Digging Deeper into the Decolonisation of Higher Education Systems

In the last couple of weeks, I have had the pleasure to join a group of higher education lecturers that will be discussing didactics in education for sustainability. In Sweden, hosted by Karlstad University, there are several universities that have collaborated to create an online course for lecturers to take part in this opportunity. We will be sharing our experiences, engaging in reflective activities and learning from literature about sustainability in education.

My group and I have been reading literature about the decolonisation of higher education systems. One paper (Andreotti et al., 2015) has described the modern system as a violent reality and points out that moments of crisis and unpredictability “can leave little time and few spaces for exploring the complexities, tensions and paradoxes of decolonizing work without an immediate need for resolution, coherence and prescriptive action (Andreotti et al., 2015)”. So how do we move from prescriptive action to transformative action, when the systems are set in stone ­-unable to transform?

In education, it is suggested that pedagogical activities, such as social cartography, can be used to help students create a new dialogue:

“Social cartographies offer a visual synthesis of different positions in tension, highlighting choices that are often made invisible in everyday arguments. In this sense, social cartographies are not meant to be neutral representations of reality, but situated snapshots of crossroads that can highlight different choices, and open new affective, discursive, performative and existential possibilities”.

(Andreotti et al., 2015)

Andreotti et al. (2015) describe how we can dare to move forward by applying reflective work where “the effects of violence and pain are attended to; at the same time that there is also an acute attention to the roots and mechanisms of the disease so that its death leaves a legacy of prudence that grounds the emergence of something radically new and potentially wiser”. It seems very relevant that we at least attempt to attend to the anger, frustration and anxiety that many report students are experiencing today, in terms of a lack of sustainability action. Do we dare to jump in, eyes wide open, witness and be in the moment, and go beyond?

Together with the project collaborators at advancingesd.com, we have been creating a space for dialogue that includes time to reflect on how to allow for emerging action. We have been invited to take part in a workshop in Canada this Autumn, hosted by Kent Williams at Rowe Business School at Dalhousie University, where international lecturers will dialogue about learning for sustainability activities and addressing issues such as these “violent systems”. What can we do together to move forward to “potentially wiser” activities with education for sustainability?

We would like to thank Anna Jakobson at University West, Sweden, for her continued support and work with ESD. By collaborating and sharing we have been able to reach more teachers of sustainability that are looking for support. Check out the news link (only in Swedish) uploaded by Anna, here.


Andreotti, V. de O., Stein, S., Ahenakew, C., & Hunt, D. (2015). Mapping interpretations of decolonization in the context of higher education. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 4(1), 21–40.

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