Education for a sustainable future – holistic & mainstream education

Waterhole, Borroloola
Lillies at waterhole, Borroloola. Photo Jane Hanckel

To reach real peace in the world, we will have to begin with the children.

It is hard to conceive of a different model of education when our lives have been so deeply shaped by our own upbringing and education.  Often through traveling we see other alternatives although more and more western mainstream education has come to dominate even the remotest corners of the world. In one of the remotest towns in the Northern Territory, Borroloola, South East Arhnem Land, I witnessed a distressing disconnect between mainstream education and Indigenous education. The elders were in great dismay of not being able to pass on their knowledge, wisdom and cultural practices to the next generation.

Rhoda making fire Borroloola

The chart below from UNESCO’s Teaching for a Sustainable Future program provides a insightful comparison between ‘Indigenous’ and ‘Scientific’ Knowledge. The chart highlights differences between education systems based on indigenous and non-indigenous knowledge.

Indigenous knowledge and methods of teaching - a consise overview of different perspectives on education and knowledge

Children across the world are falling through the cracks partly because the current mainstream education system does not encompass holistic approaches to learning. Children are experiencing high rates of stress, anxiety and depression with children being diagnosed at younger and younger ages. Recent research has found that, in less than a decade, mental health presentations to some emergency departments have tripled among those aged 10 to 19.

There urgently needs to be a rethink of education.  In the early years education the over emphasis on early literacy and numeracy, the disappearance of play based learning are of particular concern.  In the primary school years there is the over focusing on prioritizing STEM technology at the expense of quality relationships and learning in natural environments.

Oral storytelling is one of the key features of 21st C/Indigenous education. The power of oral storytelling and handing down of cultural knowledge is discussed  in “The Science of the Dreamtime”.  ABC interviewer and author, Richard Fidler, talks with Patrick Nunn, author of The Edge of Memory.

Patrick has spent his career looking at the scientific evidence of catastrophic natural events that occurred thousands of years ago, like extreme rises in sea levels. He found that many of these disasters were witnessed by people and their stories were memorized and handed on for thousands of years. Patrick says it’s now recognized by science that many of the stories once thought of as ‘folk memories’ were actually eyewitness accounts, based on observations of a geological phenomenon. Aboriginal people recorded the rise in sea levels that resulted in the drowning of the Australian coastline, at the end of the last Ice Age. Patrick says the evidence for the factual basis of these events was always there in the stories but, until now, nobody was listening.

I believe we need to integrate aspects of indigenous education into 21st Century Education in order to prepare children with the skills they need for humanity to flourish.

What are your thoughts?

with warmest wishes,

Jane Hanckel

About Jane Hanckel

I help educators and parents discover innovative ways for children to thrive for humanity to flourish. Through our seminars, workshops and our innovative early childhood education programs I inspire new possibilities for us to be the change we wish to see in the world.

Send me an email to find out more about our seminars, workshops and how to help children reach their full potential.

I’m also an artist, community singer, and author of Growing Greener Children & creator, illustrator and editor of Parenting as an Art, part of our Eco Parenting Series of books.

jane (at)

Patrick Nunn’s book, The Edge of Memory is published by Bloomsbury

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