Environment and Sustainability Education in a Changing South Africa: A critical historical analysis of outline schemes for defining and guiding learning interactions

  • R O'Donoghue


This paper examines how, in response to emerging risk, methodological narratives for conservation (CE), environmental (EE) and now sustainability education (ESD) were constituted in diverse settings within a changing South African state. After documenting an awareness creation perspective underpinning early extension and experiential activities, the study examines shaping social processes and changing outline schemes for defining and guiding planned learning interactions (methodology) within the broadening field into the present day. The critical historical analysis developed in the study reflects a well-documented shift from early topdown (intervention/extension) to more participatory approaches (collaborative engagement/stewardship). A situated process-mapping of changing orientations also reveals characterising methodological features across the contours of an increasingly diverse field of conservation, environment and sustainability education. The maps resonate with and reflect situated learning interactions that involve:
• Clarifying risk and associated information in context (situating story)
• Close review of an issue as a concern (moral proximity)
• Asking questions to understand the issue in context (enquiry) and
• Trying out ways of doing things differently (practical engagement) The review concludes that these open-ended processes are seldom found together in community and school curriculum contexts. It thus points to a need to examine:
• Learner access to available knowledge resources
• Processes of close purposeful engagement and
• Practice-based deliberation in the mediation of socially responsible choices Finally the study examines processes of exclusion across the outline schemes for education. Noted is the knock-on effect of the separation of people and nature at the fences of nature reserves. Here ecology developed as a conservation science of interdependence that was deployed in early awareness programmes against the unawareness of rural land management. Later perspectives reflect landscapes as intermeshed social-ecological systems at risk. Here it is somewhat ironic that the indigenous knowledge practices of rural people are often deployed as idealised models of sustainability against the wasteful practices of modern age. The analysis recasts environment and sustainability education as open processes of situated re-search and deliberative meaning-making interaction, notably reflexive social learning processes that are planned and undertaken in response to risk within in a community of practice.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2411-5959
print ISSN: 1810-0333