Bringing Sustainable Happiness to Life
Sustainable Wellbeing, Creativity, and Innovation

By Catherine O'Brien • January 23, 2016

This is an excerpt from: O’Brien, C., & Murray S.E. (2015). Sustainable wellbeing, creativity and innovation. International Journal of Innovation, Creativity, and Change.

Considering the ponderous pace of change in formal education, shifting towards learning that fosters creativity and innovation, dislodging it from the ‘factory model’ that moves students along the conveyor belt of schooling through successive grades of prescribed content, is a formidable task. On a very practical level, trying to infuse creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship into existing education structures that favour conformity is destined to mute the potential positive impact of doing so. Ultimately, as Fullan (2013) has suggested, what is required is an extensive make-over of education systems. One element of that make-over process, he proposes, is the use of ‘new pedagogies.’ This makes sense if we look at the great hopes and expectations associated with updating education through greater use of technology. Simply adding technology to existing practice hasn’t been nearly as transformative as expected (Bain &Weston, 2013). Rather, Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) needs to be utilized with new pedagogies. Moreover, the new pedagogies and make-over need to be associated with a coherent vision of education that has challenged outdated assumptions about the very purpose of education.

Zhao (2012) advocates the benefits of developing an entrepreneurial mindset but, similar to the pitfalls of adding technology to encrusted modes of teaching, he questions whether an entrepreneurial mindset can be nurtured in a traditional school environment. Along with many others, he calls for a paradigm shift in education.

The vast majority of children in the world today still attend schools that attempt to instill in them predefined knowledge and skills in a lock-step fashion.

Worse yet, we are moving backwards. […] the world is moving toward more curriculum standardization as a way to fix the traditional paradigm. (Zhao, 2012, pp. 157-158)

Despite this severe critique of traditional school, Zhao believes that constructive change is possible and that taking the following measures will help: provide a school environment with more freedom and flexibility for students to develop and follow their interests and passions, create opportunities for students to be decision makers, offer diversity in physical space and access to learning facilitators (i.e. teachers facilitating learning and students also having access to talented mentors outside of the school environment). Additionally, he discusses the importance of designing learning experiences to develop a sense of agency in students as they take more responsibility for their learning and to express their unique voice in the world. This points to a crucial role for students as change-makers, not only as future global citizens but also as vital contributors to the ‘make-over’ of education. Can we assume, though, that any make-over is inherently good and at the very least will not increase harm to others and the environment? It has been questioned, for example, whether education is part of the problem or the solution to meet our global learning needs.

We are faced with a paradox: Is education the problem or the solution in working toward a sustainable future? At current levels of unsustainable practice and over consumption it could be concluded that education is part of the problem. If education is the solution then it requires a deeper critique and a broader vision for the future. Thus, whole systems redesign needs to be considered to challenge existing frameworks and shift our thinking beyond current practice and toward a sustainable future. (UNESCO, 2005, p. 57)

Optimistically, educators seem to be more open than ever to the realization that conventional education is outdated and diverse “alternatives” are demonstrating fresh new directions: expansive education, flipped learning, competency-based learning, social and emotional learning, and the gamification of learning, to name just a few. This is also a time in which various recommendations for transforming education are being offered beyond creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Recommendations vary from simple modifications for delivering existing content, to “add on” programs/toolkits, to complementary programs, to significant revisions of both curriculum and content, to abandoning formal education altogether with unschooling. For instance, in addition to competencies included within the various 21st century learning lists, there are advocates for greater attention to sustainability education/Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), social and emotional learning, Health Promoting Schools, enhancing student connections with Nature, and positive education (CASEL, 2008; Hopkins, 2013; JCSH, 2008; Louv, 2012; Morrison & Peterson, 2010; Seligman, 2011; UNECE, 2011). What is lacking at this time is a coherent vision of education that has the capacity to integrate the strengths of all of these recommendations while setting the foundation for a truly innovative approach to learning that will enable us to meet our global learning needs, sustainably (O’Brien, 2014). Hopkin’s (2013) view that repurposing education with a vision of wellbeing for all, sustainably will assist us with reframing our discussions.

Wellbeing for all, sustainably brings forth two key perspectives that are often absent in the innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, and 21st century learning literature: sustainability and wellbeing.

The full text of this article is available at:

Coming soon!…Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being

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