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Moving the GAP: Experiences of scaling environmental educational projects in Southern Africa
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Department of Education. Swedish International Centre of Education for Sustainable Development (SWEDESD).ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0410-5654
2016 (English)In: NW: 30. Environmental and Sustainability Education Research (ESER), 2016Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

The Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Global action programme (GAP) on education for sustainable development was launched at the UNESCO World Conference on ESD in November 2014. The GAP seeks “to generate and scale-up action in all levels and areas of education and learning in order to accelerate progress towards sustainable development” (UNESCO, 2014a, 2014b, 2014c). The GAP represents a continuation of the work of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) (Hopkins, 2015). While the DESD resulted in a large number of successful pilot projects Hopkins otes that there still is a need to spread and implement these projects into different contexts making scaling of educational projects a crucial component of the GAP (UNESCO, 2014b, 2014c).

Arguably, the GAP will shape the practice, policy and research of ESD in the coming years. Hence, Fischer et al. (Fischer & Aubrecht, 2015) states that there is a need for research on the scaling processes within the GAP based on reviews of empirical evidence and thus inform and substantiate coming assessments and decisions on ESD projects. I argue that such evidence can be found by studying projects scaled in Southern Africa during the last 25 years by the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC) at Rhodes University and their partners. Studying this work performed by Rhodes and partners provides an opportunity to produce knowledge about scaling of Environment and Sustainability Education (ESE) projects both in multiple different circumstances and over an extended period of time.

In this paper I seek to explore how experiences from 25 years of ESE projects in Southern Africa can give insights relevant to the upcoming "up"-scaling within the GAP. Research questions:


  • What kind of scaling has taken place in ESE projects in Southern Africa?
  • How can empirical evidence from the scaling of ESE projects in Southern Africa contribute to the GAP and UNESCO´s work through informing and substantiating coming assessments and decisions on scaling of educational projects?


While scaling is introduced as a central component in the GAP (UNESCO, 2014c) Harwell (Harwell, 2012) notes that scaling is a relatively new phenomenon in education and there is a significant lack of educational research on scaling based on empirical material and he suggests importing theories from health and development studies. In this paper I use a theoretical framework based on Hartmann & Linn and Harwell (Hartmann, A. and Linn, 2008; Harwell, 2012). They argue that scaling processes are generally motivated by the need to increase the impact of projects, which is also emphasised by other scaling researchers (Gaye & Nelson, 2009) I base my study on a multi-dimensional perspective of scaling that includes horizontal, vertical, functional as well as temporal scaling (Hartmann, A. and Linn, 2008; Harwell, 2012; Nair & Howlett, 2015). According to Hartmann & Linn and others (Hancock, 2003; Summerville & Raley, 2009) successful scaling of projects to new contexts is dependent on project adaptability. Project adaptability is necessary to identify which “essential” (i.e. non-adaptive) elements of a project that are to be scaled and what adaptive elements that can be changed to suit the context without lessening the impact of the project.

I will use Barbara Rogoff´s (Rogoff, 2003) learning theory which conceptualise learning as taking place on multiple planes. These include, in addition to the personal plane of the individual, the social and interpersonal plane, where the learner interacts with teachers and other learners as well as the cultural/institutional plane, i.e. the situation where the learning process is taking place. Rogoff´s emphasis on the broad context of the learning process reflects the focus on adaptivity and context in my scaling theoretical framework.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
Scaling, Education, Sustainability, Implementation, Assessment
National Category
Research subject
Curriculum Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-283272OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-283272DiVA: diva2:918872
European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), Dublin, 23-26 August 2016
Available from: 2016-04-12 Created: 2016-04-12 Last updated: 2016-07-27Bibliographically approved

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