On 5 and 6 December 2011 ELIA-Ecological Living In Action facilitated its last two days of training in Systems Thinking as part of its Ecological Literacy Program for 18 Catholic Schools in Mauritius. Throughout the two days it became clear that we all understand Systems Thinking concepts and that we find them quite appealing. Through discussions on day one, teachers expressed their willingness and support for teaching Systems Thinking Principles, applying it in their field of expertise and learning together with their students how to contribute to a more ecologically sustainable world. The common challenge, however seemed to be the application of Systems Thinking into practice: how do we apply these key ecological principles to the curriculum subjects and learning activities? How can we facilitate education from a Systems Perspective, focusing on interrelatedness of subjects and interconnections?
There was a shared understandings that we need to look beyond conventional education for answers. Conventional education systems are based on and informed by a Mechanistic World View: a World View that brings forth the systems that decouple, fragmentise and divide our interconnectedness. In his presentation, Dr. Smitsman from Nijmegen University in the Netherlands, spoke about his own studies and that of his colleagues working in the field of Ecological Psychology, and demonstrated how this Mechanist World View has also distorted our ideas and understandings about learning and development.
Dr. Smitsman clarified how we as infants are natural system ‘sensors’ and system ‘actors’. Infants naturally explore their networks of relationships and learn through interconnectedness. He further shared how the teachers can apply four key principles of learning and development in their work with students. These basic principles form the foundation for the further development of key relational skills that each contribute to ecological literacy.
On day two in a workshop for relational practices, teachers were able to explore and practice facilitation of learning in an experiential way and working with resistance from a system’s perspective. It became clear to many that practice of Ecological Literacy is very different from understanding it conceptually. Through role play, teachers helped us understand their daily struggles with students, parents and school management. Teachers also got to experience unexpected resistance to changing their style of teaching.
After the workshop, we opened up the floor to feedback and sharing of observations. Three main themes emerged: the importance of acknowledging the power dynamics within the school system, the underlying belief-patterns and vested interests for these power dynamics, and our reaction-patterns to resistance to change.
In 2012 ELIA will continue with Phase II of this Ecological Literacy Program with the Bureau of Catholic Education (BEC), supported by this dedicated network of teachers and their rectors, the driven Bishop of Mauritius and the very enthusiastic Director Gilberte Chung!