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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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ONTONG, Krystle  and  LE GRANGE, Lesley. The reconceptualisation of sustainability after the decade of education for sustainable development. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2015, vol.55, n.1, pp.50-61. ISSN 2224-7912.

The past decade (2005-2014) has witnessed various awareness campaigns regarding sustainable development. Although the latter has been approached from different disciplines, the dominant discourses on sustainable development thus far have focused on the notion as a policy. However, despite the construction of sustainable development as a policy, together with the multiple warnings emphasizing the need for sustainable lifestyles, the environment continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate. This is visible in global environmental problems such as climate change, the decline in biodiversity, pollution, deforestation and the growing unemployment rate. Various educational attempts have already been made to address the global socio-ecological crisis including the United Nations'declaration regarding the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). Despite these endeavours, teachers continue to teach as if a planetary emergency does not exist. Now that the decade of education for sustainable development has passed, the question can be asked: How can schools and teachers place renewed emphasis on sustainability? Taking into account that sustainable development as a policy has mainlyfailed in addressing the environmental crisis and sustainable lifestyles, the need for a different view is warranted. Multiple reasons can be provided for these failed attempts, but we argue that one possible reason could be due to the fact that sustainable development was previously largely viewed as a policy. This policy approach has generated several contradictions, controversies and ambiguities. One being the lack of clarity on what the term "needs" means. Hitherto, limited attention has been given to defining the term "needs" within the discourses of sustainable development. This lack of clarity regarding the term "needs" can be seen as one of the main contributing factors leading to the contested nature of sustainable development. In this article we will not elaborate on the analysis of needs per se but will use it as a point of reference in discussing how it contributes to the complexity of viewing sustainable development as a policy. Based on the latter view environmental policy makers have attempted to marry two highly desired yet contested goals, that of development and conservation. In this regard policy has not only led to several problematic features of sustainable development on semantic, ethical and epistemological levels but has also reinforced an anthropocentric (human-oriented) stance. A variety of literatures across different disciplines addresses the notion of sustainable development mainly as a policy. We aver that shifting the angle of vision from "policy " to "frame of mind" is possible and necessary in the field of environmental education post the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. The main argument that is made in this article is that teachers and schools should first reconceptualize the term "sustainability" within environmental education before they turn to the implementation of new pedagogies. This will require of teachers to expand their own existing traditional views on sustainable development and to adopt a new metaphysics. One of the main features ofsustainable development as a frame of mind entails the right relationship with nature. This implies that teachers should create pedagogical and authentic spaces in which students can experience nature first hand and develop a love for it. The argument is made that as human beings we tend to conserve those things which we love the most. By exposing students to nature on a regular basis and facilitating the right experiences promises to not only foster an ethic of care among students but also to a certain degree their action competence. However, in order to provide the desired exposures and experiences to students, teachers themselves would need to elaborate on and adjust their views regarding sustainability. The purpose of this article is (a) to introduce a conceptual framework for a changed view of sustainability by discussing the possibility of viewing sustainability as a frame of mind and (b) to explore the implications of the latter for education.

Keywords : sustainable development; policy; controversy; frame of mind; nature; anthropocentric; biocentric; ecosophy; needs.

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