Uncertain pedagogies for youth and community resilience


The UN Sustainable Development Goals and UNESCO call for education to respond to challenges where solutions are as-yet-unknown. Climate change and pandemics demand creative, critical and resilient civil societies, highlighting how the need for the ‘knowledge and skills required to promote sustainable development’ (SDG 4.7) includes a life-long capacity to engage with uncertainty. Dominant global education discourse offers only a technical model emphasising certainty through teaching scientific knowledge. This study in India and Ecuador explores how to:

  • Engage youth deeply with sustainability uncertainties
  • Foster hope and capacities to act (not being put-off by complexity, anxiety, futility)
  • Utilise innovative pedagogies for uncertainty
  • Explore and elaborate what these will do

Based on this research, follow-on project on Covid recovery to educate for sustainable futures was financed by the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) and co-sponsored by the SSRP. 

Project description

This study explores how a process of collective engagement might re-orientate as community resilience, expressed as ‘hope in the present’. Youth narrate experiences of sustainability ontological uncertainty (including Covid-recovery and livelihood-adaptation) and, in dialogue with community stakeholders, identify possibilities for change. The study explores the efficacy of pedagogies that are themselves uncertain (‘uncertain pedagogies’), integrating arts-based deliberation: an emerging paradigm with considerable promise, as- yet uninvestigated in global contexts.

The research questions this project explores are:

  • Is there a role for ‘uncertain pedagogies’ in supporting youth to express relationships with, and responses to, intersecting sustainability, livelihood and Covid uncertainties?
  • Can we study changes in youths’ shifting narratives of hope and action as they participate in uncertain pedagogies to address sustainability issues?

Project plan

  • Global design workshop: interrogate ‘uncertainty’ concept; co-refine pedagogies and research methods. [January 2021]
  • Local interventions: researchers/artists/educators facilitate uncertain pedagogies for youth to narrate their engagement with sustainability. India: creative workshops with forty 12-16 years-olds. Ecuador: ten 14-18 year-olds facilitate and film storytelling with 100 youth. Research methods: field-notes, artistic artefacts, youth and educator interviews. [February-March 2021]
  • Global analysis workshop i: co-construct narrative-analysis of youth reflections, including relations to communities, landscapes, Covid, livelihoods and structural factors. [April 2021]
  • Local interventions: researchers/artists/educators facilitate youth-community stakeholder (e.g. scientists, elders, policy-makers, livelihoods personnel, NGOs) dialogue. Methods cross boundaries of discipline and convention, exhibiting work (e.g. film, painting, literary). All participants deliberate implications and identify action. Research methods: field-notes, artefacts, stakeholder and youth interviews. [May 2021]
  • Global analysis workshop ii: co-constructed narrative-analysis of youth-community dialogue, exploring shifts in narratives. [June 2021]
  • Global research and policy seminar: half-day online, including regional academics, NGOs, policy-makers, industry. Purpose: sharing findings; interrogating ‘uncertainty’ for sustainability education; exploring capacity-building outcomes; envisioning future collaborations. [July 2021]

Timeline and funding


January 2021-July 2021


SSRP-IDCF funding

Further information

For further information and regular updates, visit the blog series and 'Educator section' on the TRANSFORM-iN EDUCATION website.

The team

Where we worked

Ecuador and India.

Follow-on project

Creating with Uncertainty: Covid recovery to educate for sustainable futures

This project supports social recovery from Covid by enabling schools to reflect on their pandemic experiences in order to think through how to reconfigure education in ways that embrace a creative engagement with uncertainty: one that is necessary to meet the challenge of achieving net zero. Current education models emphasise certainty. The Department for Education’s recent sustainability curricular guidance emphasises existing knowledge but could go much further to relate this to everyday lived complexity, contingency and uncertainty inherent to sustainability action, including during a pandemic. The project builds on existing work in the School of Education and Social Work to enable schools to co-construct locally relevant and deeply engaging sustainability curricula that also acknowledge the existential and uncertain dimensions of the pandemic and climate change, and identify gaps in established knowledge and skills.

  • Project description

    This project is a joint interdisciplinary pilot between the School of Education and Social Work (ESW) and the School of Media, Arts and Humanities (MAH), with creative-deliberate activities jointly developed and facilitated (including MAH faculty with sustainability expertise: Dr Alice EldridgeProf Ed HughesDr Augusto Corrieri), together with other SSRP Fellows (e.g. Prof Peter Newell), and supported by five recruited University of Sussex students. The project team represents the cutting edge in expertise to support schools to cultivate the capacity to respond where solutions are-as-yet-unknown (core to the SDGs). The proposal builds on existing work in ESW (e.g. Green UnitedTRANSFORM-iN EDUCATION) to enable schools to co-construct locally relevant and deeply engaging sustainability curricula that also acknowledge the existential and uncertain dimensions of the pandemic and climate change, and identify gaps in established knowledge and skills. This includes creating opportunities for students to relate the facts to their own experiences (i.e. feelings, resources, practices, external pressures), to critically assess competing information sources, and navigate inherently difficult ethical tensions and questions. The plan is to utilise the life experiences and sustainability expertise of Sussex faculty from across the university, as well as local partner organisations (e.g. Living Coast), to inform and inspire teachers and students to engage with sustainability issues. In particular, they will foster experimental net-zero activities in which uncertainty is foregrounded, to resist routinized expectations and to imagine alternative possibilities. Participating faculty and non-academic partners have worked on sustainability for decades; their journeys of triumph as well as disappointment and how they persevered has potency for our times and can make a real difference in the lives of young people.

    The work is undertaken with up to 15 teachers and 45 pupils (Years 5-8) from 5 secondary and 10 primary schools in Brighton & Hove (10) and Lewes (5). Both areas are committed to net zero. This project supports and extends existing B&H LA work with schools to develop sustainability curricular. Activities include 4 workshops:

    1. Tuning into Covid recovery uncertainty: creative workshop with teachers and students to identify the uncertainties of the pandemic and the educational implications and possibilities for utilising uncertainty to educate for more sustainable living. [0.5 day]
    2. Co-constructing local sustainability curricula: creative workshop, with teachers, students, Sussex faculty and partner organisations sharing knowledge and experiences (local, scientific, etc.) to identify what more students might need to know/do, so as not to be put-off by complexity, anxiety or futility. This is mapped by teachers and ESW faculty onto schools’ existing curricular plans, and gaps identified. [1 day]
    3. Experimental net zero activities: Faculty and partner organisations work with schools to plan and deliver creative experimental experiential activities to address identified gaps to transition to net zero. For example: immersive acoustic experiences of local sites (such as University of Sussex Forest Food Garden; Living Coast UNESCO biosphere); writing workshop with science journalist; narrating net zero solutions using drama. [2 days]
    4. Outcomes shared: Final dissemination discussion event for participants plus 20 school leaders, including artistic participatory live graphic recording of discussion. [0.5 day]

    Expected impacts and outcomes 

    The project enhances public engagement, skill development and local partnerships to support Covid recovery for more sustainable futures. More specificially, it aims to achieve the following key outputs: 

    • Reconfiguration of hopeful post-Covid educational possibilities to respond to urgency of climate change
    • Co-constructed local sustainability curricular with ‘experts’, teachers and students
    • Creative-deliberative activities for co-creating and delivering sustainability curricular
    • School students from diverse backgrounds supported and inspired to engage deeply with sustainability issues, to identify the place of their school/community/themselves in achieving net zero
    • Teachers guided to explore and apply the learning in their own context - recognised through completion of existing ESW module on evidencing transformative pedagogies at Masters level 
    • Shared best practice on co-constructing local engaging sustainability curricular informs CPD package
    • University students gain skills/work experience in supporting community initiatives
    • University interdisciplinary culture of knowledge exchange and operational readiness

    The project’s successes will be measured through partner and participant feedback (e.g. group interviews) – having obtained appropriate University of Sussex ethics approval – by end July (and ongoing). 

    Outcomes enabling recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic

    Within education, Covid recovery is currently framed as keeping schools open and ensuring all students catch up on missed learning. The historic moment of the pandemic signals a disharmony in the dominant global model of education that only emphasises certainty, in which topics defined by the national curricular are mapped and measured, and students are socialised into compliance to learn such knowledge. Learning up-to-date knowledge on Covid and sustainability issues remains important, but also of educational value is having opportunities to engage such knowledge with the contingency and particularity of the place of any school and its community. This project offers school staff and students the possibility to reflect more deeply on their pandemic experiences and to engage in thinking through and experimenting with the implications for achieving net zero, together with Sussex faculty and local partners to ensure informed practice. It is designed to offer a hopeful engagement with Covid recovery, where teachers and students are energised to act in their locale. This includes opportunities to consider what should be preserved and embraced into the 21st century, as well as what might change in order to ensure education responds to the urgency of the SDGs.

    Outcomes contributing to sustainability and tackling climate change

    The project supports the inclusion of the youngest community members (SDG 10.2), fostering their knowledge and skills for sustainability (SDG 4.7), in ways that ensure locally responsive climate action (SDG 13). Co-constructed sustainability curricular will inform students of up-to-date knowledge as well as supporting them to engage deeply with the implications of such knowledge for their own locale. This will help to identify and implement relevant action that can contribute to achieving net zero, both in and beyond the school gates. For example, individual and collective human behaviour leading to reducing emissions, possibilities for renewed local energy and sustainable transport solutions, reviewing supply chains (e.g. school caterers), and actions to improve the take up of carbon in school grounds.

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project examined the following SDGs:

    SDG 4 – Quality Education
    SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities
    SDG 13 – Climate Action

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

  • The team

    Principal Investigator


    Project partners

  • Timeline and funding

    March 2022-July 2022


    HEIF fund co-sponsored by SSRP (£38,317)

  • Where we worked 

    Brighton & Hove and Lewes, United Kingdom