Open Schooling about Sustainability Issues: Disturbance and Transformation of Teaching Habits

The presentation of the LORET tool at a recent conference gained great interest.

Geneva. Illustration photo.

A view of Geneva, Switzerland (photo:

During the new education movement, Geneva was one of the main crucibles. After World War I, emerging progressive education views induced a major international tectonic shift in educational logic. It was believed that students should increasingly learn through activity, experience, and cooperation.

A new education movement

Rethinking teaching methods, curricula, and the respective roles of teachers and pupils led to profound reforms. The Genevan Adolphe Ferrière’s Bureau International des Écoles Nouvelles was one of the first initiatives to institutionalise the new education movement. Therefore, Geneva was the perfect hub to host this year’s European Educational Research Association (ECER)-conference.

When choosing the main theme for the ECER in this international city, the European Educational Research Association (EERA) considered it appropriate “to raise the issue of tensions between the realities or social contexts within which the education process takes place and the stated aims of formal education as a collective, mandated endeavour, in as much as that has at its heart an understanding of the centrality of human personal development” (EERA, n.d.).

During ECER 2021, the 32 EERA networks and the emerging researchers' group engaged with and explored the various facets of these tensions experienced during the first decades of the 21st century in educational settings.

LORET tool challenges established teaching habits

As part of Network 30 — Environmental and Sustainability Education Research (ESER) — we presented and discussed preliminary findings from our research in the Belgian SEAS network. Katrien Van Poeck gave a paper presentation that addressed the implementation of environmental and sustainability education (ESE) through ‘open schooling’: education practices where schools, in cooperation with other stakeholders, contribute to community wellbeing and sustainability.

The paper, co-produced by Leif Östman and Nordin Bigaré, focuses on ESE educators’ professional development and, in particular, on how ‘Locally Relevant Teaching’ (LORET) — a tool for collaborative planning of open schooling practices starting from locally relevant sustainability challenges — challenges established teaching habits and routines and how it may result in a transformation of customary manners of teaching.

More than 30 academics attended the presentation, which elaborated on the concept of open schooling and elucidated the paper’s context, theoretical framework, research questions, methodology, and preliminary results.



See video of Katrien Van Poecks paper presentation (a summary in text is also available).

It stimulated an enriching and compelling discussion among the participants. LORET in particular attracted a lot of attention and was perceived as not only a useful tool, but also as a very topical and appropriate mechanism for supporting teachers in leading locally relevant sustainable development learning projects.

Open schooling in the limelight

The concept of open schooling was also put in the limelight. As one of the six open schooling networks led by universities and science centres with partners in Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Italy, Norway, and Sweden, and drawing on principles of inquiry-based science learning for transformative engagement, the Belgian SEAS network gives students the opportunity to engage with real-life, complex sustainability challenges that are identified and dealt with together with participants and stakeholders in the local community.

The network thus supports educators in collaborating with local stakeholders to utilise local sustainability challenges as fruitful learning environments for fostering scientific literacy for sustainability citizenship. Therefore, the Ghent University SEAS team collaborates with the government of Flanders (eco-schools programme MOS) and an environmental education centre in Limburg to support pilot schools in working with LORET.

The teachers involved identify and select locally relevant challenges to make their city and community more sustainable while simultaneously connecting these challenges to the curriculum (learning objectives for diverse subjects as well as cross-curricular objectives) and co-creating teaching and learning activities (lesson plans).

Great interest in LORET

After the presentation, various academics requested more information on LORET and the concept of open schooling, as they made the connection with previous research and emphasised the significance and pertinency of these concepts in (future) educational research in general, and in particular, environmental and sustainability education and the transformation of teaching habits.

Against this background, connecting locally relevant challenges to curricula and analysing the transformation of teaching habits have become hot topics.

This is particularly the case in Flanders – the northern part of Belgium – where the education system is being profoundly modernised after more than 20 years. As Flanders has introduced the key competence ‘sustainability’ in the renewed attainment targets and lesson plans (2019-2020), the SEAS research on the disturbances and transformations of teaching habits will deliver valuable results and food for thought. To be continued…

By Nordin Bigaré, Katrien Van Poeck
Published Jan. 25, 2022 2:47 PM - Last modified Jan. 28, 2022 2:05 PM
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The SEAS blog focuses on current research and activities in the intersection between scientific literacy, open schooling and sustainability challenges when students collaborate with families and stakeholders from civil society and industry in becoming agents of community well-being.