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(Editor’s note: Place-based education is a central theme in the March 5, 2021 Pearson College UWC Global Village Update [“GVU 3”]. If you missed it, you can watch a video recording of this online session on our Youtube channel.

by Craig Davis, Head of College

When work began on constructing and designing the curriculum at Pearson College UWC in the first half of the 1970s there were only 12 International Baccalaureate schools worldwide. It was an age when the Cold War was still “hot” and a phrase like “climate change” might draw somewhat puzzled looks from all but a few environmental scientists and scholars.

The “IB” was a brand-new curriculum, framed by the then-innovative thinking of people like Robert Leach, Alec Peterson and, of course, Kurt Hahn. It built upon strong foundational aims of developing inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

Pearson is acknowledged as the first school in Canada to offer the IB Diploma Program and, as many people, know, UWC Atlantic College in Wales was among the early adopters internationally. The evolution of the UWC movement and the spread of IB-based education occurred concurrently over nearly six decades. Today there are nearly 6,000 IB schools in 160 countries and nearly 200 in Canada alone.

Today, while the IB Diploma is clearly considered a rigorous and challenging pre-university curriculum, it may no longer be thought of as an innovative, future-leaning or groundbreaking leader in education.

This is an acknowledged reality that education and programming leadership at Pearson, and other United World Colleges, continue to carefully review and consider in the context of our UWC mission. Together with this, and particularly here at Pearson on the unceded territory of the Sc’ianew First Nation, we are increasingly recognizing the richness that “place” brings to our respective education institutions and our shared educational models.

Work stewarded by recent Pearson educators such as Heather Gross have conducted a curriculum needs analysis benchmarked against our own educational principles which promise to be:

  • Transformative
  • Experiential
  • Holistic
  • Intergenerational
  • Inclusive, and
  • Place-based

At this time, I feel we fall short of our own goals considering the vast majority of a student’s time is taken up following the traditional six subject exam-centred route of the IB Diploma Program.

And, as I mentioned, there is also a growing call to further leverage our location and place, of course  in partnership with the Sc’ianew First Nation and all Coast Salish First Nations and peoples who have lived upon the lands adjacent to and on the waters of the Salish Sea.

Knowledge of, and centuries-old familiarity with, the land, water and local ecosystems acquired by First Nations peoples will guide and help us build upon the work we have developed – such as our Marine Science course, Race Rocks, waterfront and outdoor leadership initiatives, our Project Weeks and our emerging work in forest ecosystem sciences — in developing an Indigenous ontological lens on what we do and how we do it with the students in our charge.

Recently, and significantly, as a group of 18 UWC Heads we have been reflecting on the UWC mission to create a global education movement that makes education a force – a genuine and meaningful force – for peace and a sustainable future.

That mission, forged in the context of the Cold War, needs a reassessment and a re-emphasis in the context of the climate crisis whereby that “sustainable future” becomes our movement’s overriding moral imperative. Why not use the fantastic model of bringing students together from all four corners to find solutions to the biggest problem facing humanity?

The huge additional pressure resulting from a zoonotic pandemic crisis has further galvanised global efforts to solve the climate crisis by developing greener economies, innovative STEM technologies and collective political solutions that re-think education in terms of combating the biggest existential threat facing the planet.

Recently, I have been privileged to consult and interact with leading experts in this field, including innovative science educator and university professor Dr. Elin Kelsey who has written the successful book Hope Matters, world-renowned complexity theorist Prof. Thomas Homer Dixon who authored the compelling call to action text Commanding Hope and our very own alumna and member of the Métis Nation of Alberta Dr. Deb Saucier, President and Vice-Chancellor at Vancouver Island University.

From them, and many others, the consensus is clear – we need curriculum experiences that help instill expertise, knowledge and skills that can find solutions to this immediate crisis.

In fact, not adapting provision, programming and education to meet these needs is arguably to neglect a duty of care for the next generation!

As Pearson approaches its 50th birthday we need to draw on the moral courage to create a new curriculum pathway, one that is place-based and taps into our students’ calls to address both social justice and climate change — “Climate Justice,” if you will. As we consider and reflect upon our place on this land, we need to frame our thinking in terms of solutions, not despair or problem identification, and draw upon the wisdom of Coast Salish Indigenous epistemology and practice.