Welcome to the Curriculum & Leadership Journal website.
To receive our fortnightly Email Alert,
please click on the blue menu item below.
Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
Follow us on twitter

Beyond green: education for sustainability

Ron Hoenig
Communications Coordinator, Learning Outcomes and Curriculum Group, Department of Education and Children's Services, South Australia

Sustainability is more than just 'being green'. And sustainable education is about much more than recycling in schools.

The term sustainable development first broke into Western consciousness in 1987, with the publication of Our Common Future: the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development.

The Commission's definition was: 'Development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' But, according to one website, there are well over 100 definitions.

According to educational theorist Stephen Sterling, sustainability education involves a paradigm shift from a mechanistic view of the world to the view that 'educational culture (is) about the realization of human potential and the interdependence of social, economic and ecological wellbeing leading to transformative learning'.

Earlier this year, education for sustainability was discussed at a seminar in South Australia titled Towards Sustainable Schools and Sites - growing our wisdom as sustainable communities.

The diverse group present represented parents, principals, teachers, grounds people, governing council members, environmental agencies and groups, kindergartens, tertiary education institutions, health agencies, education agencies and professional teachers associations.

The information and views gathered in the seminar will fuel development of a draft South Australian model for sustainable schools and sites within the context of state and national initiatives for sustainable futures and sustainable schools.

What is a sustainable school?

The South Australian Primary Principals Association's (SAPPA) Curriculum Committee has defined a sustainable school as one where the 'reporting on educational standards, economic management, social and cultural welfare and environmental performance are interconnected and equally important.'

SAPPA is part of a group exploring the concept of Sustainable Schools. Others collaborating in raising the profile of sustainability education in South Australia are the Department of Education and Community Services (DECS) Learning Outcomes and Curriculum Group, Department for Environment and Heritage (Environmental Education Unit), the Asia Pacific Network for International Education and Values Education and the Youth Environment Council of South Australia.

In a keynote address, eminent environmental scientist at Queensland's Griffith University, Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe said the present course of action, 'business as usual' was unsustainable and postponing action on the environment and on inequity in the distribution of the world's resources was unsustainable.

It was the role of education to equip all people to cope with and shape changes necessary for the continuation of the planet.

Sustainable education was for life as well as work. It was inclusive of all social, cultural and gender groups; it recognised our geographic position and recognised that knowledge was no longer necessarily coded in English.

Professor Lowe said it was time to take a stand on sustainability for the benefit of both future generations and other species on earth that have no voice.

This view was not utopian, he said, reminding the audience that at various times in the recent past a world without slavery, universal adult franchise and a South Africa without apartheid were considered unattainable.

Educators agreed that South Australia's curriculum framework, in particular the Essential Learnings, provides a strong mandate for learning about ecological and social sustainability in integrated, practical, hands-on ways. The Futures focus empowers students to develop the optimism, dispositions and capacities needed to change current unsustainable behaviours - modelling and promoting positive lifestyle choices, lifelong learning, and consumer education.

The learning processes used in Sustainable Schools should support young people, to take responsibility for being personally committed, engaged, acting with integrity, and undertaking active learning which integrates theory and practice.

Leaders in education and other areas are already looking at sustainability as a way to manage the complexity of their work.

For example, the Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) Team, within DECS Site Property Services supports schools and sites to be active in taking on the State's 'Greening of Government' operations by

  • embedding ESD design principles into DECS building/refurbishment programs
  • incorporating ESD implementation into practice and policy across DECS through long-term strategic planning
  • providing advice and guidance to sites and staff regarding ESD principles
  • benchmarking, assessing and reporting in support of the implementation of government policies
  • providing evaluation and feedback on environmental practices.
The Learning to Learn project is exploring what sustainable education means in re-visioning the nature and purpose of learning and whole school change. For example the Hills Cluster of schools, is working on integrating student voice, futures and sustainable education.

The South Australian Civics and Citizenship Education program places knowledge and concepts within the context of a whole school civics and citizenship ethos. It emphasises student voice and civic capacity building so the whole school community is engaging in informed and responsible citizenship.

At a national level the Department of the Environment and Heritage is supporting sustainable schools projects in NSW and Victoria.

This article is an edited version of a report that appeared in Xpress, 21 August 2003.

If you are interested in contributing to discussions on sustainable schools and sites please contact David Butler, Policy Officer, Society and Environment, DECS by telephone on 82264312 or email at butler.david@saugov.sa.gov.au.


Subject Headings

Curriculum planning
School and community
South Australia