Education for the Anthropocene: The contribution of Vasily Sukhomlinsky

Alan Leslie Cockerill

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We live during the Anthropocene, an age when the future of our planet depends on human action. Our future, and that of all other species, depends on the characters and actions of billions of future global citizens, on our ability to co-exist with each other, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to modify our behaviour and expectations in the light of the growing burden we are placing on the natural environment.
Vasily Sukhomlinsky was the principal of a combined primary and secondary school in Pavlysh, a rural settlement in central Ukraine, from 1948 to 1970. Working in the aftermath of the Second World War, when nearly all the families in the region had suffered great trauma, he developed a holistic system of education that was grounded in a deep connection with the natural environment. Sukhomlinsky conducted frequent excursions into fields, forests and workplaces that surrounded his school. Such excursions were utilised to foster observation and thought, to develop aesthetic sensibilities, and to strengthen his students’ health and resilience. Sukhomlinsky paid great attention to students’ relationships with each other, with their families, and with members of the community. Sukhomlinsky actively encouraged a sense of global citizenship, teaching his students about the lives of children in other countries, and encouraging them to reach out to those in need.
Sukhomlinsky had a collaborative approach to teacher education. He thought the principal should be the leading educator in a school, and should help all teachers to turn their lessons into creative laboratories. When new staff joined his school he worked with them for years, visiting their lessons, and inviting them to visit his lessons and the lessons of other teachers. All the teachers at his school were studying some aspect of the education process, and presenting their findings at staff meetings. Many of them also published articles about their research in periodicals.
Sukhomlinsky’s school was visited by thousands of educators from the length and breadth of the Soviet Union and beyond. His books and articles were read by millions, and published in dozens of languages. He made strenuous efforts not only to develop the best possible practices in his own school, but to promote such practices throughout the Soviet Union and internationally.
Sukhomlinsky’s influence endures in Ukraine and Russia, and in recent decades has grown remarkably in China. In a 2013 collaboration between an Australian researcher and a Ukrainian teacher training institute, an art competition was held that attracted entries from thousands of Ukrainian school students, and resulted in the publication of an illustrated English language edition of some of Sukhomlinsky’s stories for children.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational conversations of teacher educators: collaborations in education
EditorsMary Jane Harkins, Zhanna Barchuk, Rupert Collister
Place of PublicationHalifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
PublisherFaculty of Education, Mount Saint Vincent University
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9780995196926
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Sukhomlinsky
  • Education
  • Anthropocene

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