Fostering Inclusive Ecologies of Knowledge:
Education for Equitable and Sustainable Futures
Global development at a crossroads
Global development is at a crossroads. Unsustainable ways of inhabiting the Earth are pushing the future of humanity and the planet to the brink. Dominant development models, based on the quest for control and exploitation of natural resources, have led to irreversible environmental destruction and biodiversity loss, threatening the very existence of humanity. Global economic growth over the past several decades has seen a greater concentration of wealth, widening inequalities and further undermining social cohesion and stability within and across societies. And while digital technologies have connected us more closely than ever, they are also contributing to social fragmentation. The fault lines that characterize current global development patterns threaten our collective futures. In 2021, the United Nations Secretary-General affirmed that “humanity faces a stark and urgent choice: a breakdown or a breakthrough.” The same year, the report from the International Commission on the Futures of Education further highlighted that we are faced with an existential choice – a choice between continuing on an unsustainable path or radically changing course.
Rethinking models of knowledge to change course
Knowledge is among humanity’s greatest resources for radically changing course and steering the future in more just and sustainable directions. While learning and education have always played a critical role in shaping societal transformations, established dominant models of knowledge generation, validation, distribution, and ultimately use, cannot possibly respond adequately to the profound, intersecting multi-dimensional crises we face today. Characterized by fragmented and compartmentalized knowledge, these models are based on narrow interpretations that privilege one historical form to the exclusion of the range of epistemologies that make up the knowledge commons. As no single epistemology holds the keys to the more sustainable futures of humanity and the planet, we need a ‘planetary consciousness’ that draws upon ‘the archives of the world’. The 2024 Congress of the World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES) will explore how diverse epistemologies, worldviews, or ecologies of knowledge – and the dynamic interrelations between them – may inspire and inform ‘breakthrough’ to more sustainable trajectories for the future of humanity and the planet.
Towards more inclusive ecologies of knowledge
Research has established that some historically marginalized ecologies of knowledge have proved able to maintain harmonious and sustainable human-environment relations over millennia. A number of expressions of ancestral intelligence have indeed proved remarkably successful in balancing human needs and respect for planet Earth. In all world regions, diverse ecologies of knowledge have included know-how in such areas as sustainable irrigation systems, organic farming, health, energy, and housing. Whilst diverse, many of these worldviews and ecologies of knowledge, emphasize harmony, respect and care for the more-than-human universe. Shaping alternative futures requires a critical examination of the knowledge hegemonies that have excluded these diverse ecologies of knowledge and epistemological perspectives. A more inclusive and open approach to the knowledge commons, based on epistemic humility, can help reverse unsustainable development patterns by identifying possible epistemological synergies between diverse ecologies of knowledge.
Transforming education and research
Education and research are critical to shaping more just, equitable, and sustainable futures. But to do so, they need to be transformed. Utilitarian approaches to education continue to support models based on competition, selection, individual accomplishment, human exceptionalism, and the myth of meritocracy. Likewise, research often remains based on siloed, fragmented, and narrow conceptions of knowledge and are largely disconnected both from the needs of local communities, as well as from policy and action. The purposes, contents, and methods of education and research need to be redirected towards strengthening global sustainability for our common futures. More inclusive approaches to diverse ecologies of knowledge can help decolonize curricula, foster pedagogies of cooperation and solidarity, ecological, intercultural, and interdisciplinary curricula, and collaborative teaching. Widening the knowledge commons can also strengthen more transdisciplinary, applied, community-based, participatory, and collaborative action research that strengthen individual and the collective capacities to shape more just and sustainable futures.
Thinking and acting together
Co-convened by WCCES and UNESCO, at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, from 22-26 July 2024, the XVIII WCCES World Congress will be a unique venue to bring together constituent societies and their members, other scholars, researchers, policy-makers, community leaders, and stakeholders. The theme, Fostering Inclusive Ecologies of Knowledge: Education for equitable and sustainable futures, has been chosen to stimulate dialogue and reflections on the futures of international and comparative education. Twenty-five years since the publication of ‘Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples’ we must continue to engage with the rich diversity of ecologies of knowledge and reflect on implications of these for education and research, policy and practice. International and comparative education provides an intellectual space for world epistemologies and the production of knowledge for social transformation. Our field is a powerful force for reimagining our futures together and shaping more just, inclusive, and sustainable futures for all.