Education for Sustainable Mountain Development: Preliminary Insights From a Web-Based Survey of Opportunities
MRI News
article written by MRI
26.02.21 | 09:02

An article published in the journal Mountain Research and Development outlines key insights into mountain studies programs around the world and their potential to contribute to sustainable mountain development – the results of a survey carried out in the context of a Mountain Research Initiative project initiated in the MRI Science Leadership Council.

Learning and teaching about mountains has a long history. But to what extent, if at all, can mountain studies contribute to sustainable mountain development? A recent article published in the journal Mountain Research and Development (MRD) outlines the results of a study of education programs for sustainable mountain development, carried out in the context of the MRI’s Education for Sustainable Mountain Development (ESMD) Working Group.

In addition to providing an overview of preliminary insights gained from a survey of diverse ESMD programs from around the world, the article also identifies a number of opportunities and challenges that link mountain studies as education for sustainable mountain development to UNESCO’s Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) for 2030 framework.

Addressing information gaps

“There is a worldwide trend to establish a framework of education for mountain research,” explains lead author Kenichi Ueno, Associate Professor at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. “However, there was no overall information about which kind of institute or program exists at present that could satisfy the needs of mountain researchers, and those of students who want to get an academic degree or qualification. We therefore initiated a web-based survey because it is one of the easiest, quickest, and most liberal ways of collecting information on a global scale.”

The study analyses 28 programs implemented by universities, research institutes, and non-profit organizations (NPOs) in terms of program structure, curriculum, and student needs and trajectories. Of these programs, three-quarters are based in Europe and North America, the remainder in Central and East Asia and Australia. The programs fall into six categories, ranging from traditional university courses to summer schools, university collaborations, distance education, NPO-run skills-focused schools, and research facilities or observatories.

Considerable progress

The survey found that curriculum development toward ESMD has seen considerable progress, even if single-discipline and single-topic programs continue to be widespread. ESMD has also embraced fieldwork to offer learners hands-on experience and, increasingly, to work with local stakeholders in problem-oriented settings. Key elements of the ESD for 2030 framework were found, including concern for transformative learning and critical reflection on the structural causes of unsustainability.

However, further research is needed to explore less visible aspects such as non-formal and informal education. As Ueno points out, “this study could only treat English language-based information. As many mountains are located in remote areas where local languages are used, we need to collect more information from non-English programs that may be organized by municipalities, NPOs, or the private sector. Direct or online interviews are also required to collect in-situ information and look at both the ongoing challenges faced by funders and the needs of students in terms of their career development.”

Looking to the future, the article highlights the need for policy advocacy and institutional networking in order to scale up innovative approaches.

“It is also important to note that universities or institutions can afford web-based advertisement for students. However, small scale local programs or the private sector tend to minimize publicity, with a lack of international communications due to budget limitation,” Ueno adds. “It would therefore be helpful to open an inventory to collect their information under an international organization – such as the MRI.”

More information about the MRI Working Group Education for Sustainable Mountain Development can be found here.

READ MORE: Ueno, K., Balsiger, J., and Price, M. F.  ‘Education for Sustainable Mountain Development: Preliminary Insights From a Web-Based Survey of Opportunities.’ Mountain Research and Development (2020):

Cover image by Quang Nguyen Vinh.