Leverage Point 8: Education and Knowledge Generation and Sharing
Part of the Levers and Leverage Points blog series.
Education and knowledge generation and sharing has typically been thought of as a means to impart information or cognitive skills. This narrow focus undermines the overall importance as well as the vast role that education and knowledge production can play in sustainable development.
In order to move towards a sustainable trajectory, we need to recognize education and knowledge generation and sharing in a much more comprehensive way. Knowledge systems have psychosocial and emotional aspects that have the ability to foster relational values and enable behaviour changes and technology transfer that are central to sustainable pathways. It is also necessary to reform these very knowledge systems towards sustainability.
Education encourages social learning and enhances our social and empathic abilities. However, the current dominant systems of knowledge do not allow for effective social responses to environmental change. These Western knowledge systems are deeply integrated within society and often suppress the rights and interests of marginalized groups, such as Indigenous peoples and local communities. Further, transdisciplinary science is poorly institutionalized in comparison to the traditional siloed approach. Through fundamental and deliberate changes in education and knowledge generation and sharing, we can drive transformations across systems towards a more sustainable future.
Valuing other ways of knowing, such as Indigenous and local knowledge, can play a key role in achieving sustainability, as well as maintaining the cultural integrity and collective identity of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous knowledge is based on thousands of years of experience with nature and wildlife, and can provide deeper understandings about ecological processes and conservation. Two-eyed seeing is a concept that allows for equal recognition of knowledge systems, often used to integrate Western science and Indigenous knowledge. In this approach, each eye represents a separate knowledge system, but together, they can provide deeper insight into aspects of our lives, especially human-nature relationships. This two-eyed approach is embedded in the IPBES Conceptual Framework, with its ‘generalizing’ and ‘context-specific’ lenses.
Combined, the above roles of education and knowledge generation and sharing are a crucial basis to the existence of well-functioning societies that can contribute to a sustainable future.
Broadening views of education may be challenging to adopt in certain nations, such as developing nations, where many individuals do not have access to basic or quality education. Education is a necessity for many areas of sustainable development, e.g., reproductive health, mortality, poverty, social equity, social cohesion, and environmental sustainability. The high prevalence of inequality in educational settings not only halts pathways to sustainability, but leaves many communities and people socially excluded due to a lack of academic resources. These inequalities and their resulting societal disadvantages can be seen across gender, race and class. To eliminate the gap in access to quality education, it is necessary to remove the barriers that limit access by women and girls to not only improve human well-being but to build a more sustainable future (see Leverage Point 4, Inequalities).
In addition to broadening our view, we need to radically change the dominant knowledge system to better cater to the complex nature of sustainability issues and to realize a nature-positive world. The current dominant Western approach takes a largely reductionist view of systems, which arguably contributes to the global ecological crisis. Acknowledging and integrating diverse ways of knowing is a path forward to building a more holistic understanding of global systems. One example would be to implement a two-eyed seeing framework into decision-making and knowledge systems where we can learn from diverse ways of knowing (eg. integrating Western and Indigenous ways of knowing). Even better might be a many-eyed approach that acknowledges the diversity of local views and improves our collective knowledge of the complex interrelationships between humans and nature. For example, we can include other ways of knowing in school and university curricula, ensuring that Indigenous and local knowledge are not dismissed as being unscientific but rather recognized for their valuable contributions to modern science. Inclusive knowledge generation and sharing also involves participatory planning that identifies place-based needs and includes local voices in decision-making (see Leverage Point 5, Justice and Inclusion in Conservation). Through collaboration and participatory research, knowledge sharing can enable significant changes in how we manage resources by strengthening relational values, such as connectedness, mindfulness, and kinship, which provide numerous benefits for humans and the environment (see Leverage Point 3, Latent Values of Responsibility).
Cornell, S., Berkhout, F., Tuinstra, W., Tàbara, J. D., Jäger, J., Chabay, I., de Wit, B., Langlais, R., Mills, D., Moll, P., Otto, I. M., Petersen, A., Pohl, C., & van Kerkhoff, L. (2013). “Opening up knowledge systems for better responses to Global Environmental Change”. Environmental Science & Policy, 28, 60–70.
Jessen, T. D., N. C. Ban, N. X. Claxton and C. T. Darimont (2022). "Contributions of Indigenous Knowledge to ecological and evolutionary understanding." Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 20(2): 93-101.