Niina Mykrä: Basic education building sustainable future – challenges and possibilities
The study presents a new angle to the prevailing environmental and sustainability education research, that emphasizes holism and systems thinking, by examining school as a promoter of ecological sustainability from the cultural-historical activity theory framework.
The data includes documents, interviews, observation data, and small queries. The prior methods of analyzing the data were qualitative (document analysis, theme analysis, dilemma analysis). In the document analysis and analysis of the queries also use quantitative content analysis was applied.
When examining how the environmental and educational policies steer schools to ecological sustainability, the research indicated that education is one of the tools for environmental policy to steer the society towards a sustainable future. For educational policies, in turn, social sustainability is a more focal object of activity than that of ecological sustainability. This means that the steering documents that try to foster ecological sustainability at school become formal rules rather than tools.
Although steering documents on all levels include fostering ecological sustainability at schools, the message of the importance of ecological sustainability fades and remains abstract when handed down from global to the local level. Investigation of how the Finnish national curriculum steers to ecological sustainability showed that sustainability issues have a significant role in the curriculum, but the ecological sustainability is poorly expressed in many subjects, and the curriculum is neither consistent nor coherent in this respect.
The everyday life at basic school includes many dilemmas concerning the fostering of ecological sustainability. Focusing on one element of activity, for example on tools, is not enough, but all the elements and interrelationship between them are important. The dilemmas attached to different elements are not only barriers, but also possibilities that create the need for change.
The possibilities of expansion gave shape to the Sphere of Fostering Ecological Sustainability. It reaches from the small everyday choices to the debate on the big picture of ecological sustainability, from the teachers´ independent autonomy to the shared professionalism, and from many obligations of school´s activity to prioritizing.
Proceeding on all dimensions of the sphere is the precondition of expansive development. The fostering of ecological sustainability at school develops cyclically, turning occasionally back to the previous phases of the cycle. Mini cycles concentrating on different themes build the whole development as thinner and thicker plies. Identifying the environmental relationship of the school activity is the germ cell in the school´s activity towards ecologically sustainable future.
Six arguments summarize the results: (1) Fostering ecological sustainability at school is a multi-level phenomenon. (2) The interrelationship within and between the elements of activity, and between activity systems, appear as a rhizome that in- fluences the fostering of the ecological sustainability. (3) The germ cell of the activity for the fostering of ecological sustainability is identifying the relationship between the school´s activity and the environment. (4) The contradictions of the activity system manifest in disturbances, dilemmas, and conflicts in the everyday life of schools, and produce the need for change. (5) The activity to foster ecological sustainability changes and can expand as an expansive cycle of learning. (6) The Sphere of Foster- ing the Ecological Sustainability defines the possibilities of change in each situation and time.
The research brings out both the systemic connections and practical conditions of fostering the ecological sustainability to enhance a cultural transformation. This means that the discussion touches both theoretical and practical research. The research offers the environmental education studies a range of perspectives to examine the fostering of ecological sustainability at school. It can give a stimulus to new studies on sustainability education.
The doctoral dissertation of M.A. (Arts and Design) Niina Mykrä in the field of education titled Peruskoulu ekologista kestävyyttä edistämässä - Toiminnanteoreettinen tutkimus koulun monitasoisesta muutoshaasteesta will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Education and Culture of Tampere University at 12 o'clock on Friday 9 April. Docent Lili-Ann Wolff from the University of Helsinki will be the opponent while Professor Hanna Toiviainen will act as the custos.
The event can be followed via remote connection
The dissertation is available online at
Photo: Suvi Roiko