Permaculture Education

Whether or not you like or liked school, we can all agree that education is important, right? Just to refresh our knowledge about its importance, here are some facts you may not have known about education (especially regarding education for girls):

  • It improves the national growth of any given country
  • Reduces stunting and malnutrition
  • Reduces child mortality
  • Is the number one solution to solving climate change

Thus, we need education. I simply cannot emphasise enough how important learning is to improve the wellbeing of everyone, everywhere. And currently, 6/10 children at the age of 10 cannot read or write. So, before we begin thinking about any utopian ideas of education, the very first step we have to take is to change the mind boggling and infuriating statistics showing us that most children, today, are not getting quality education.

So, here we already have the first principle of permaculture education: accessibility. How to make education more accessible? Make it financially feasible (through public education), and make it a priority, both at a governmental level, as well as at a local, community scale.

The second principle is the focus on learning centred classrooms. Currently, most education systems have teaching centred classrooms, in which the teacher is the expert, and consequently broadcasts the curriculum developed for their field of knowledge to their students. Then, it is up to the students to either absorb or reject this information. My question is, how is this type of classroom even okay? After all, it perpetuates inequality between ‘gifted’ students and students with learning disabilities, and it also inhibits students from developing themselves in every aspect: creatively, emotionally, physically, academically, and spiritually.

Thus, learning centred classrooms will differ from our current teaching method by placing the focus on the students, rather than the teacher. This means that, when teachers plan their lessons, they do so with the intention to foster ‘active learning’, and by consistently putting themselves in their students’ shoes. This type of classroom will thus make way for individualised learning, in which students decide for themselves how they want their education to be shaped.

How would this work exactly? There are a number of ways in which individualised learning can be applied on a practical level. For example, teachers, who would actually resemble coaches in this case, would help students to create personalised learning journeys, holding them accountable for their goals and targets, and helping them find the material and resources that they need to thrive. After all, with the access to information that we have in this day and age, students should be making full use out of this in order to develop their ambitions.

Having said that, in order for students to learn and grow with the help of the internet and other technologies, skills such as critical thinking, differentiation, and fact checking need to be properly implemented into their tool belts. Thus, in order to introduce students to these skills, primary and early secondary education will be more focussed on teaching skills rather than subjects. The way I see it now (in a very simplistic, Disney-esc way) is that teachers hold the keys to open doors of knowledge. Students rely on teachers to open said doors in order to learn. But wouldn’t it be more effective to give students these keys directly, and let them decide which doors they want to open for themselves, without major restrictions?

I already mentioned that students would learn critical thinking and differentiation, but in addition to this, abilities like creativity/innovation, reflection, observation, focus, self management and collaboration are some more examples of key skills that students would learn throughout their education. I call this skills-based learning, instead of content based learning, the latter being the teaching method present in most classrooms today.

With skills-based learning comes the opportunity to also teach core principles and values to students, specifically the 12 permaculture principles. For some context, permaculture is a design approach based on the understanding of how nature works, and incorporates three main ethics: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. To better explain permaculture, the founders of this approach created 12 principles that this concept stands by:

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self regulation and accept feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from pattern to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow systems
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use the edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

These principles were initially created to be applied to land management and sustainable agriculture, however they can be interpreted and used for much broader applications as well, such as in education. To show you how each principle can be incredibly fruitful in education, I will give an example of how they can each be practically applied by school governors, teachers, staff and students.

  1. Observation is one of the key skills that should be taught to students. Additionally, if teachers face a problem in their classroom, then this should be the first principle they use in order to then recognise and address the issue. (“Don’t just do something, stand there”)
  2. School governors should ensure that school buildings have efficient and effective energy policies in place to make sure that these institutions are sustainable and self-sufficient. (Solar panels, insulation, LED lights, etc)
  3. This can be interpreted as checking on student’s progress in an effective and beneficial way to ensure that they are headed in the right direction through continuous assessment
  4. Incentivise students to assess their own work and accept feedback from peers and teachers
  5. Once again, ensuring that educational buildings are as sustainable and self sufficient as they can possibly be (renewable energy, healthy and sustainable food in the cafeteria, etc)
  6. In the form of compost (organic waste and paper) which gets reused for campus greenery, banning single use plastic, making use of any excess electricity, rainwater harvesting, reusing school material…
  7. For teachers to keep in mind when designing their lesson plans
  8. Leave no student or staff member out.
  9. Discourage fast paced, stressful environments, focussing instead on slow, gradual steps towards positive change
  10. Encourage multiculturalism, internationality and diversity of ideas and perspectives. Additionally, create space for biodiversity on school campus
  11. Make sure that minority students are given a voice (LGBTQ+ clubs, indigenous people associations, etc)
  12. If students choose to alter their learning journeys, this change should be embraced and worked with by teachers. See the unexpected not as a mistake, but as a chance to grow and create new opportunities

These 12 principles, as I have just demonstrated, can be applied in a variety of ways to create positive goals, targets and values for every stakeholder in education. I believe that these principles should lie at the core of not only education, but our society as whole. However, in order to get to that point, we must begin with education, so that the generations to come can be as well informed as possible and understand what it takes to build a healthy, resilient and sustainable society that will improve the quality of life for every being on this Earth.


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