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Leo Casey, Rose Rudnitski

Sustainability: An Essential Question for Educators Everywhere

This paper addresses the question of sustainability in the context of a pedagogical approach involving the critical interrogation by educators of fundamental ideas and principles that underpin their common practice. The approach was co-developed by teacher educators in Dublin and New York and is manifested in annual gatherings alternating between these locations. It serves as a counterpoint to the current emphasis on technical aspects of education to the neglect of more fundamental understandings of what it means to teach and learn in the world of today. Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere is a process of debate, discussion and critical dialogue where participants explore issues such as the nature of learning, the purpose of education, qualities of teaching and the goals of lifelong learning. These questions are relevant for teachers everywhere - regardless of country or context - all the more so for the changing times we live in. The 'essential questions' approach seeks to renew, invigorate and often re-align core motivations of educational practice. Against this framework, the concepts of sustainability and lifelong learning may be subjected to critical review. In particular, given the new dynamic of longevity and age friendly societies is there a case for a fuller appreciation of learning through the life course? Much current policy emphasises learning for employment rather than learning for participation in society. The narrow focus overlooks the overwhelming evidence that people are living longer and cohorts of older people as a percentage of total population are increasing many fold. How then should educational institutions shift their thinking in response to this new need and new resource? This shift necessitates we ask about the sustainability of education through the lifespan. Quite literally, 'what do we need to know that will last?'. Learning may be regarded as the interaction of present and past experience harnessed for useful purposes in the future. We learn so we can be better. The age friendly question is 'better at what?'. Young people grow and develop, teenagers find their place, mid-career adults strategize employment. Beyond that why do we learn? Perhaps for a better world and a sustainable future for all. This is the new challenge for sustainable education. We report on the outcomes and insights on these questions derived from a recent 'essential questions' gathering and invite participants at IAJBS to do likewise.