Change the world


A love of nature and a passion for teaching have inspired a Nelson Mandela University academic’s mission to educate young children about the importance of creating a sustainable living environment.

Dr Deidre Geduld is finding ways for teachers to develop practical approaches to appreciating the environment – an initiative sparked during the Covid-19 pandemic, when she became more aware of the ecological crisis.
“For me, that period brought into sharp focus the urgency for Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and foundation phase teachers to develop praxis and pedagogical approaches that inspire hope and possibilities among teachers and children towards addressing this crisis,” says Geduld, who has a PhD in education from the institution.
“This burning issue adds to the existing stress and traumas experienced by children in a context characterised by widening and deepening injustice, inequality and poverty.”
Practice makes perfect
By using school and community gardens as practical tools, Geduld has established a community of practice with foundation phase teachers at Graslaagte Primary in Humansdorp and the neighbouring Early Childhood Care and Education centre (ECCE) to explore how these areas can be developed into spaces of learning for children.
“I see pupils as connected to the natural environment and they need to understand the fundamental ecological principles of nature, interdependence, species and ecosystems.
“They need to feel concern, empathy and respect for living things and other people, learning to develop the skills and competencies that support environmental justice and include the ability to create and use tools, objects and procedures that effectively lead to sustainable communities.
“Most importantly, they need to experience wonder and awe towards nature, and feel inspired just by witnessing the sight of nature.”
Childhood roots
Geduld, who grew up in Gqeberha, had her fascination for learning developed from a young age.
When she went to primary school, she was not necessarily exposed to her grandmother’s teachings, but the stories she heard from her formed the bedrock of her love of nature and the significance of the lessons she was taught.
Equally, her mother set the tone which moulded the development of Geduld’s belief in the importance of education.
“My mother did not experience the enjoyment, excitement and the opportunities encapsulated in being able to read,” she says.
“However, to her, reading was always a priority in enabling her children. The education of her children was not static – she chose the kind of education she wanted to give her children. Our home was a centre of learning.
“My mother was educated in a period when apartheid education was ruthlessly enforced. As a black woman living in South Africa, with all which that implied, she experienced extreme discrimination during the apartheid period.
“But it was also the life of that generation of South African women, as experienced by women elsewhere, in different periods in different countries, who had moved from their traditional place in home and family to a questioning world in which they had to fight to make a place for themselves.
Her mother’s way “was gentle”, but her lessons very powerful. They learnt, as children, to be grateful, no matter their circumstances. 
“In offering gratitude for our lives, we discovered how to change them for the better. This freedom encouraged us to bring order to our education, to learn to recognise our limitations, to appreciate our progress, and to weave these lessons into the fabric of our daily moments until they became a part of us.
“These lessons also kept me in touch with my humanity and in touch with my purpose – to educate for the empowerment of others.”
Nature as centre
Her research focuses on bringing eco-pedagogical awareness out from the peripheral to the forefront of mainstream education, adding to the ongoing global battle to protect our natural environment.
“In South Africa, this move could be instrumental in engendering ecological justice in three to eight-year-olds.
“With that awareness, children can tap into their own creativity to become eco-learners and future activists for ecological justice.”
Geduld’s research, which will take five years to complete, will be presented to the department of basic education and the South African Education Research Association to ensure the information is spread widely nationally and globally.
Nelson Mandela University researcher Dr Deidre Geduld is exploring practical ways to teach young children about the importance of contributing towards a sustainable living environment. 

Contact information
Dr Deirdre Geduld
Senior Lecturer
Tel: 041 504 2375