Friday 11 November 2005

Learning for Sustainability School Conference 2005

I attended the Learning for Sustainability School Conference put on by a local education authority yesterday. It was aimed at people in various local educational roles and since I'm a school governor, I got an invitation. There are many groups promoting sustainability and the conference was an effort to bring these many groups together.

Sustainability is all very well and good but I was very sceptical about how it could be integrated into a learning environment. If we want to achieve sustainability, I believe it needs some pretty radical changes and not just some greenwash in a classroom. How far were they willing to go?

Turns out that Education for Sustainability is already defined as part of the UK National Curriculum :

Education for sustainable development enables people to develop the knowledge, values and skills to participate in decisions about the way we do things individually and collectively, both locally and globally, that will improve the quality of life now without damaging the planet for the future. (The National Curriculum, 1999)

Not bad. Can't really argue with that.

The proposition at the conference is that Education for Sustainability must be pursued by a whole school approach where the entire ethos of the school is based on seven principles:

  • Interdependence

  • Citizenship and stewardship

  • Needs and rights of future generations

  • Diversity

  • Quality of life

  • Sustainable change

  • Uncertainty and precaution.

It's not just a taught subject. It's a way of threading together multiple topics. It's a perspective at which to look at everything that's done. It's an ethos and organisation prinple for the whole school.

The WWF has developed a useful education framework called Pathways. In their workshop, there was some inspiring case studies of schools that had fully embrassed this sustainability ethos (St Crispin's). It provided a nice roadmap for how to move a school forward. Meanwhile, the local borough is trying to embrace and extended this framework and promote it to the local schools. I need to read it still. There are some other interesting initiatives such as EcoSchools and FACE.

I even had a chat with a Senior Countryside Ranger about natural play and that article I had read in the Ecologist. He basically agreed that school grounds were generally not be used effectively.

I warmed up to this entire effort but had one concern. I raised the issue of ethical consumption with one of the speakers from Ofsted, Leszek Iwaskow. Was teaching about ethical consumption part of the sustainability agenda? I was impressed that he was all for it and even used it as an example in a later talk. It would be a great way to engage kids in secondary schools.

Sometimes, I do feel that Education for Sustainability smacks of "here, kids, we've had a party, spent your inheritance and don't have the political will to do anything about it so you better start thinking about how you might fix it". But it's better than the status quo and might raise a generation that has the political will to make the difficult decisions ahead.

Meanwhile, maybe they should add survivalist courses to the National Curriculum. If it's all too little, too late then they might just need it.

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