/Teacher Education And Global Issues: The Role of higher Education in Developing Sound Teacher Knowledge and Implementation of Sustainable Development in Schools – Sibiya Thandeka Patience

Teacher Education And Global Issues: The Role of higher Education in Developing Sound Teacher Knowledge and Implementation of Sustainable Development in Schools – Sibiya Thandeka Patience

Sibiya Thandeka Patience – PhD Candidate, Faculty of Psychology and Education, Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest Email: thandumuntu@yahoo.com – HUNGARY / SOUTH AFRICA


Teachers are at the core of any local and global movements; this can happen consciously and unconsciously. However, often, teachers are left out of major decisions, that later infl uence how they deliver the curriculum and lead their lives, hence, it is of vital importance that they are offered a seat at the table, but also this should be made a deliberate and intentional decision by teachers to take an active role in the global events, and initiatives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs). However, teachers on their own, cannot always see the importance of participating in these initiatives, because of the workload, perception, teaching contexts, and even attitudes, hence, there is a need for external players to assist. Teacher education is one of those areas of teaching that needs to assist teachers both in-training and in-service to realise their expanded roles, particularly their roles in global matters, in to teach towards sustainability. This article aims to make use of existing empirical evidence in exploring the role of higher education in teacher education in developing a sound knowledge of the SDGs and meaningful teaching and learning in their classrooms and ultimately in the entire school.

Keywords: sustainable development, teacher education, global, meaningful teaching.

I. Introduction

It does not come as a surprise that the globe has adopted sustainability as a springboard to solve various problems ranging from environmental to education because the earth is experiencing unprecedented threats. It is from this understanding that sustainability as a concept, has catalysed Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), a model necessitated by the demands posed by environmental challenges and concerns, to offer practical solutions. Sengupta, (2020), argues that the adoption of ESD to address topics that are linked to sustainability will offer teachers and learners a transformative and holistic approach to teaching and learning, in the process, gaining valuable pedagogical content and outcomes. This view is supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientifi c, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The organisation believes that the United Nations (UN) agenda, in the area of sustainability, referred to as the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, that was established from 2005 to 2014, has had a role to instil the culture of sustainable development in all spheres of life, (UNESCO, 2004). To achieve this goal, it requires participation from various stakeholders, particularly higher education institutions, to train teachers, both pre-service and in-service. Darling- Hammond and Bransford, (2007) claims that teachers are at the core of education, and with pre-existing and further knowledge, they are better equipped to impart knowledge and skills to learners, which will, in turn, prepare them to face the threats to sustainability. Education is viewed as a platform that represents a critical system that can facilitate infl uential and long-lasting transformative knowledge, in sustainability literacy and meaningful learning and teaching, for present and future teachers, Foley, et al (2015).

It is only just, therefore, that teachers are trained adequately in the fi eld of sustainability, to quench such expectations. According to (Nolet, 2009), those who are concerned with the preparation of teachers (citing and American context) must respond meaningfully to the issues regarding the depletion of environmental resources, which is a major contributor to the global catastrophe of Global Warming and Climate Change. From this stance, it seems necessary for teachers to be empowered with knowledge and skills to creatively and innovatively use the curriculum to address these matters. This is necessary because the topic of sustainability is fraught with controversy, misunderstanding, contestation, myths, misconceptions, and heated debates among other challenges according to (Hopkins, 1998); (Rasool, 1999); Jickling, (2000); (Foster, 2001); (Gough, 2002); (Bonnett, 1999). Consequently, it is necessary that teachers are assisted in internalising sustainable development education not just as another subject in the curriculum, but an essential integration that “will encourage the future generation to acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes that will empower and equip them to create a just and balanced society with an the environment, alleviating the society out of poverty and moving in a trajectory toward sustainable development” Sengupta, et al, (2020 p.4). If teachers embraced this type of pedagogy, they would be essentially empowering their learners to apply consistent logic in the process of the critical learning, for the classroom and their adult life.

This article wishes to explore the role of higher education through teacher education, in assisting teachers who are both in training and working, to deliver a pedagogy that is sustainability-driven. The discussion will comprise of anecdotal experiences, and conclude with a general view of teacher education, which includes research and exposure.

II. Discussion
2.1 Attitude is everything
I began my teaching career in 2006, as a primary school teacher. When I started, I was not a professional teacher, I only held, an academic qualifi cation in Humanities. My fi rst teaching job was in a rural school, and when I think about that experience, my heart always sinks, because there were many terrible mistakes that I made. Fast-forward 2014, three years after completing a teaching qualifi cation, a post-graduate certifi cate in education (PGCE), a lot of things, that I would have taken for granted before, began to make a lot of meaning to my work as a teacher. It all began in 2011, when I enrolled for the teaching qualifi cation at a local university, that one of our professors, Jane Pennefather, referred to and mention the words „context and resilience“ often. It was like her lessons were incomplete without these words, and teacher testimonials, from newspaper articles. Apart from the academic content that we learnt in class, I took with me, a huge chunk of practical examples and lessons of how teachers have made it worked in their environments, in some cases, with no or fewer resources. Since then, I have been inspired to work with local non-profi t organisations, think tanks, international organisations, taking my learners to both local and international conferences, to share their ideas on how they believe environmental challenges in their community can be addressed, how women can have a meaningful impact in society, how oral history can be a viable project, both for social cohesion and as a tourism tool, how birds and the local wetland, could be a means for development in the community, how indigenous knowledge systems can supplement textbook content, among other things.

owe my sudden change of attitude to the efforts of a teacher educator, who took it upon herself to instil the idea that teachers were agents of change. According to (Fullan and Hargreaves, 2014), the idea of educational change and teacher development has recently been conceptualised. While it may seem to be an uncomplicated, effortless, and simple endeavour, but the truth of the matter is that teaching is fraught with nuances and complexities, that may hinder teachers to realise seemingly obvious change, hence (Fullan and Hargreaves, 1991), argue that teacher education should be a comprehensive agenda, that includes an exhaustive framework that is cognisance of teacher’s purpose, a teacher as a person, who lives in a society, and has various interpretations of who she/he is, both in and out of the classroom. Furthermore, it should be mindful of the real-world context in which teachers work. This takes us to the next discussion, which is the role of teacher education, informed by the above perspective.

2.2 Sustainable development-driven
The United Nations General Assembly, (2015) acknowledges that teaching is a daunting task, where teachers are expected to endow the next generations with knowledge, skills, and attitudes that they will need to address challenges sustainably. Therefore, this positions teachers at the core of this call for action. It is also an extended call for people around the world to collaborate in designing solution- driven platforms. The question is, why does teacher education matter so much then, in the preparation of future generations in a highly globalised world? This is because according to (Darling-Hammond, 2010), in addressing the challenges of the 21st Century, through teacher education, asserts that it appears that, even though, this area of education is fraught with persistent and extensive criticism, regarding how teachers are trained, including slamming its prerequisite for aspiring teachers, claiming that teaching is an innate activity, yet still, teacher education cannot be replaced, instead, it can be ameliorated to a level where it can adjust and adapt to the changing world. Darling-Hammond (2010) argues that evidence indicates that those teachers who have been prepared for teaching, exuded self-esteem, and can make grounded decisions regarding the curriculum and their learners. It is against this backdrop that it is believed that higher education through teacher education, has a surmountable task to equipping both in-service and student teachers with skills and knowledge, for delivering sustainability-driven pedagogy.

Based on the above stance, we are of the view that teachers could be better positioned to teach towards a sustainability orientated curriculum if they understand the interconnectedness that is associated with it. Evidence suggests an existence of an overlap between sustainability education and environmental education, which according to (Gough, 2013), gives rise to an educational approach that creates a springboard to access different types of knowledge and a pluralist notion of how the world operates. This repositioning according to (Hart, 2007), generally presents us with the gateway to the interrelations that exist within the different spheres of life, for example, how the environment is interrelated with the notion of socio-culturalism. According to this logic, the ability to explore the role of culture, human identity, is an enabler to exploring and identifying challenges and threats that can potentially harm the socio-ecological systems. It is behind this rationale that topics such as immigration, social justice, inclusion, and multilingualism, which stem from diversity, should be viewed in the same light, and that this umbilical cord that connects them with sustainability, is central in sustaining the present, and the future if implemented well, through meaningful education processes and platforms. It is, therefore, also of remarkable importance for teacher education, according to (Panagiotopoulou, et al, 2020), to take a step towards the right direction, and adjust its curriculum to address these topics and issues.

2.3 Globally Competent Teachers
Friedman, (2005) introduces us to yet another nexus, pivotal to teacher education, globalisation. Friedman argues that globalisation is a concept that is viewed to be tantamount to an easy reach, where, people and goods can move from one destination and reach another, within a very short space of time. In this event, humans are no longer confi ned to their geographical locations or limited by political entities. According to (Zhao, 2010) globalisation like technology, often presents challenges to teachers, as well as opportunities for the future. He argues that it is the most powerful social phenomena that will infl uence the direction of education and how children live their lives thereof, but also that which determines how teachers become players in a globalised turf.

Hence a serious task for teachers to adjust and adapt to this era is important. To realise this critical assignment, (Fullan and Hargreaves 1991), introduce us to the notion of teacher moral purpose. They argue that teachers hold certain values, that are often displayed and achieved during teaching. These values are a consequence of the nature of teaching as a profession, it carries a moral obligation and evokes a moral purpose for those who practise it. While they argue that this moral purpose is not sacrosanct, but when interrogating these factors, it is fair to regard teacher education as a bridge between teaching and teacher development, in a sense that teachers are enabled to voice and act on their sense of purpose Fullan & Hargreaves, (1991). To keep teacher moral purpose, vibrant, they suggest an intervention from teacher education institutions, whereby in a highly globalised village, teachers are enabled and capacitated to adapt and fi nd innovative ways of asserting their sense of purpose. Furthermore, there exists the need to merge this moral purpose with knowledge and information, to transcend beyond the regular subject syllabus and the ability to teach for real-life contexts. Foley, et al, (2015) argues that one of the ways to effectively reach this stage in education, teachers ought to gain literacy in the fi eld of sustainable development, in its entirety.

2.4 Meaningful teacher agency
A body of empirical evidence under the topic of teacher education establishes that indeed there is a critical defi ciency in higher education in terms of equipping teachers with the necessary skills and sound knowledge to advance their moral purpose, even more so now that there is a need for education to be sustainable in nature. Darling-Hammond, (2000), argues that there have been voices raised in discontentment to the teaching profession particularly in the United States of America (USA). The argument suggests that teacher education requires an overhaul. The belief is that such an enterprise will enable teacher education to strengthen its knowledge base and its relationship with teaching practice and theory. This implies that there is a dire need to focus teacher education on teaching pragmatics to align education with the social context where teaching and learning are taking place. This is believed to be contributing to teacher professional training, adaptation skills and knowledge-based curriculum delivery. While this may seem a dilemma, the reality is that teacher education should transform to address teacher adaptability and sound knowledge.

A classic example is that of South Africa, where, educational reforms after the eradication of the oppressive apartheid regime, became rather a challenge instead of a societal transformative agenda. Vandeyar, (2017) argues that the initiatives that were introduced and implemented were meant to meaningfully transform education however, the efforts did not target the pivotal agents in education, their roles, identity, and beliefs, and the role they play in effecting transformation. Fullan & Hargreaves (2013) argue that teacher identity is one of those areas of teacher professionalisation that have been overlooked, often leading to a singularised viewpoint, which stereotypes them. This turns to give us the wrong impression of teacher identity. For example, a teacher’s age, gender, stage of his or her career, life experiences, among other factors, determine how she or he will react to a teaching context, as well as how they respond to motivation and change. According to (Vandeyar, 2017), if this fundamental consideration is not made, there will be a series of negative reactions from teachers, which may counteract the intended agenda. Generally, stakeholders tend to assume that teachers will willingly accept change, and further be able to implement it. However, according to (Harley & Wedekind, 2004); (Jansen, 2001); (Jita, 2002); (Sieborger & Nakabugo, 2001); (Vandeyar, 2006); (Vandeyar & Jansen, 2008); (Vandeyar & Killen, 2003), this varies from one context to another. An experiment conducted by Stallings, on teacher attitudes, demonstrates that staff development is connected to a change in teacher attitude which ultimately affects student performance (Stallings, 1989). Hence, the role played by teacher education becomes crucial.

2.5 Bridging the Gap
Transformation has proven to be a challenge for higher education, threatening the curriculum of universities and other institutions that offer teacher training programmes. Foley, at el, (2015) argue that universities are still struggling to change their curricula, in a way that the topic of sustainable development is integrated into every curricula programme. If universities themselves, are struggling with this form of transformation, we can only imagine what teachers in schools are experiencing, either personal resistance or resistance from school management. In the USA, the New American University has managed to embrace this epic and ambitious initiative, to embrace change, in the wake of wide criticisms that universities are inadequately preparing their students for the grand challenges of the twenty-fi rst century as (Crow, 2008) argues.

The university’s approach in this regard is proposing to prepare its students for sustainability. One of its modus operandi is to “enact lasting and impactful change toward achieving this goal is educating future teachers in sustainability literacy.” (Foley, at el, 2015 p.53). In the book chapter, Foley and his co-authors describe how at Arizona State University, the topic of sustainability is embraced by the faculty of education. The university has initiated a interbreed programme referred to as Sustainability Science for Teachers. It is through it that in-service teachers as early as preschool education up until the 8th grade are equipped with skills to teach technology and storytelling in an integrated way. The university projects to introduce this meaningful education programme to pre-service teachers, so that they are primed for an engaging content knowledge. That way the pending gap in teacher education can be narrowed, and eventually closed.

It is our view that transformative initiatives in higher education can also be achieved if teacher education programmes are designed and driven to rigorously examine the moral and epistemological underpinnings of teaching as a profession. Sockett, (1993) claims that to achieve professional aspirations in education, that will probably give teachers confi dence to address global issues through pedagogy, teacher education programmes must be grounded in philosophy and driven by intellectual credibility. Education is one sector of academics that is highly contested, by politicians, ideologists, and philosophers, it is essentially a minefi eld of epistemological controversy (Sockett, 2008). It is against this backdrop that we believe that since teaching has this philosophical characteristic, to maintain its status, it requires continuous professional development Sockett, (2008).

III Conclusion
We are of the understanding that teachers need to learn how to teach effectively. To achieve that, they should acquire aspects of pedagogical content knowledge that incorporates language, culture, and community contexts for learning. Teaching is not a mere regurgitation of the subject content and knowledge but includes the understanding of a learner as an individual. Darling-Hammond, (2006) asserts that every child has a unique personality, that requires cultivation. Accompanied by this, they still need to acquire skills that are necessary for classroom management, to communicate effectively, use technology, and refl ect on their craft. Furthermore, as members of a professional community that has the autonomy to service individual clients, need to collectively work with society to fi nd solutions for global challenges. This will be achieved if they are exposed to research along with supportive, functional, and cohesive leadership across disciplines, sectors, and organisations, (Sengupta, et al, 2020). Institutions of higher education have a role that cannot be overemphasised, since “given what academics know about the current ecological condition of the planet, there is an obligation for universities to become leaders in the movement to prevent global ecological collapse.” Moore, (2005b, p. 326) by empowering teachers in the process.

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