What are we educating towards?

Sustainability Education and Engagement is one of Pathways to Sustainability's new communities. What are their ideas and plans? A good reason to have a conversation with two of the four community leaders, Sebastiaan Steenman and Erik van Sebille.

Studenten overleggen samen in een studieruimte

Tailored skills

The students we educate at the university are the leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs and teachers of the future. We believe that in their program they should develop knowledge and skills to address sustainability issues and make an impact. We feel that students really want that too. And the world, employers are asking for it. It requires a fundamental shift in "what are we educating towards? At the same time, it has to fit the program they've chosen, so we're not advocating a general course that every student has to follow, but rather sustainability topics within their own program.

That's exactly what we want to find out with various programs, students and stakeholders. What are tools and skills in sustainability that students should have upon graduation? That will be different for a biology student than for a philosophy student. Some skills are universal. Thinking about what your own worldview is, for example, and that you will always look at issues from that point of view.

We hope that programs will 'experiment' with the suggestions and results from our community. Where is there room to include sustainability? As far as we're concerned, that autonomy remains with the programs.

Besides helping to identify these skills, we would also like students to be able to choose extra modules in the area of sustainability. Similar to the REBO Skills Academy model: short modules in which students from different programs develop skills together

Evidence-based Engagement

The new community is not limited to education, but also wants to make strides in the area of engagement. Everything in a scientific process is robust, is substantiated, is empirically determined, until we start communicating with people outside of science. Then we are rely a lot more on intuition. Communication with different audiences should also be evidence informed. What works and what doesn't, who should deliver the message or who should listen. As a community, we don't want to set up or do engagement activities ourselves; we have very good colleagues within the university for that. But we want to research, using the scientific method, what constitutes good engagement about sustainability at what time.

Another form of engagement is How do you act as a scientist in society? To what extent is it effective to be activist? Does it damage trust in science if you include your opinion, your feelings? And do we think that is the appropriate thing to do, or should we as scientists not want to do that. The media often seeks the "neutral" knowledge from a scientist. Does that mean we should remain neutral? Again, there are many opinions on this, but there is a lack of scientific knowledge about what works and is effective.

What makes you personally happy?

Sebastiaan: "I have always been concerned with the link between education and impact. Educating students who can have meaningful impact on public issues in the future, that is surely the best we can achieve."

Erik has a very nice concrete proposal to conclude: "If all students start writing a paragraph about impact or sustainability in their thesis: How does your research relate to the Sustainable Development Goals? Or to the region where you live? Surely that would be a great addition to all that knowledge from all those thousands of students!"

If you are interested or would like to learn more about Sustainability Education and Engagement, you are cordially invited to contact Sebastiaan Steenman, Erik van Sebille, Margien Bootsma or Karin Rebel at see@uu.nl.