Educating System Thinking for Sustainability: Experience with a Developing Country
In their research paper, Educating System Thinking for Sustainability: Experience with a Developing Country, Nam C. Nguyen, Doug Graham, Helen Ross, Kambiz Maani and Ockie Bosch describes an approach to teaching system thinking and related competence building for a team of professionals and managers from Vietnam, a developing country, involved in the bearable management of a world environment reserve. The team of professionals was attracted were drawn to the country’s system approach to managing to Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve as it offers the best way to address components of sustainability holistically while surpassing organizational and disciplinary silos. The evaluation resulted in the authors listing the key features to include:
• studying as a group of professionals, with supreme organizational provision and obligation to apply systems approaches in the workplace;
• entertaining adult learning methods designed to the needs of participants;
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• supplementing teaching of systems discerning and skills with participatory approaches for working with the participants in creating solutions to their sustainability matters;
• and building in assessment at every stage, through participatory approaches learned in the course.
The authors carried out their training program commencing with climate setting activities which are designed to develop an open democratic environment with a peer approach instead of the standard student-teacher approach. They majored on the communicating skills and the working with seniors as the first changes to the planned contents, mainly to help learners identify and clarify the problems they usually experience and wish to overcome. It also assists students to apply the newly learned information to their existing experience mainly to help them make their learning more meaningful.
The authors then had the participants grouped to and allowed them to develop their course evaluation in their groups, an interesting technique the participants already learned, and then use the methods to evaluate each section of their training. The approach allowed the authors to meet other adult learning principles retrieved from external sources. The principle was extracted from Burns’ (2002) and included; encouraging cooperative activities and refraining from creating competition and making judgments; acknowledging and promoting self-direction in learning; assisting in developing self-evaluation procedures and giving the learners a sense of progress towards their individual goals. The authors emphasized the importance of reflection by building knowledge reviews and providing time for respondents to discuss the content available in Vietnam.
The various modes used by the authors in the adult learning approach were as highlighted in a recent paper written by Wirtenburg, Russell and Lipsky (2009). The study allowed the participants to understand the theories, techniques, and concepts applied in the short courses, which they were then allowed to use in practice. After taking away several lessons and newfound knowledge, the participants were allowed to apply their new acquires successfully into their work.
Systems Thinking Training
The authors’ primary objective for the training was to enhance the participants’ skills and expertise in systems thinking, integrated natural resource management, and addressing sustainability issues. According to the author, the program was fundamental in bringing together the learners for a 2-month only learning forum and laying a solid basis for joint planning and policy development upon the participants’ return to Vietnam. The authors believed that the training overcame their first stumbling block in the initial project. They trusted that they partly achieved their objective in the short term as well as the constant activities and plans forming a basis for successful outcomes in the long term.
The program’s main value for the participants representing various levels of governance could considerably help remove certain barriers to communication and information flows and improving decision-making processes. The program also developed a common understanding of the issues, creating a common vision and commitment to action. Since the participants hold appropriate and vital positions related directly to the management of the CBBR, their involvement of power and leadership would be of significant importance to the endless continuation of the CBBR project. Though still in development process, the sustainability project initiative in Vietnam has started a snowball.
The authors found the key features of the training to include studying as a group of professionals, with supreme organizational provision and obligation to apply systems approaches in the workplace; entertaining adult learning approaches designed to the needs of participants; supplementing teaching of systems discerning and skills with participatory approaches for working with the participants in creating solutions to their sustainability matters; and building in assessment at every stage, through participatory approaches learned in the course.
Referring to Midgley’s (2000), argument, the authors argue that systems community has a responsibility to reach for those not familiar with the language and teach them. In line with other authors’ research, Nguyen et al., state that learning system research on complex system and teaching systems thinking is so far at an early stage. The authors’ program has replaced teaching system thinking which is teaching adult professionals in the perspective of a developing country such as Vietnam.
However, according to Sunley & Leigh (2016) assertion is contrary to Nguyen’s where the former believe that the importance of holistic management education can possibly involve separation of the contents from the learning methods. According to Sunley & Leigh (2006), the increasing use of responsible management education (RME) in the academic research, publications and forums could require that Nguyen et al., could as well apply the aspect in their study. Basing the study on business aspect by studying, say education for responsible management, the authors would have improved the importance of their research, since Vietnam being a developing country, learning on how to significantly apply learned education in management could definitely benefit the Vietnamese business industry as well.
In the research, Nguyen et al. developed and tested the method for teaching system thinking to managers while applying problem-based learning technique embedded within an adult learning approach. After the evaluation, the authors found out that the respondents developed a holistic view of the problems, providing a setting to their work when they get back to their organizations. The participants were also found to be able to share their systems thinking skills with others within their country, thus augmenting management.
Based on the evaluation, the authors believed that the systems training programs including the ones they discussed in the paper are capable of contributing significantly to the systems community efforts about the making system thinking and system education becoming unremarkable and absorbed into the scientific research. The authors carried out their evaluation in a similar way to current statistics which is considered the integral part of all sciences. The evaluation of the training programs discussed in the paper were in comparison to other pioneers including the K12 System Dynamics of the United States’ school projects, system courses and programs offered in such institutions as Open University and at the Center for Systems Studies in the UK, the University-wide Master program of Sustainable Systems offered at the University of Queensland, Australia. The paper highlighted mainly on the importance of teaching systems thinking to provide a sample curriculum and teaching strategy based on adult learning principles.