of welfare) and not from an holistic, also more profoundly historical perspective? A line, a process, of development? And, although it might have been logic and useful over a 100 years ago to build an educational system which is stacked and consists of components, why do we think there is a divide between schooling and work, why did we allow it to become so institutionalized? Did we build a piece of machinery? And why do we as then not see or still accept that today's children are not mere components to feed the machine, to then be assembled in present notions of the real instead of honoring them as the future itself?
And aren't youngsters and actually all of us very much alike all over the world, isn't it nonsense and even dangerous to hold on to the idea we belong to nations and are caught in cultures? Why don't we learn and develop together to begin with?
do not think, reason and argue in the anthropocentric People, Planet, Profit - turn to Dimensions of Sustainable Development
think away from a fragmented line of formal education apart from the real but reason in terms of ongoing learning processes like a tread throughout the system, continuously connected with the outside world
don't reason from cemented adult propositions and illusions of knowledge but dare to consider the developing child literally as the Future itself.
no longer allow our thinking to be restricted and actions limited by considering nations, borders, segregation and separation - respect everyone as citizens of this world learning in a local-to-global connected community.
The future themes derived from the Dimensions of Sustainable Development appeared to be not only of universal quality but also allow students transdisciplinary learning processes that meet and go beyond present curricula and policy demands. They quite easily, natural, involve sources and Partners in Education from the local, connecting with peers to a global learning community. Industry, as well as other sources of information and experience, were seen to find a logical place in the whole, contributing in such an effective way they in turn generate parts of the transition process. There is no sound reason to harshly divide schooling into phases, there can be one continuous flow, a continuous, ongoing, pathway of (lifelong) learning like a thread throughout the system that gradually provides for a constructivist development of knowledge and skills, making youngsters gradually more competent to understand, address and turn to action on the future defining themes.
In early 2022 the European Union presented its view and policy on environmental- and sustainability education. Although there is still a strong referral to 'green', the characteristics are now completely in line with the OPEDUCA Vision and Concept as presented to the Commission in 2016, tracing back to the 'The OPEDUCA Project Europe 2013-2016' and supported by numerous other, originally small scale bottom-up initiatives.
The EU policy and plans can be found here