Continuity, Respect, Ownership and Dialogue: Road to Culturally Sustainable Education
By Tuija Turunen, Lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Teacher Education for Social Justice and Diversity in Education, Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Lapland
The past year has been busy in many ways for the UArctic Thematic Network on Teacher Education for Social Justice and Diversity in Education.
Discussion on the special features of teacher education in the Arctic has continued, and one of the key themes has been culturally sustainable education. In education one size does not fit all; quite the contrary, to cater for local communities, education needs to be culturally relevant.
In late November 2017 the Thematic Network was rewarded with a UNESCO UNITWIN network status. The UNITWIN University Twinning and Networking Programme builds university networks and encourages inter-university cooperation. This is a high-profile acknowledgement and concentrates especially on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development goal of “Quality Education. Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.” In the future, the network will bring together teacher educators from the North and the South to learn from each other.
In various sources the features of sustainability are defined as maintaining, supporting, developing, being diverse, prospering, and expressing the greatest potential. From the point of view of education, these can be regarded as aims of high-quality educational practices which promote growth and learning from early childhood to higher education. High-quality education supports gaining full potential and having a balanced life. In the Arctic context, the diversity of cultures and circumstances also brings the demand of culturally sustainable education to the front.
Culturally sustainable education seeks continuity between contexts, home and school, values, generations, and human and nature. Continuity in education means that education is locally relevant and draws from the local assets. It encourages children and young people to be proud of their heritage and take action to both protect and develop it.
Educational practices should respect and celebrate the local and traditional knowledge. Children, young people and their families need to feel that they and their ways of living are respected and regarded as a valuable part of education. They do not have to fit in to the educational settings; rather, what they bring with them is important and precious.
To believe in the importance of education, people need to feel ownership of it. If education is a ready-made product delivered to local communities, it can feel superficial with no real value. Ownership means that the people of the Arctic have their say in educational practices, and see that education respects the local ways of living and is culturally relevant. Local people are the experts of living in the Arctic, and this expertise needs to be part of the curricula and educational practices.
To make this all happen we need dialogue. In dialogue we talk and we listen, and we really hear other ways of viewing the world and understanding it. Dialogue is a mutual learning process to which we bring our often tacit knowledge and understanding of how things are. It gives us an opportunity not only to learn from others but also to learn about ourselves.
With these in mind, the UArctic Thematic Network on Teacher Education will continue its work for and with the Arctic people and communities, and with the UNESCO status also in the global South.