Walking a tightrope towards sustainability : a multi-level transition analysis of Iranian Nature Schools as an alternative educational initiative

University essay from Lunds universitet/LUCSUS

Abstract: Sustainable development requires a change of values, norms, and capabilities within individuals and societies, and education is a crucial means to achieve these goals. However, transformation is not a simple task as dominant structures due to path-dependency and lock-in processes resist change, put pressure on innovative approaches, and hinder their potential for change. Thus the question is how such educational innovations come about and handle the pressures. This thesis, by taking a dual agency-structure stance towards social change, investigates a case of educational innovation in Iran called Nature School, to understand the dynamics of innovation development under the existing structural pressures. Four years after their establishment, Nature Schools were severely constrained through legal injunctions, yet developed various strategies of persistence. In this thesis, a unique model of Multi-level perspective is applied to analyze the interaction between niche innovation and dominant structures, suggesting concepts of free social spaces for understanding the dynamics of niche development and persistence. The results reveal that the legal restrictions had undeniable negative impacts on the development dynamics of the Nature Schools, such as limiting the capacities for networking and learning opportunities and increasing the cost of stakeholders. However, after the removal of governmental support Nature School pedagogues adopted creative and flexible strategies less dependent on unstable institutional support. Through learning processes, schools adapted social innovation to local cultures and expectations, rendering the initiatives resilient through gains in sociocultural support. Despite this, learning remains an area for further development for the Nature School, following its legal constriction. In this context, further research studying innovative pedagogical ventures will be crucial for providing robust knowledge and further niche development. While the role of agency remains poorly explored in transition studies, this thesis demonstrates the significance of agent-level dynamics on niche development. It indicates that legal means may catalyze the process of change, yet are not capable of determining the existence of niche innovation.

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