Across the globe former non-Western nations are undergoing rapid modernization; these include nations that were either colonised by Western European powers and subsequently gained political independence or that have been strongly influenced by these powers via cultural, political and economic means.
The digital era, with high speed information communications technologies (especially the internet), is accelerating the process of globalisation. A much slower process occurred during the colonial era, when Western European powers invaded and subjugated local and indigenous civilisations in Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Americas. During the twentieth century colonial powers withdrew from their overseas territories; however, the colonial project did not entirely leave with them. It morphed into subtle forms of neo-colonialism which today govern the social and economic structures and practices of newly independent nations and perpetuate social inequality and economic impoverishment.
A major vector of the neo-colonial project is the Western education export industry and international benchmarking assessment systems. These combine to maintain the official knowledge production agendas of education systems worldwide. On the one hand, modern education produces a highly skilled professional workforce that is essential for improving infrastructure, social services and standards of living. On the other hand, local cultural capital is excluded from curricula, contributing to the ongoing loss of cultural and linguistic diversity across populations. Nowhere is this more evident than in rural communities where cultural extinction has been recognised as a major contributor to the ongoing loss of humanity’s library of indigenous wisdom and to a breakdown in the spiritual link between humans and nature.
For the past decade, the United Nations has been urging the world to reverse this destructive trend by embracing education for sustainable development, based on three intertwined pillars: the natural environment, the socio-cultural world, and economic systems. Recognising that much remains to be achieved, especially countering human-induced climate change and loss of cultural and linguistic diversity, the United Nations is currently designing a new set of sustainable development goals to rekindle education for sustainable development beyond 2015.
Education for sustainable development is not, however, a simple process of learning new concepts and skills. It involves transforming our historic parochial consciousness into a planetary consciousness based on an ethic of planetary stewardship. Transformative learning involves expanding our conscious awareness of our situatedness in the world in order to understand deeply who we are and who we might yet become, as individuals and as social beings. Transformative learning involves developing higher-order abilities such as critical awareness and critical self-reflection, ethical and political astuteness, empathy and compassion, and visionary and altruistic perspectives.
A major challenge for transformative education is to prepare 21st Century teachers and trainers with higher-order abilities so that they can develop transformative curricula, teaching approaches, and community development programs that foster sustainable development.
Goal of the Conference
The goal of the conference is to share perspectives on transformative education research and practices, and to build collaboration amongst teachers and trainers, curriculum and community developers, and teacher educators and researchers, especially among (but not restricted to) those of former non-Western nations.