Educating for Wholeness: Insights from Rise Africa 2024

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Hosted by IIY Africa, the Africa Centre for Cities and other organisations, the Rise Africa 2024 Action Festival enabled the Sustainability Institute to highlight the transformative power of whole-person education in addressing societal challenges.

A distinguished panel discussed the various touch points that make Stellenbosch University’s Diploma in Sustainable Development, hosted at the Sustainability Institute, an extra ordinary qualification. Most of the in-person learning in Year 1 of the diploma takes place at the Sustainability Institute – the praxis hub in Lynedoch eco-village.

Our co-director, Vanessa von der Heyde, facilitated the panel alongside Dr Ruenda Loots and Shaun Dunn from Stellenbosch University, who is also a board member of the Sustainability Institute. Two alumni spoke of their transformative experiences as they progressed through the diploma. Both agreed that the Sustainability Institute and its environs had a large part to play in their discoveries.

This is what emerged during the discussion.

The power of whole-person education: Conventional education, often focused on theoretical knowledge, falls short in preparing individuals to tackle real-world problems. Whole-person education, by contrast, integrates heart, mind, body, and spirit, fostering empathy, creativity and resilience. This integrated approach equips students with intellectual skills while nurturing their emotional and social well-being. Our perspective is it awakens change makers by immersing them in learning through observation and slowing down to reintegrate with the natural patterns that surround us.

Slowing down for deeper learning: We emphasise the importance of slowing down in education. In a culture driven by productivity, taking time to reflect and connect deeply with the material leads to more meaningful learning experiences. Shaun Dunn illustrated this by guiding the audience through a breathing exercise and meditation that enhanced focus and reduced anxiety. As Dr Ruenda Loots pointed out it is vital for a student to know who they are before they can meaningfully engage with the learning process. The art of slowing down enables deeper personal connections with self.

Joy and creativity in the classroom: Joy is a crucial element in learning. When students experience joy, they are more engaged and open to creativity. We incorporate fun activities, like storytelling and active curiosity in nature to create positive feedback loops that enhance both creativity and learning outcomes.








Integrating Nature into education: The Sustainability Institute’s campus is a living example of social justice through environmental rehabilitation. The food gardens, woodland and eco-village offer students access to nature and biodiversity that reconnects them to their environment and fosters a profound respect for it. This connection re-awakens them to their purpose and broadens their world view and awareness about sustainable practices and why they matter.

Facilitating rather than teaching: We prefer to call ourselves facilitators rather than lecturers. By co-creating the learning experience with students, we remove hierarchical barriers, and create more inclusive and dynamic educational experiences where students feel valued and heard.

Addressing critics and embracing change: Whole-person education is undervalued and misunderstood, particularly regarding its scalability. However, the achievements and satisfaction of the graduates of the diploma programme, demonstrates the potential of this educational model. We believe that current educational systems need to evolve to reflect the world we live in and to put nature in the hearts and minds of all students.







Embracing different ways of knowing: We all learn differently and there are many layers to knowledge that include intuitive and experiential wisdom. This approach respects the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of our students, which enriches their learning experiences and promotes inclusivity.

Building community through education: Creating a sense of community among students is essential for effective learning. When students feel connected to each other and their facilitators, they are more likely to engage deeply with the material and support each other.

A call to action

The discussion at Rise Africa 2024 underscored the transformative potential of whole-person education. By integrating heart, mind, body, and spirit, educators can cultivate a new generation of empathetic, creative and resilient change-makers. This approach not only enhances individual learning but also enables graduates to contribute to a more just and regenerative world.

To watch this discussion on YouTube, please click here: