Can education address sustainability issues? Here’s how

By Prof Dr M Muruganant (Ananth)

We humans have come a long way in the journey of creating comfort and convenience through several orders of industrial revolution. The current times are the ones of technological breakthrough driving industry 4.0. However, as educationalists we keep hearing about the non-availability of human capital suitable for industries of current or future. The world further is fighting the cause of sustainability issues.  Is Education going to bridge the gap of employment and empowerment? If so, what is the AIM of education? Can Education address Sustainability issues? How? When? What? are some questions that have been bothering me for a while.

What exactly should be the AIM of education?

TRANSFORMATION indeed. Transformation of those and all individuals who are touched by education. Transformation towards? But then what about the issues of sustainability and employment which are in the limelight. How are such issues going to be solved? Let us look at education with some rationale.  Trans-formation is to facilitate moving out of conditioning (formation) in which one has boxed (condition) oneself with. A formation is a condition. Transcending the formation is Trans-formation.  Education should facilitate the individual to transcend all conditionings or biases one is imprisoned with. The Indian system of education always defined Vidya as the one which delivers oneself into freedom. साविद्यायाविमुक्तये – That which liberates (frees) is the right education. Liberation from conditions and being able to see the true picture is the way towards holistic learning. But then there is no free lunch.

Transforming individuals to what?

At this point in time, more individuals are a liability to self and others including organizations.  Several thousand if not lakhs of graduates remain unemployed (or) are not fit enough to contribute. Transformation is about adding value to oneself by deconditioning. Transformation hence should lead the individuals from being liabilities to assets.  Assets for? Self, society, and the world at-large.

Why is this transformation important? Without such a transformation self-sustainability becomes a question. Thereby, threatening the sustainability of society and the world. An individual with no strings attached can mold oneself into any. Is it not what graduates are expected to stand for? Knowing all, but not conditioned by any, yet having the wisdom to use the knowledge as appropriate.

What role can education play to effect this transformation?

Education machinery facilitates making individuals realize that sustainability of self is interdependent with sustainability of the society and world.  The facilitation happens through various engagements – in-class and out-of-class, interactions, counselling, mentoring, interning etc. The education fraternity should first “Be” and “Exhibit” this change to elicit the change in the learning community. Faculty and administration hold a key role in this transformation. Every member of the education fraternity needs to allow for this transformation in themselves.

And how shall education make it possible?

Allowing for solving societal problems and deriving contentment therefrom blossoming emotional intelligence. Rewards are but tertiary benefits. Emotional intelligence (EI) which otherwise points only to self is now directed towards the welfare of society.  A survival instinct always points towards self-protection and self-preservation wherein all tools one is endowed are being directed towards that effect. As humans who are social beings, without society being acknowledged and accepted as extension of one-self, it is but a futile and destructive effort when an individual tries to protect one-self. Engagement with society and the needs therein, allows one to relate to-, empathize with-, and attempt at-solving societal problems. This is a major step in focusing on solutions (than the problems) with all the capacity, capability and competence (3C) one has earned. The prima facie need for channeling the 3Cs is EI.  Akin to the foundation of an infrastructure not visible (tangible), EI is not perceived (intangible) unless inferred through the actions (behavior) of such individuals. However, EI can be enhanced with tangible interaction and remains at root of tangible actions / outcomes.

A swap of priority from self-to-society so as to sustain oneself is all that needs to be effected, in Education. Handling problems of society requires empathy (sub-value of compassion), skill (sub of competence), wisdom (sub of spiritual quotient). Without wisdom the individual loses direction.

For a transformed individual:

Why to do? Empathy answers, When to do? Wisdom directs; How to do? Skill responds.

Thus is a holistic education.

What should education then focus on?

Focus of education should switch from employment to empowerment. Today’s employment needs are tomorrow’s past. Unless the individual develops the capability to be a life-long learner, the individual can never cater to the needs of changing demands. A discipline specific study with multi-disciplinary engagement creating trans-disciplinary impact allows the learner to keep the larger picture in sight while trying to solve specific problems. The exposure, involvement, indulgence of learners hence needs to be at the intersection of disciplines, which can facilitate remaining un-boxed through the journey of learning. A learner then learns to look beyond the silos of discipline for possible solutions. Thus, the learner/individual innovates synthesizing novel solutions from various disciplines. Solutions that are holistic, optimized, effective, efficient, and nature friendly are the need of current and all times. Inclusivity is about considering all components of sustainability viz., society, nature and self while emerging out a solution.

Empowered individual is a holistic personality. Empowered with the wisdom, skill, and sense of relevance with belongingness to this planet. Education facilitates – building confidence-in-self enabling contribution-in-society with compassion-at-the-heart. Empathy becomes a natural trait for, compassion remains at the core of service to society and fellow humans; Enhancement then is a tangible outcome, for touch of sensitivity is visible in action, efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity. Design thinking needn’t be taught as a ritual but shall remain imbibed through the learning exercise and process. Excellence then gets defined in every contribution. Excellence in being as the input (well-being of individuals), Excellence in ability to comprehend the holistic picture of every situation as the throughput, Excellence in solutions then is the output.

Result of such an education system?

Transformed holistic individuals building sustainable ecosystems. A sustainable ecosystem is an intertwined fabric of individuals who make themselves available to solve larger global problems, by addressing the immediate needs of the society.  While globally relevant, the holistic professional is locally engaged.  Societies with a larger proportion of such individuals become sustainable.  Thus the Sustainable ecosystem can be built through knowledge (read as holistic education) ecosystem. Is that not so?

Is Education then not the BEST tool to address sustainability problems?

Education initiates and propels global citizens who turn around the issue of sustainability and make possible for a sustainable planet, which remains as a default norm, as individuals now transform. Thus, the education system is where sustainability-by-design could be achieved.

Education should facilitate to Translate information-to-implementation; Transcend the silos of disciplines; Transform-self-to-Transform-nation (and planet). Thus, the planet shall remain transformed with Sustainability gaps addressed.

From an Academic at heart (life-long learner), Innovator in Action (Problem solver) and Curiosity in Spirit (Researcher).

(The author is a DAAD & Commonwealth fellow and a PhD from University of Cambridge, UK. He is taking care of the higher education & research initiative of Adani Institute for Education & Research. He is a materials scientist and is known widely as the alloy-design-expert having several innovations, scientific publications & novel materials-algorithms to his credit. He has a vast global experience in teaching, research, corporate and administration and steers one of the largest global Materials Congress (FiMPART) as its Series Chairman. He advocates integral education for holistic development of future citizens and strongly opines as the highway towards sustainability, amongst others. Email: [email protected] Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.)