Positioning southern Africa environmental education in a changing context


In 2004, the Danida funded SADC Regional Environmental Education Support Project (REES) in 2004, a project of the SADC REEP, commissioned professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka to write a position paper that was to articulate how international developments and global (ising) frameworks such as the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Implementation Plan, IUCN, SADC policy structures and NEPAD's environmental action plan influence environmental education practice in southern Africa. The paper was intended to provide an international perspective or context for research, and to assist with a 'situating' of environmental education processes in what is clearly a rapidly changing (political, economic, natural, social and epistemological) landscape. The paper argues that adopting a fixed position in a rapidly changing landscape would be devoid of value and committing 'epistemic violence' (authoritarian knowing). Instead the paper scopes features of the (changing) landscape in environmental education narratives.


The paper explains that the political discourse surrounding environmental education (globally) has changed significantly over the past twelve years (since the Rio Earth Summit). For example;

  • environmental education discourse is increasingly centred on the adopting of the ESD narrative, as outlined in the institutional narratives of the WSSD, UNESCO and the IUCN.
  • eco-justice perspectives are being dominated by neo-liberal orthodoxy in global deliberations on sustainable development. The paper argues that this orthodoxy is all pervasive, complex and difficult to engage and is shaping policy development under NEPAD and SADC RISDP, as governments try to develop strategies to alleviate poverty within the contemporary patterns of globalisation.
  • providing Education for All in Africa is clearly a challenge for all in Africa, and partners around the globe as we seek greater equity.
  • In the SADC context, the education and training goals in the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Directorate, and the cross-cutting environment and sustainable development priorities of the SADC RISDP are not reflected in the Human and Social Development Sector Action Plans and priorities. This is said to represent a significant policy gap at the regional level.

In conclusion, the paper raises a number of key questions that may be considered in a range of positioning activities namely;

  • Can we or should we (and how should we), in re-positioning environmental education in southern Africa in the context of the changing political economy of sustainable development keep the environment in focus?
  • How can we bring sustainability issues into focus in environmental education praxis in ways that continue to enable open processes of learning and change, reflexivity and criticality in context?
  • Can we steer clear of adopting institutional rhetoric and globalis(ing) narratives/slogans and continued to seek what 'lies behind' the slogans through ongoing critical and reflexive environmental education work in context?


SADC Regional Environmental Education Programme