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What Causes Young People To Take Positive Action To Promote Sustainable Development?

July 2, 2009

A major change in education is the shift towards sustainable development. The United Nations has declared 2005-2014 as the decade for integrating sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning. Ellen Almers, at the School of Education and Communication, Jönköping, Sweden , based her thesis on her investigation into what prompts young people to take positive action to promote sustainable development.

Investigating why a small group of Swedes in their mid-twenties devoted much of their time and energy into making the world a better place for themselves and for others, including future generations, Ellen Almers identified a series of motivating factors – social as well as emotional.

She also discovered that their knowledge of action strategies generally stemmed from experience acquired outside the classroom, in informal and semi-formal settings. Ellen Almers believes schools have a potentially significant role to play in encouraging more young people to take action for sustainable development.

“Education could be a useful facilitator, enabling more young people to dare and want to take the first step towards engagement in groups and organisations,” says Ellen Almers.

Abstract

Action Skills for Sustainable Development: Three Narratives about the Pathway There. The aim of the study on hand is to promote knowledge relevant to the process of cultivating action skills for sustainable development. The overall research questions explored are: From where do young people get their deep sense of moral commitment to act? When and how did it begin? What are the driving forces spurring them on? How are they affected by the fact that they have developed aspects of action skills for sustainable development?

For the purpose of this study, action skills for sustainable development are defined as the wil lingness and capability to act to bring about changes in individual lifestyles, as well as structu ral changes in society, in a way that includes responsibility for present and future generations, globally.

Life-world phenomenology provides the theoretical foundation for the study. Through purposive sampling, individuals have been found who, through different action strategies, engage in sustai nability issues such as, for example, climate change, bio-diversity and social justice. From a larger sampling, three young adults were selected for several life story interviews. Data has been analyzed and interpreted using narrative methodology.

The results are presented as three narratives, compiled in detailed descriptions, through which the winding pathways towards aspects of action skills appear, as experienced by the subjects. This is followed by an integrative analysis presenting six themes that have emerged from the study as being relevant to the process of developing action skills for sustainable development: emotional reactions; perceived skills; contrasts and normative foundation; action permeation; trust and faith extended by adults and in adults; and social belonging in contrast to social isolation. Primary motives and driving forces for sustainability actions that emerge in the narratives are: emotional reactions initiating a desire for change and a desire to act; a sense of longing or meaningfulness; a desire to feel comfortable with what one can contribute; and the longing for a sense of belonging. The findings are discussed in relation to earlier research and a model of a possible way to develop aspects of action skills for sustainable development is introduced.

This dissertation is part of a project supported by Formas, The Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning.

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