An educator’s encounter with SUSTAINABILITY

Source: Polyfor Canada
Source: Polyflor Canada

Afees Agboola

I have always been fascinated by the idea of sustainability.

I have often wondered how best to become sustainable (if there is any ‘best’ way) and what an educator’s role could be in promoting a sustainable world.

I like to adopt the word educator for a teacher here who is socially and professionally expected to be a learning facilitator within the confines of the teaching-learning processes, irrespective of the site of exchanging ideas or influencing critical thinking towards solving socially related issues.

Perhaps this is why educators are often referred to as ‘nation builders’ and problem solvers, I imagine.

So, if, as an educator, you engage actively in sustainability drives or climate change initiatives, you shouldn’t be shocked when you get asked questions like ‘how do they connect?’.

When I began participating as a sustainability project ambassador at McGill, I was asked this question a couple of times: ‘how do they connect?’. I guess these questioners are not naïve about the connection; they just really want to understand how studying education connects to being a sustainability champion.

This is why I thought penning this self-reflection might invite anyone to dabble in the sustainability world.

Although this is my story of being an educator and a sustainability enthusiast, I strongly believe that a personal reflection of your position in the global landscape while paying specific attention to your professional journey will reveal not just its connection with building a sustainable world; you will also clearly figure out how best to become emboldened contributing your quota to a more sustainable world, especially in your professional field.

I obviously don’t have the best answers to offer on how they connect or how to get involved, but I will recount my personal experience and leave you to be the judge of it.

In my daily life, I have always lived within the concept of minimizing waste, living a healthy and balanced life within the premise of body and personal spaces, and mental clarity. Many factors had informed this position and shaped my perspective over the years, even when I lacked the understanding of sustainability as a social, economic, and environmental construct.

Let me take you through my experience.

I grew up in a homogeneous family with a slightly diverse neighbourhood in Nigeria in terms of sexual spectrum and religious differences. I attended schools in similar settings; the only time I had much bigger social contacts with a diverse network of people was during my professional career, which spanned many years until 2021. Nonetheless, if rated on a continuum, my idea of social sustainability would reveal two levels of understanding: one much higher and clearer.

Social sustainability has been defined as the interconnectedness of systems, processes, activities, and organizations that govern our social life and interaction. While this is important, I like to focus on how the idea of inclusivity has aided positively or negatively damaged our social existence.

In this case, my adventure outside my immediate environment broadened my perspective on social inclusion, and I became more open to people of different orientations and belief systems. I bet this is the story of many people out there. You’re inclusive, I assume.

Stepping out of my social bubble has impressed the idea of social sustainability on a much broader level, from understanding gender constructs to sexuality as a right of diversity to accepting multiplicity of religious practices or spirituality as a sign of inclusion to understanding social sustainability as a daily practice of respect for cultural diversity rather than the “food and festival” practice that we celebrate in our schools and local communities.

Quoting Diane Gérin-Lajoie, “a “food and festival” approach where students celebrate ethnic diversity through food, music, costumes from their country of origins” is insufficient to foster social understanding, recognition of cultural diversity and celebration of differences.

In short, becoming more socially inclusive is becoming socially sustainable and responsible.

Humans are similarly different but connected. For starters, we speak millions of languages worldwide, hold on to and cherish different belief systems, celebrate different social and cultural beliefs, and attain spirituality through several modes that work best for us. Still, in all of these, we have gradually become even more connected in the last couple of decades. The power of the internet, the spread of social media, and the advent of advanced travel systems have made our connection even more possible than imagined. After all, we are but one human race. We continue to imagine a sustainable world by celebrating the differences in our connectivity.

So, if you ask me how studying education or being an educator connects to sustainability, you have the answer. I am not just promoting sustainability as a lifestyle or further bringing its awareness to your attention (an important task, I must say), I have also performed my social responsibility as an educator, taking you through my story briefly, and I challenge you to look inward and make your connection.

Actionable Takeaways

  • Start with the question, ‘am I socially sustainable in my daily practices?’
  • Set at least 3 specific actions you will take to promote social sustainability and, by and large, sustainability.
  • Evaluate your steps and your actions.

I hope you enjoyed reading this.

See you again.

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