University of Quindio, June 9-10, 2018
Author: Jhonathan Agudelo Henao; English Translation: Thomas Macintyre (This article was first published in Spanish on the University of Quindio website.)
The Master of Environment Studies at the University of Quindío, held on June 9 and 10 of this year, the 1st International T-learning Learning Congress in Times of Climate Change, an event of international dimension that brought together 9 nations from 4 continents – Colombia, Sweden, Vietnam, India, Malawi, South Africa, Ethiopia, Holland and Zimbabwe – in response to the emerging challenges of Climate Change and the urgent need to address them in innovative ways.
The academic and social meeting, held at the Botanical Gardens and in the Bernardo Ramírez Granada auditorium, was sponsored and financed by the International Science Council, led and organized by the University of Quindío and the organisation Mentes en Transición, and engaged fundamentally with the various problems situated around the phenomenon of climate change that currently affects the environment in different ways.
T-learning becomes a regenerative and inclusive learning that transgresses unsustainable habits, both personal and institutional, generating agents of change for the transformations that we require.
María del Pilar Sepúlveda Nieto, director of the Master in Environmental studies, highlighted the importance of the congress as it allows us to face in a collaborative way, with academics from 4 continents, all the tensions and processes of global deterioration that are happening as a result of climate change.
Miss Pilar Sepúlveda added that “it is transcendental that our University is leading processes of this type, establishing networks and links with higher educational institutions in other countries. The fact that we as an institution are already generating responses from the academic environment to processes as critical as climate change and the deterioration of biodiversity, places us as pioneers since it is the first congress to be held and the idea is to continue establishing links and processes of cooperation to generate dynamics of articulation with the communities and academics around these environmental problems”.
The T-learning Congress covered three fundamental aspects to which make up its argument. It is considered Transformative to understand psychosocial processes of transformation of the cognitive and emotional perspective that lead to socio-ecological change and the affirmation of life; Transgressive because it intentionally generates critical thinking, collective agency, capacity for action and changes in habits while explicitly challenging the normalized systems that have become oppressive; and Transdisciplinary because it crosses borders to create and affirm knowledge in interactive and collaborative ways that contribute to changes in action and practice.
Teacher and researcher Martha Cecilia Chaves, co-founder of the organisation Transitional Minds (Mentes en Transicion), said that “we are in a time when we are all experiencing the effects of climate change, and it is not just about vulnerable people and grassroots communities, it is all of us, so it is very important to find spaces where we can share the challenges and, more importantly, the solutions.”
“This is precisely what we sought with the realization of this event, we have 9 cases around the world in the 4 continents, where researchers are sharing efforts to see what is being done and how to contribute, but from a perspective of researchers connected to action, the territory, the people who are suffering, who are acting and who are looking for solutions,” continued Miss Chaves.
In her view, this event should be seen as a seed that can be spread throughout the world, inspiring moments of dialogue between cultures, experiences, territories, between everything that each person brings from their being and from their own contexts.
Numerous organizations were fundamental to the the realization of this congress including the following: Institutions of higher education such as the University of Rhodes in South Africa, the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, the University of Upsala in Sweden; as well as grassroots organizations in India, Vietnam, UNESCO, and the Colombian Association of Biological Sciences. A strong focus has been on forming bridges between academic and grassroot realities, exploring and proposing what can be done to achieve change together.
In addition, Miss Chaves stated that “this is the first time that an event like this has taken place here in the region, which demands so much effort to gather people around the world of academic and personal qualities, who do not only come only for research, but for common purpose, who want to present what they do and weave these organizational and institutional bridges, this becomes a great opportunity.”
As Miss Chaves continued: “only when there is real diversity, a plurality where we are all equitable and nobody knows more than the other, when we are humbly exchanging experiences and knowledge, is when innovation really occurs”.
The South African Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka, a member of the Environmental Learning Research Institute of the University of Rhodes, the main coordinator of the T-learning project, and who has been working in Environmental Education for 25 years, said that “this larger research project is derived especially from the Social Sciences. We saw that it was important to look at these cases in education at an international level because the things they have to teach us are so important. All these projects that have been chosen, all these initiatives have that transgressive element, which goes ‘beyond’ to generate transformation.”
Professor Lotz-Sisitka further explained that “we are identifying ways of thinking and practices that we can take to the world of education and look at what is education and learning, not only in the educational system but in communities. We have found that there are very similar aspects across very different case study contexts, they all share elements.”
Professor Lotz-Sisitka showed her enthusiasm in visiting Colombia for the first time and being able to see how the projects from each case study are in the final stages of the program, to see what can be done in the future with this group so nourished by international experiences gathered in this special gathering.
“I love being close to the forest here at the University of Quindío, you can feel that force of change, how that environmental part is so connected to the community and incorporates the spiritual,” declared the South African.
During the opening of the event, there was a space for ancestral pedagogy, where through a ritual, a connection with Mother Earth was opened, going beyond seeing transformation as ecological, environmental, and understanding it as a deeper process, a connection with the spiritual.
Bahamar Rivera Marín has been developing a family and community ecovillage project in Salento called Anthakarana, and said that “we must understand from the heart that the earth is our mother spirit, water is a spirit, air is a spirit that allows us to breathe that breath of life and fire is the spirit of transformation. We have had a nice contact and a lot of learning with different ancestral communities this time.”