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Special Issue "Challenging the Human-Nature Relationship: Towards New Educational Paradigms"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 August 2021) | Viewed by 3607

Special Issue Editors

TUM School of Education, Technical University of Munich, 80335 München, Germany
Interests: STEM Education; reasoning and proof; learning with Heuristic Worked Examples; development of mathematical competence
Campus Villarrica, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 493 0000 Villarrica, Araucanía, Chile
Interests: education for sustainability; education for climate change; citizenship education, STEM education; socio-cientific education
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chiledisabled, Santiago, Chile
Interests: post-representational theories; contemporary space/time theories; bio-socio-cultural perspectives to understand differentiation and inequality systems

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This call for papers on the subject "Challenging the Human–Nature Relationship: Towards New Educational Paradigms" is part of the current discussions on the need to promote and implement a transformation in the foundations and practices of education for sustainability. The international urgency declared in the educational agendas of organizations such as UNESCO and the OECD, together with the socio-environmental and health crises, call us to critically examine the ways in which research and teaching are conducted. At the same time, these challenges call us to propose actions to re-think and re-orient the link between educational institutions and their environment—their social, cultural, ecological, and political surroundings—in pursuit of a more sustainable education. The call welcomes theoretical discussions, empirical research, and reviews in four thematic lines which will also be discussed in the “Second International Congress on Education for Sustainable Development” CIEDS 2021, to be held on 6–8 January 2021. Researchers participating in the congress will be encouraged to present their full proposals to this call, along with the wider community of researchers interested in contributing to this topic. The four thematic lines for the Special Issue will be: 1) Epistemological and ethical foundations in education for sustainable development; 2) Public policy to address global and local challenges in educational settings; 3) Place-based education: educational approaches and practices for sustainable development; and 4) Intergenerational dilemmas: theoretical foundations and strategies for dealing with complex future scenarios.

Thematic lines details

1. Epistemological and ethical foundations in education for sustainable development.

How can we educate responsibility for sustainability facing the human–nature relationship? How can we now re-think the notions of the human and the natural, as well as their relationships? A key aspect of reflecting on a change in the educational paradigm is to look critically at its ethical and epistemological foundations. The values of justice and equity, together with conceptualizations of gender, race, and ethnicity are basic ideas that, among others, are shaping the model of development and education that we are called upon to take charge of. Technocratic, utilitarian, and anthropocentric approaches have been decisive in promoting ideas of development that have not only triggered the crossing of many planetary limits, but have also perpetuated dynamics that generate poverty, inequity, racism, and the violation of the rights of native peoples. It is therefore imperative to promote the ethical dimension of sciences and humanities in pursuit of care for the Earth, its inhabitants, and the socio-ecological systems that comprise it; as well as to clearly identify which educational practices must be reviewed and modified in order to move towards new forms of relationship between us and the environment of which we are a part. What role do gender norms or racism play in education for sustainable development? How can we transcend the humanistic or human-centered approach to the climate crisis? What role do non-human agents play in the contemporary sustainability crisis?

2. Public policy to address global and local challenges in educational settings

What institutionalized spaces exist for the development of transformative educational practices? What modifications are necessary in educational policy and institutions in order to advance in the area of sustainability? What should the role of the public sector be in education for sustainability?, To what extent is it possible to break the inertia of public policies that feedback the modern status-quo present in education? What experiences of the integration of different knowledge, disciplines, and traditions has public policy in education incorporated? The permeability and dialogue between research, public policy, and practice in education is a key aspect for addressing these kinds of questions. It is also important to advance towards the generation of institutionalized spaces of educational governance, which facilitate the raising of solutions from the base, with proposals that address local challenges, but that at the same time contribute to facing the current global challenges. This requires transdisciplinary views and multiscale dialogues, which not only incorporate approaches from various disciplines in academia, but also other types of knowledge, know-how, traditions, and local manifestations that give coherence and relevance to initiatives of citizen governance, future policies, programs, and government actions in education and sustainability.

3. Place-based education: educational approaches and practices for sustainable development

Place-based learning refers to approaches that direct students’ attention to local phenomena, problems, and challenges, considering various socio-environmental aspects. Its purpose can be summed up as the development of a deep understanding of the world around them and the symbiotic relationship with it. This educational approach favors the approach and reflection on questions such as: What is the best way to generate and increase the commitment of students and teachers to their localities? What impacts are generated in their communities by promoting meaningful learning? How does awareness and appreciation of the territory promote attitudes towards good living and willingness to learn from ancestral knowledge and wisdom, which balances individual, community, and nature? What strategies have been successful in integrating non-traditional local approaches to health and spirituality that dialogue, tension, and feed the curriculum? There are a number of institutional, curricular, and logistical challenges to implementing place-based education, which are often complex. Breaking the inertia of outdated and standardized educational practices, challenging belief systems regarding educational innovation, and working with guardians and communities outside the establishment; confronting fears, insecurities, and lack of disciplinary mastery to address these challenges; and learning about how to develop skills, competencies, and values through these practices are just some of the issues that can be discussed in this area. In this sense, reflection on how educational approaches can contribute to a change of paradigm at different levels and types of education will be greatly appreciated.

4. Intergenerational dilemmas: theoretical foundations and strategies for dealing with complex future scenarios

What are the dilemmas that arise in educational practice when projecting the planetary situation for future generations? Scientific reports on climate, health, and population projections, the fragility of social relations in the face of catastrophic scenarios, the increase in natural disasters, the apprehension of pandemics, the dynamics of migration, and the potential social, environmental, and economic consequences generate a climate of uncertainty, anxiety, and desolation that can lead to negative responses or inaction. The formative role in these subjects is key, and requires deep reflection and foundations, as well as tools to face discussions and accompany students effectively in their development. On the other hand, working with different time scales also allows us to think about the prioritization of short-, medium-, and long-term challenges, and facilitates the establishment of a road map to advance towards a change in educational systems that in turn implies cultural changes. What is the role of intergenerational communication in the connection between possible futures and ancestral knowledge? What roles have older adults played and can they play in the transmission of social memory? In short, reflection on how to deal with these intergenerational dilemmas and projection towards future scenarios requires the development of a series of cognitive, affective, and complex thinking skills that must be dealt with by their protagonists and by the world of educational research. What are the main challenges of reviewing and re-organizing knowledge that will allow the practices stabilized by previous generations to be transformed and adapted to the living conditions of new generations?

Prof. Dr. Kristina Reiss
Dr. Martín Bascopé
Dr. Claudia Matus
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • Education for sustainable development
  • Human–nature interactions
  • Intergenerational dilemmas
  • Place-based education
  • Epistemological and ethical foundations

Published Papers (1 paper)

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18 pages, 601 KiB  
Disaster Risk Reduction Education: Tensions and Connections with Sustainable Development Goals
Sustainability 2021, 13(19), 10933; - 01 Oct 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2923
In the last decades, environmental risks and threats have increased human exposure to natural hazards, often affecting the quality of life, especially for vulnerable groups. This article explores the tensions and connections within educational research concerning disaster risk reduction (DRRE) in relation to [...] Read more.
In the last decades, environmental risks and threats have increased human exposure to natural hazards, often affecting the quality of life, especially for vulnerable groups. This article explores the tensions and connections within educational research concerning disaster risk reduction (DRRE) in relation to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Twenty-seven articles published between 2014 and 2020 in various geographic regions regarding disaster risk reduction (DRR) were reviewed, finding that (a) the participation of children, youth, families, and the community is central; (b) non-formal and informal education are equally as relevant as formal education; (c) DRR initiatives can favor broader objectives, such as reducing poverty or advancing towards sustainable communities; and (d) achieving community resilience in the face of socio-natural disasters requires local voices for the design, implementation, and scaling of strategies. However, certain tensions were also found due to the lack of emphasis on the crucial areas of SDGs, which are related to a comprehensive notion of well-being and health education, including mental health and a gender approach, the limited mitigation of risk aggravating factors arising from extreme poverty and the climate crisis, the disconnection between modern and ancestral knowledge, the “top-down” versus “bottom-up” approach in the generation of local solutions, the role of education on disaster risk reduction as a risk mitigation factor, and the requirements to adjust the curriculum synchronously to global environmental needs, are all discussed, thus highlighting and encouraging the urgent cultural changes needed in the Anthropocene era that can be triggered through disaster risk reduction education. Full article
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