Combining indigenous knowledge and modern education to foster sustainability competencies: Towards a set of learning design principles

Yared Nigussie Demssie*, Harm J.A. Biemans, Renate Wesselink, Martin Mulder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


An important step in the endeavor towards a more socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable world is identifying and fostering sustainability competencies (SCs). There are major international initiatives that identify sustainability-related goals (the Sustainable Development Goals) and those that recognize the crucial role of education in achieving such goals (the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development). There are also academic studies that address education for sustainable development. Usually, such initiatives and studies take western worldviews for granted. This limits opportunities for other worldviews which could contribute to sustainability. It is unclear what indigenous knowledge and pedagogies, apart from the dominant western approaches, could help to enhance SCs. To address this gap, a qualitative study was conducted in Ethiopia, a country with more than seventeen centuries old indigenous education system and indigenous knowledge. To utilize alternative worldviews and pedagogies vis-à-vis fostering SCs and incorporating them in modern education systems, five learning design principles were proposed. These are: define worldviews, utilize indigenous knowledge, use sustainability-oriented pedagogies, engage learners, and build on students' experiences. Theoretically, the study contributes to sustainability, education for sustainable development, and indigenous knowledge. The findings may serve as a starting point in designing education and training for broader sustainability approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6823
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • Education for sustainability
  • Education for sustainable development
  • ESD competencies
  • Ethiopia
  • Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
  • Indigenous knowledge
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainability competencies
  • Sustainable development


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