The problem of dealing with real-world complexity is then passed on to decision makers, who are left overwhelmed and unable to plan effectively for sustainability.
John Holmberg, former vice-president of Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden, occupies Sweden’s first Unesco chair in education for sustainable development at Chalmers. At the university, the educational journey is reversed. Instead of starting by specialising in a single area or discipline, students begin learning through a systems-based approach. They focus on whole systems instead of a particular part of the system. This allows them to tackle sustainability problems and challenges from a holistic perspective from the outset.
After a few years, students start specialising in a particular area in which they want to develop deeper expertise, such as permaculture, recycling or renewable energies.
When they leave Chalmers, the graduates often have a plan for the kind of business or nonprofit entity they would like to establish. They become job creators and not job seekers.
This way of educating inserts change agents into society. It is a significant departure from the traditional approach of training as a specialist with the aim of securing a job after graduating.
This simple but revolutionary approach to education has potentially great benefits for Africa.
Development practitioners should be educated in a way that empowers them to seed sustainable development in society through their own initiatives.
Their activities will have beneficial multiplier effects in terms of boosting sustainability, economic growth and employment.
Solutions developed in Africa are likely to have to stand up to greater adversity than elsewhere. There could be a time when the tag-line “tried and tested in Africa” becomes the hallmark for robust solutions on the global stage.
This needs to start by equipping the next few generations of development practitioners to be able to generate new, innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.
• Peter is director and executive head of the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change at Stellenbosch University.