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Why Transdisciplinary Education?

The global challenges we are facing today - food security, massive poverty, malnutrition, disease and epidemics, climate change, civil wars and conflicts, natural and man-made dis- asters, among others - are threatening our very existence and our planet’s sustainability.

During the past few decades, we have seen great advances in science and technology that in- creased our understanding of the physical world immensely and an explosion in Information and Communications Tech- nologies (ICTs) that brought world closer. Yet translation of these advances to progress in our ability to solve pressing soci- etal problems is yet to be seen.

Our experiences with defining and working for Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are very instructive in this regard. The difficulties in achieving the MDGs were in part due to inadequacy of local capacities that resulted in a general lack of societal involvement in the conceptualization, development, implementation and mainte- nance of programs to achieve MDG targets. It has become clear that effective formulation and implementation of solu- tions that address global challenges need an approach that is locally grounded and involves the widest participation of stakeholders. We have achieved meaningful partnerships and collective engagement in the past as we shifted from monodis- ciplinary (isolated) approaches to multidisciplinary (additive) that brought together a wide range of expertise and then to interdisciplinary (interactive) approaches where the prob- lems were solved together by experts. However, the highly uncertain, highly complex and fast-evolving problems we are currently dealing with require a more holistic transdisciplinary approach that brings together actors other than those in the academe and professions - local government units, NGOs and communities, among others - in order to enable rapid transfer of knowledge, experiences and quick feedback.

Within the academe, recognition of this problem has led to concerted effort to transcend traditional forms of knowl- edge production, which has usually been organized into aca- demic disciplines and where the interest is primarily to pro- duce knowledge on the physical and human components of nature. Under this tradition, universities have been organized in faculties and departments. Moreover, the reward system,

career system and quality control by peer review are con- tained within disciplinary boundaries. With modern society’s increasing demands for application-oriented and usable scien- tific knowledge, integration of knowledge from various disci- plines has become necessary. But this shift from monodisci- plinarity to multi- and interdisciplinarity, while a great step forward, has proven to be still insufficient in addressing these demands. There is an emerging agreement that addressing these complex, interwoven problems in a sustainable man- ner requires new, efficient ways of knowledge application. Consequently, a new mode of transdisciplinary, problem and solution-oriented education and research is emerging on top of traditional academic research, which seeks the involvement of a wider set of institutions and types of researchers to work on specific problems within specific contexts. Here, research is not exclusively based in universities but is conducted to- gether with the implementing agencies, user communities and professional bodies.

This concept of transdisciplinarity was the inspiration be- hind the birth of Sustainability Science, proclaimed as a new academic field during the World Congress on Challenges of a Changing Earth 2001 in Amsterdam. Sustainability Science differs from standard science in that it seeks a complimentary truth to traditional form of knowledge generation. Sustain- ability Science asserts that the search for sustainable solutions to global problems require new methodologies that bring to- gether the three pillars of sustainability: environment, society and economy. Sustainability Science is therefore envisioned to be a transformational scientific field with its transdisciplinary, community-based, interactive and participatory approaches to education and research.

At this present conjuncture, there are two major chal- lenges (a) Designing educational and research programmes supporting transdisiciplinary approach to knowledge genera- tion. (b) Developing methodologies for the design and imple- mentation of transciplinary development projects, which also requires research. 

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