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Meeting the next generation of ecological designers by Mona Nasseri

kids studying

Mona Nasseri delights in the transformative power of ecological design thinking for schoolchildren in India.

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow,” said the great American educator and psychologist John Dewey.

He is quoted by Amy Seefeldt as she welcomes us to the Centre for Imagination (CFI) in Woodstock school, a 160 year-old international boarding school, on the foothills of the Indian Himalayas.
Amy, a Schumacher College alumni, set up the school two years ago with the aim that it would challenge all the rules of traditional education.

She was the Academic Dean at Woodstock until 2016 when she took the MA Ecological Design Thinking (EDT) programme during a sabbatical, and then returned to set up the venture with support from the school principal, Dr Jonathan Long.
The Centre for Imagination is a conceptual and physical space where students are inspired to discover their passions, find their voices, and aspire for a future they imagine for themselves rather than the one the society pushes them towards.
Critical thinking and co-designing lie at the core of teaching and learning.

From an early age students learn the value of thinking and working together whilst respecting each other’s uniqueness.

The informal setting allows the students not to see it as a conventional classroom but a multicultural home where they can pop in and out anytime of the day, have good conversations, learn new lessons or simply sit and watch the sunset whilst working on their assignments together.
For me, it was extremely heartening to witness how the ecological design thinking approach is finding a place in the school curriculum through Amy’s hard work and capable hands. Her openness and passion for thinking ‘outside the box’ were clearly transferred to her students too. It did not take much time and effort to get them engaged in our Schumacher students’ projects.

They ranged from looking at energy systems, safe space for girls and women, redesign of the girls’ dorm and wellbeing and embodiment of the school’s guiding principles.
Other school students and staff joined in by facilitating and taking part in interviews and workshops.

At the end of the two weeks, EDT students showcased their projects and outcomes in the main courtyard and received overwhelming participation and positive feedback from the Woodstock community.

Perhaps the most valuable outcome of all the projects was the initiatives which, though begun by our EDT students, would become owned and carried forward by young students of the school.
Reflecting on our trip, top of my list has to be the wealth of exchanged knowledge.

Undeniably, the carbon footprint we left behind violated our ecological principles which sits uncomfortably in our conscience.  However, this journey provided an extraordinary opportunity for the future ecological design thinkers to put their knowledge into action in an environment outside their comfort zone; to experience the diversity of landscapes and cultures and how their interactions influence and form the social systems.

Perhaps, most importantly, being surrounded by hundreds of curious young minds gave them a real taste of responsibility towards the future generation.
These explorations wouldn’t have been enough to justify this trip, if our host institution hadn’t equally benefited from our visit.  Students’ active engagement in projects and workshops ,  their enthusiastic approach to learning about ecology-centred design, empathic problem solving and design tools gave me reasons to believe our appreciations for being in the school and the centre were reciprocated.

As for the long term impact, we will carry on our collaboration with the Centre for Imagination and look for ways to minimise our ecological impact and maximize our knowledge exchange.
We can only hope that the experience from these two weeks had ignited curiosity or reinforced imaginations in young students for a future that is environmentally conscious and socially just.
Mona Nasseri teaches on the MA Ecological Design Thinking.