Translation processes in the design of an education for sustainable development innovations course for universities in Africa

May. 15, 2007

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Volume 33, Issue 2 May 2007, pages 157 - 175

This paper traces the translation processes associated with the mobilization of resources and human agency in the development of a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Innovations Course for universities in Africa.

University teachers are often neglected in teacher education initiatives. There are few formal professional development opportunities available for university teachers given the traditionally established hierarchy in the higher education sector as university teachers are normally the ones offering professional development to others.

The paper explores how a participatory, deliberative translation process has served to provide professional development and professional exchange opportunities for university teachers which are non-traditional and responsive to diversity, history, context and risk.

The emergence of the modern African university is essentially a post-independence (post-1960s) phenomenon, with a few earlier African universities being colonially structured, controlled and inspired.

Through a short historical overview, we introduce the African university landscape and some of its contemporary contextual and educational challenges. We then describe the process of deliberation that took place amongst university teachers from 23 African countries to initiate and establish the ESD Innovations Course. The paper concludes by arguing for open and participatory approaches in ESD teacher education course design, if we are to support university teachers (including teacher educators) to engage in mainstreaming environment and sustainability questions in higher education.


The paper draws on the translation model provided by Latour in his actor network theory to describe and explain the deliberative translation process in the UNEP ESD Innovations Course.

In doing this, it illuminates the possibilities of such a deliberative translation process for university teacher education. It also points to limitations encountered in applying this framework to this analysis, opening new vantage points for research of this nature in teacher education.

Updated: Dec. 25, 2007