On October 15th, 2022, Satish Kumar, Founder, Schumacher College and former Editor and now Editor Emeritus of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, convened a symposium on Regenerative Learning. The symposium was followed by the release of the compendium of essays on Regenerative Learning edited by Satish Kumar and Lorna Howarth.
After the symposium and release of the book, Shakti Saran and Andrea Stone held a webinar interaction with Satish on 8th December 2022.
Satish began by speaking about his association with the renowned economist, Late E.F. Schumacher, saying that Schumacher had invited him to work as editor of Resurgence and to live in England. Satish, a Gandhian was keen to return to India, but Schumacher convinced him of the need to establish Gandhian roots in the U.K.
This blog is a synopsis of the webinar interaction with Satish. If you would like to read the full transcript of the webinar, you can do so here.
The webinar began with a poll on three questions. The first and the second dealt with understanding of the terms ‘regenerative’ and ‘learning’ while the third sought the profile of participants attending. The results of the poll appear below and provide insights into audience perception and backgrounds.
When essays for the compendium were solicited, the call was for submissions on the topic ‘Education as if People and Planet Matter.’ Subsequently, the anthology was christened ‘Regenerative Learning.’
The main webinar commenced with a question to Satish on the choice of the word ‘learning’ over ‘education’ for the book title. Satish responded that education today was largely focused on training students on the left hemisphere of the brain whereas what was needed was a holistic approach that enabled students to also use their right brain and bring both into balance. The word ‘learning’ was the natural choice because learning is a life-long process; is self-organizing and not confined to schools and universities.
The webinar had three key discussion threads.
I. The significance of Regenerative Learning
The majority of our planetary challenges be they climate change, global warming, diminishing biodiversity, wars, conflicts etc., are created by highly educated people. Our problems are not created by uneducated people, peasants, farmers, or poor workers. Education has become part of the problem as it teaches millions of people to maintain the industrial economy, which is highly extractive, destructive, and alienated from nature.
Our addiction to consumerism and capitalism are dictating the pervasiveness of a uniform culture manifest in high-rise buildings and brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds. The developed world is not happy, and this discontentment is leading to more and more economic growth which is precipitating crisis after crisis. Education has become more about jobs than life. So, to be happy, we have to de-addict ourselves from consumerism and capitalism which makes it imperative for us to create a new kind of learning, where we learn not to be extractive, and we learn to live in harmony with nature, with other human beings and with ourselves.
The current era of artificial intelligence allows technology to control our lives. Technology has its relevance as is the case with this Zoom webinar today. This discussion is not about abandoning technology but ensuring that technology remains the servant of humanity and not the other way around.
Our education needs to bring out our suppressed creativity, imagination, spirituality, and our artistic talent. I want education to be a lifelong process where everybody is an artist. We have to avoid the danger of putting few artists on a kind of pedestal where they become celebrities and the rest of humanity become consumers of art. That is what I want to change. Art is not only painting or music, or dancing. I admire artists, but we have to extend our idea of art to the art of living, of gardening, of making clothes, of making conversations.
It is true that many NGOs have been imparting literacy and numeracy skills towards removal of economic inequalities. However, confining education to literacy, academic and management learning is reductionist. I want a broader, more holistic education where ecology and economics are brought together.
II. The different facets of Regenerative Learning
The key to regenerative learning is to collapse the artificial boundaries between economics and ecology. Exploitative tendencies arise when we treat them in isolation, and we end up using nature as just a resource for the economy. We mustn’t lose sight that nature is a source for life itself and that without ecology, economy can be dangerous. All governments are seeking economic growth without an understanding of ecology. This is why we have climate change, global warming, we have waste, polluted oceans, soil, and rivers.
I was very pleased to be invited to speak at the London School of Economics (LSE) and I asked them “do you know what economy means?” Economy is not just about finance and banking and business administration. Economy means management of our planet home. In the wisdom of Greek philosophers, the entire planet is our home and ecology means knowledge of planet home. Now, how to manage planet home without teaching ecology? How are you going to teach something that you do not know? So, managing requires knowing. Therefore, I said you must change your name and call it LSEE, London School of Ecology & Economics.
Today, our economy is linear and a throw away one that creates waste and pollution. We need to educate young people to create a circular economy and our universities must be proponents of a cyclical economy so that everything that comes from nature goes back to nature.
Another key aspect of regenerative learning is that ‘experience’ must be made intrinsic to education and learning because knowledge without experience lacks real value. Ecology is not just an academic subject, and neither should economy be. If you learn music but don’t play an instrument, it is useless. Knowledge and experience must be managed together.
To make learning regenerative, educationists should relook at assessment methods. Assessments should not be confined to written deliverables. Assessments should include some kind of making, work which you can show like a piece of pottery or furniture or cooking or something which is more practical or more experiential.
In England, young students at old schools such as Oxford and Cambridge never see a farm. They are always in a library or in front of a screen or in a classroom despite them having land with big farms and tenant farmers. In contrast, at Schumacher College, all our students experience whatever they learn. They go out in nature, they learn from nature, they work in the garden, they produce food, they work together in the kitchen, they sing together, and they live like a community.
In my hometown I founded a school where children spend their mornings in academic learning, history, geography, science, mathematics, languages etc., and in the afternoon, learning about and from nature, going outdoors, gardening, and everyday cooking.
Currently, our emphasis is only on thinking. To make education holistic, it must be of the head, hands, and heart.
III. What needs to be done to make Regenerative Learning mainstream
UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 4 (Quality Education) are a good start, but they are inadequate. SDGs have a long way to go; they need to be more radical and courageous. They need to speak the language of regenerative development. In SDGs, we see humans and nature as separate. We are nature, we are not separate from nature. If we pollute the water, we have to drink it. If we pollute the air, we have to breathe it. If we have global warming, we have to live with it. So, do not destroy nature.
We all need to live a regenerative lifestyle. Being the change is as important as talking about the change. Learn to communicate these ideas to others. Unless they are communicated, the word will not spread. Also, join others. A great river is made of hundreds of little tributaries. We need to build a regenerative movement and it needs to have all people who are thinking that machine and technology should be an aid to human hands, and human intelligence, and not replace human hands, and human intelligence.
And I would like to say to manufacturers like Apple or Samsung that don’t produce new models every year. Produce a computer that will remain durable for 10 or 15 years. As consumers if there’s something not useful, don’t buy it. If it’s not durable and sustainable don’t buy it. Beautiful, Useful, Durable. The BUD principle is the principle of regenerative economics.
In our universities and schools, we should educate our young people to use their intelligence along with their body, their hands, and then use technology as a help. That’s all we can do. We cannot control the results. Outcomes are not in our hands; action is in our hands. When Martin Luther King started to act against racism, he did not know what the results will be and that after so many years, a black president would occupy the White House. And when Nelson Mandela started to act against racism, apartheid, he did not know when apartheid would come to an end. But he never gave up.
Regenerative education is part of a WE culture. Today, we are focused on ME. We need to move from I to US, from EGO to ECO. Eco is community, relationships, home, connections. We need to learn about community from indigenous cultures. For thousands of years, they looked at nature and us as one. If we want to maintain the integrity of nature, we have to learn the wisdom of indigenous cultures. How? Become indigenous ourselves. How? By becoming one with the land. Be on the land, have a garden, a small farm, do some gardening, go out in nature. At the moment we live in urban and industrial cultures, high-rise buildings, in cars, trains and airplanes and we have become disconnected from the land. Let’s get addicted to natural abundance.
Let us embrace local economics, local culture, local languages, local music and embrace the diversity of life. Biodiversity, cultural diversity, religious diversity, linguistic diversity, truth diversity. When you embrace diversity and overcome uniformity, then I think you can address these issues.
Feature image courtesy: ESCP Business School
Shakti Saran is the Founder of Shaktify, an initiative to power social and environmental change and is a Senior Fellow at PYXERA Global. Andrea Stone is an emotional intelligence leadership coach working with executives of global technology industry and founder of Stone Leadership Consulting
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