All through history young people learned necessary skills by just living in a local neighborhood, which was sustainable, taking part in everyday life. At an appropriate time they went through a ritual to become full-grown members of society. This was true in tribal communities and with the apprenticeship, as we know it from later social structures.

At a later time the church took over the role as the defining authority and later still the state. In today’s globalized society education has developed into mega-institutions most often removed from the environments they were originally supposed to serve.

The educational paradigm is now one of competition, hierarchy, separation of theory and practice, institutionalization and obliteration of our sense of interdependence with nature.

The structure and content of these educational programs have correspondingly been geared toward making students suitable workers in a competitive, Western, industrialized, extractive society. This system has been exported to most of the world and has been an integrated part of cultural imperialism.

An understanding is emerging all over the world that we need a revolution in education based on a different philosophy.

Liberating Pedagogy

100 hundred years ago Grundtvig and Ulrik Cold started the first Danish Folk High Schools stating that students “should learn for life”. A free school law was introduced – and is still in existence making it possible for anybody to get financial support for schools offering all kinds of education without restrictions. It has led to an array of different schools and has deeply influencing Danish society. In other places in the world people like Tagore, Ghandi, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother (in India) Montessori in Italy, Freinet in France, Steiner in Germany, England and many other countries, Summerhill schools in England, Paolo Freire in Brazil and Riane Eisler and many others in the US have paved the way for a broader, alternative pedagogy. More recently we have been hearing about the 7 or 8 kinds of intelligences in order to leave the more narrow theoretical learning concept behind. Living and Learning is yet another step forward in this alternative tradition. Learning is not isolated to schools and universities. It can happen anywhere at any time.


The Thy Meeting 1998

Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) has had promotion of education for sustainability as a major goal for more than a decade now. Ecovillage education brings the learning back to the local community as an immersion experience, while teaching how to live sustainably. And it opens the pupil to find the inner core of their being.

The “Living and Learning paradigm” thus has two dimensions:

  • The way in which you learn immersed in an ecovillage – the pedagogy
  • The content of what you learn: how to create and live in an ecovillage – the curriculum

At an educational meeting in Thy in 1998, 55 educators from ecovillages all over the world agreed on this statement: “Learning needs to return to its root in the whole community of people and no longer exist in separate institutions. In this way, context, methods and personal development will happen all at the same time for all ages. This is a living, evolving learning system that embraces global considerations alongside local concerns. This system is geared to plant seeds for the next 7 generations”.

This statement is about the pedagogy and the context of educating. Education in an ecovillage allows for this immersion experience, which is more often than not considered “life changing” for the many young people who have been exposed to it. Ecovillages have something very special to offer.

GEN is founded, October 1995

Gen is founded in 1995

Gaia Education: Education for sustainability

The content of the education for sustainability or the curriculum is in a process of being defined and refined. Three areas of learning stand out – the spiritual, the social and the ecological dimensions.

The word education comes from Latin e-ducare and means “to draw out” what is inside each person. So we need to create the conditions so that each person can find her inner core and through that contribute to the whole, to the healing of mother Earth. This is done through helping people get in contact with their innermost core, removing layers of culture and suppression hiding that core and telling the person that she or he is worth nothing. This is why personal development, meditation and a new worldview are such vital parts of any new education. Without that the pupils may learn something good but be unable to live a different life from that of a competitive power-obsessed society.


Living and Learning Centres

“Living and Learning “is a concept originating with GEN some years ago to describe the particular educational principle of teaching the theory of sustainable living and practicing the theory in the field at the same time in an ecovillage setting. The following indented paragraphs are quoted directly from the GEN brochure of the same name by Marti Mueller, Lucilla Borio et al. in2003.

We won’t save the earth by depending on big summits like Rio, Istanbul, or Johannesburg. Real changes will only come about when we unite, pool our resources, and do it ourselves. Programs where people on the planet are making a difference today are, in fact, locally based.

Living and learning centers are powerful catalysts for change. They are places where people can come and learn about sustainable living through practical experiences that can be replicated throughout the world. They are local planetary models. See it, do it, take it home, share it with others, and recreate something new. It’s about training trainers through inspiring on-the-ground programs. Because what works in one part of the world often works in another. Because it’s not about reinventing the wheel, but creating effective new ways of working together. Because the challenges ahead of us require real cooperation, fast action, and deep insights.


Ecovillages in rural and urban areas are one of the most effective ways to make real change happen because most sustainable communities have Living and Learning Centers built into their equation. From the outset, people are committed to sustainable plus living, putting more into the environment than they take out of it, and their infrastructures reflect this. Without dedicated people on the ground with a strong social base, local programmes don’t work. And Living and Learning Centers are ideally suited to making an exponential difference in everything from earth restoration to poverty alleviation.

The Road is Long and Time is Precious

In a nutshell, L&L Centers:

  • Create local replicable models of sustainable community that provide people with a sense of belonging

  • Show people how to protect and restore nature

  • Honor indigenous people and keep them from becoming beggars on their own land

  • Protect rural life and create new urban models

  • Show how renewable energy and effective waste systems work

  • Create partnerships and give youth a new mandate

  • Provide integral lifestyles and offer experiential learning

  • Focus on food security and meaningful livelihood

  • Reflect the world’s great cultural, spiritual, and artistic diversity

  • Encourage a child-friendly world

  • Support local solutions to planetary problems because we live on One Earth

A Sane World

High on our list of priorities are land conservation and earth restoration, poverty alleviation through food security and meaningful livelihood, renewable energy use, protecting indigenous cultures and species diversity, offering meaningful contexts for youth, and providing the resources for good family planning for a child-friendly planet. All of these are part of local solutions to counter global warming and to restore the earth’s balance.