A lot of the work I am doing at LTH is related in one way or other to teaching (how to teach) sustainability, so here are my notes on an article I recently read and found interesting:
“Bringing an entrepreneurial focus to sustainability education: A teaching framework based on content analysis” (Hermann & Bossle, 2019)
The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”, and there seems to be a consensus that education should prepare students to tackle these important, big, fast-changing challenges by teaching the necessary skills and personal and inter-personal competences to deal with changes and strategically consider all relevant components in a complex system. But how to do it, especially when sustainability is a new-ish topic that is competing with other subjects for time and resources? If sustainability is forced into existing curricula by external decisions, or just slapped on as add-on, it doesn’t do it justice. And sometimes the content of sustainability education is conflicting with other subjects, for example when sustainability is only considered as “alertness to green opportunities”, this is often at odds with entrepreneurial interests. Hermann & Bossle (2020) review the existing literature on both entrepreneurial and sustainability education and propose a framework on how the two could be taught in an integrated way.
First, let’s acknowledge domains where this is maybe not a good idea: Despite some commonalities, target audiences of entrepreneurial and sustainability education don’t necessarily overlap (in contrast to engineering students and teachers in training at universities where they do; entrepreneurship education also often targeting entrepreneurs in industry, whereas sustainability education also focusses on staff development in NGOs) and also some methods are used only in one and not the other (entrepreneurship education for example having a focus on intercultural learning and action learning as well as on vocational training and role models, whereas sustainability education is also about active pedagogy and outdoor education, often combined with service learning). This is mirrored in the external collaborations: entrepreneurship education often involves incubators and spin-offs, sustainability education more grassroot initiatives.
But since sustainable development needs to dynamically adapt to changes of all kinds (changing climate, changing political landscapes, changing policies, changing markets, changing needs, you name it), many of the competencies needed are actually similar to entrepreneurial competencies: both require skills in collaboration and complex, interdisciplinary problem solving, active, problem-based learning in real-world contexts with authentic/real stakeholders, high student-ownership of their learning. And where they focus on the same target audience (engineering students and teachers in training at universities), they use many similar, active learning and real-world oriented, methods. In terms of cooperation with external partners, both use stakeholders from the community and engage in capacity building. Then there are also themes that are taught in both, which Hermann & Bossle (2020) group into innovation-design, entrepreneurship ecosystem support, and corporate/organizational aspects.
Teaching of sustainability and entrepreneurship thus complement each other well, and can make use of all the overlap to generate synergies. Hermann & Bossle (2020) propose a framework to do just that: The first step, based on the overlaps identified above, is defining the educational focus, including the domain of education, institution, and target audience (which, in our case, is already a given). In step 2, the teaching and learning approaches are being defined, and in step 3 combined with the three themes, before in step 4 the external collaborations are being put in place; all of this considering the already existing overlaps and possibly branching out into areas that are currently only occupied by one or the other. Hermann & Bossle (2020) also give recommendations regarding strengthening of collaborations, diversifying target audiences, training more people, integration of learning objectives, and collaboration with communities. This all sounds both useful and at the same time doable.
One weak point comes out of the literature review, and that the authors acknowledge, is a missing focus on assessment. But where would be the fun if all work had been done already?
To me, the most important message of the article is that there is definitely potential to integrate sustainability education in existing curricula and even courses, and looking for where the target audience is found, the same competences are needed, and similar methods might be used already.
Hermann, R. R., & Bossle, M. B. (2020). Bringing an entrepreneurial focus to sustainability education: A teaching framework based on content analysis. Journal of Cleaner Production, 246, 119038.