By Mònica Serlavós, NORRAG, Geneva.
« Should we prepare the students to be intelligent and revolutionary but unemployed or alienated producers-consumers? »
Legros and Delplanque (2009)
From the 2nd – 6th September 2014 more than 3,000 people from 74 different nationalities gathered in Leipzig (Germany) for the 4th International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity.
The Leipzig conference aimed at exploring ‘concrete steps towards a society beyond the imperative of growth’. All the panels were thematically organised around three themes: 1) facing the current crises: critique and resistance; 2) building alliances; and, 3) visions and strategies for the transformation. Among all the topics addressed – including housing, transport, food security, social services, environmental issues and others – a key one was education. Several panels and scientific sessions were organized on education, including: ‘Dimensions of learning for a degrowth society’, ‘Following Ivan Illich – education in a convivial society’ and ‘Creating ruptures and re-imagining society’.
Some of the main points shared by all the speakers and panellists on the subject refer to the importance of being aware of: a) the existing conceptualization of society and education systems, b) how we construct the world from a social-cultural constructivist approach, c) the key role of community engagement at the local level, and, d) the severe disconnection of humans with regard to our social and natural environment.
Behind all these elements lies an agreement on the important role of education as a means to transform society. Curiously, in spite of this and the fact that education is considered by some to be a tool to model people’s behaviour, values, skills and knowledge, there is a gap in the degrowth literature concerning education issues. Broadly speaking, in the so-called western developed countries we are facing a situation in which values transmitted through education imply a specific conceptualization of the world and our place in it. It is what Legros and Delplanque (2009) call ‘teaching as usual’ referring to an educational model that contributes to perpetuate a hegemonic thinking through the mythicization of values like growth, competition, individualism, success and progress, more often than not approached from a purely quantitative perspective.
But how could a gradual transition take place when the current system offers limited space to question the roots of its weaknesses? In that sense, hybridization between the individual and collective level could be one plausible answer.
The balance between providing citizens with the tools and the critical spirit to try to find new ways of doing things, and socializing them to be part of the existing society, is a critical element in this process. In line with this, there might be realistic propositions adapted to each context with the aim of raising interest among adults about the kind of society and the sort of education we want. These elements could lead us towards the construction of a slow, decentralized, locally based, democratic and participative transition process in which each of us would become an ‘educator’ in our own environment.
As in any other process of thinking and reflection, we ended up with more questions than those that led us to write about those issues in the first place. Who will be the change agents and what will be their strategies in all this process? To what extent is the training of teachers a key part of this transitional process and how it should be approached? What is the role of public policies and civil society in all this? And last, but not least, what would be the effect of such an educational change in relation to the degrowth approach to work?
This blog is based on the article entitled ‘Reconsidering the transitional role of education’ presented in the 4th International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in the panel on ‘Creating ruptures and re-imagining society’ by Mònica Serlavós.
Mònica Serlavós is a Technical Officer at NORRAG in Geneva. She holds a MA in Development Studies from the Graduate Institute of Geneva during which she particularly analysed social and solidarity economy as a transitional path towards a degrowth society. Email: Monica.firstname.lastname@example.org
Legros, B. and Delplanque, J. (2009) L’enseignement face à l’urgence écologique, Editions Aden
 Translation by the author.
 As defined by the organization committee of the Conference, degrowth refers to the ‘downscaling of production and consumption in the industrialized states that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet’.