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Ingredients of Transition: Education for Transition

Members of Transition Edinburgh University do something interesting in some woods somewhere to celebrate 10:10:10...Members of Transition Edinburgh University do something interesting in some woods somewhere to celebrate 10:10:10...Here is the very final additional ingredient for ‘The Transition Companion’. It is still in draft form, so I’d really appreciate your thoughts, comments, or interesting case studies of things your initiative is up to… Thanks. My thanks to Isabel Carlisle for her input with this ingredient…

How can education, at all levels, best contribute to the Transition process, building resilient individuals, resilient communities and resilient institutions?

“Sustainability is about the terms and conditions of human survival, and yet we still educate at all levels as if no such crisis existed”.

David Orr.

The future that young people and those in further education are currently being educated for is not the future that is, in reality, approaching. The failure of government, and of much of the education system , to put resilience and sustainability central to their planning and teaching means that a whole generation is being prepared for business as usual while deep down most young people, and their teachers, know that the reality will be very different. This is a woeful neglect of duty.

Education, at all levels, will have to reappraise what it does and how it does it in the same way as all other aspects of society: a process that will be both deeply challenging and very exciting. Transition can help by provoking public debate, shifting government thinking, taking Transition Training into teacher training, supporting schools and universities to make their own transitions, developing new patterns of learning, and creating a presence that educators can interact with.

Transition Schools

Schools are so constrained today in terms of the need to continually improve exam results that there can often be a sense that there is no space for anything else in the school timetable. There is good evidence however that for young people to spend some time each week in nature, doing physical work, growing plants, working together outdoors, improves their overall academic performance[i] and leads to better results and performance.

A GCSE in Transition (or perhaps in ‘Practical Sustainability’) could then in turn lead to an A Level where students can choose a mixture of practical skills as well as the necessary expertise to turn them into viable businesses. Leonardo da Vinci’s concept of schools and universities as ‘workshops’ feels particularly appropriate here. Adopting a Transition approach could also pave the way for schools and colleges to become Transition learning centres, opening up their facilities to the community once the teaching day is over, as well as being home to working market gardens and orchards which could lead to students setting up their own enterprises to retail or value-add the produce. One exciting new initiative which could also play a role is MyBnk, which works with young people teaching them about saving money through setting up their own bank in the school which then makes interest-free loans to those that want to set up small businesses.

A look at UK schools in 2011 (for non-UK readers I apologise for being so UK-specific in this ingredient) shows many pioneering developments underway. There are schools doing brilliant things in terms of food growing (having their own allotment or even, in some cases, market gardens or farms), healthy eating (using local, fresh and organic food in their kitchens and teaching students how to cook healthy meals), energy efficiency (there are some great low-carbon school buildings now, and some schools have impressive renewable energy installations) and social enterprise (teaching kids how to set up their own businesses in school). There is also a great deal happening in terms of supporting young people to be more resilient and versatile. However there isn’t, as yet, a ‘Transition school’ which pulls all of that together in one seamless whole. This would be distinctly different from a ‘green’ or ‘eco’ school. A Transition school would:

  • Focus on the concept of resilience: how might it best enable individual students, the school itself, and the wider community, to be as resilient as possible in uncertain times? How might it best cultivate happiness among both staff and students?
  • Be a school in Transition: one which strives to minimise the carbon footprint of the school and to build its resilience across all aspects of its activities as an organisation
  • Be a school of Transition: one that weaves Transition throughout what is taught at the school, tweaking the existing curriculum as much as possible, making sure the teachers have the relevant skills to pass onto the children, where living sustainably becomes an almost taken-for-granted part of students’ everyday experience
  • Help birth the local economy of the future (see 4.4): it could offer training in, for example, brewing, renewable energy installation, market gardening and cheesemaking, the repair of mechanical and electrical equipment, as well as the skills required for all aspects of running a successful business. It would provide space for businesses and enable its buildings to be used as a community resource
  • Deepen participation: involving the students and parents much more in this work, enabling them to realise their ideas and wishes for the school.

Make space for inner Transition: as the school, along with the community, enters times of uncertainty, staff will need the inner tools to support their students, and students will need to be able to support and nurture each other. Giving people the skills for cultivating personal resilience will be vital.

A Transition Curriculum?

Many great patterns for learning already exist in education and are open to being configured in a new way, around a central core of teaching for a sustainable future. These include Philosophy for Children (Socratic dialogue around issues selected by the group in a community of enquiry); Non-Violent Communication; Forest Schools; Despair and Empowerment Work; leadership training; Action Research; Systems thinking; and others. In addition to these, what might be some of the elements that could comprise a Transition curriculum? What might be the key subjects it would need to comprise? It might include some of the following:

  • Systems thinking and critical thinking
  • Good problem-solving skills, an ability to design solutions to almost anything
  • Developing a love for nature and for being outdoors
  • Conflict resolution and good group communication skills
  • An understanding of Energy Return on Investment (EROEI)
  • Carbon sequestration at all levels
  • Hands on practical skills across a range of subjects (food, energy, construction, cooking etc)
  • Local building materials, local food, and their role in the process of economic localisation
  • Leadership skills
  • …and many more besides….

Transition in Action: Transition Newent’s garden at Newent Community School

by Tish Rickard

One of Transition Newent’s great successes is the vegetable garden at our local Community School. It is a unique and harmonious coming together of people and project. The story began early in 2008 when science teachers Des Marshall and Jane Price decided to run a new GCSE science course that was more relevant to students’ everyday lives. The course known as ELBS (Environmental and Land Based Science) offered a practical, hands-on approach to growing food. They needed to find a suitable site at school and create a working garden ready for year 11 ELBS students by September.

Transition Newent (TN) Food Group saw this as an ideal opportunity for spreading the Transition message with a high profile project. The gardeners, smallholders and growers in the group could readily supply some materials, physical help and plenty of expertise. In May, TN Food Group visited the school and Jane and Des welcomed our suggestions and offers of help. This included a polytunnel, which fruit grower Euan Keenan offered to install, free of charge, through his work with a local company, Haygrove. By July the polytunnel was up providing a superb classroom and growing space for the course.

During August, Jane Price arranged working parties with students, teachers and TN Food Group. These were fun occasions with a healthy mix of young and old, expert and novice clearing the site around the polytunnel and creating raised beds ready for the course to begin on schedule. TN Food Group continues to contribute with working parties, community activities and talks. The school ran a grafting workshop in the polytunnel in 2010 and it was good to see the students’ hard work flourishing in the beds. The ELBS course continues to strengthen and grow each year.

Jane Price, teacher told me “a huge thanks to Transition Newent. It’s an amazing group. They’ve been so supportive”. Of all school subjects that year, ELBS received the highest approval rating from students. Student Jamie summed it up: “…understanding how plants grow. I love it. It’s excellent”.

Transition Universities

What might Transition look like at the university level? As with schools, there are many universities which run courses which look at different aspects of sustainability, but only one contains a course that is explicitly built around Transition. In 2011, Schumacher College, together with University of Plymouth, New Economics Foundation and Transition Network, developed an MSc called ‘Economics in Transition’ which includes an approved module called ‘Creating a Transition initiative’.

In addition, representatives of a number of universities have been meeting regularly, for example at the ‘Universities Leading the Transition’ conference in Winchester in February 2011. The idea of universities of Transition and universities in Transition is as relevant as it is with schools. Transition is a harder thing to do in a university with a transient population, but one could imagine a Transition university as:

  • Having courses with both practical and academic components
  • Offering students allotment spaces with training and support to allow them to grow some food to offset the costs of their education
  • Supporting students to reducing their carbon footprints and also to minimise indebtedness through good money management
  • Promoting the concepts of localisation and resilience both within the university and beyond
  • Raising awareness about these issues in the staff, the students and in everyone who comes into contact with the institution

Transition in both these contexts, as well as in others there isn’t space to go into here, is very much an emergent aspect of Transition. There are many ways Transition initiatives can work with their local schools and universities, and it will be fascinating to see, over the next few years, where this goes.

Where possible, work with local schools and universities to support them in their journeys towards embedding Transition in their activities and becoming a powerful force in the Transition of the wider community.

You might also enjoy:

Transition Training (Tool 3), Awareness Raising (1.9), The Great Reskilling (2.3), Engaging young people (3.5), Street-by-street behaviour change (Tool 12), Social enterprise/entrepreneurship (4.2), Strategic Local Infrastructure (4.4), Community supported farms, bakeries and breweries (Tool 20).


[i] Louv, R. (2010) Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder. Atlantic Books. In addition to this you might also find Richard Louv’s interactive website that is posting evidence of the positive effect of nature on young people useful: http://www.childrenandnature.org/

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