Environmental Education for a sustainable future: formal schooling
The Australian Government is currently working to improve the coordination of environmental education in schools. Its Sustainable Schools initiative integrates existing, fragmented approaches to sustainability education into a holistic program with measurable environmental, financial and curriculum outcomes. The Department of the Environment and Heritage and the Department of Education Science and Training are currently working with State and Territory education departments on a National Environmental Education Statement for Schools, to set out the key aims and principles for schools in the area of environmental education.
Environmental education, in its broadest sense, encompasses awareness raising, acquiring new perspectives, values, knowledge and skills, and the processes that lead to changed behaviour in support of a sustainable environment.
Effective environmental education is more than the simple communication of environmental facts, although this is often a preliminary goal. Rather it aims to provide people with the knowledge, values, skills and motivation to act voluntarily in support of ecologically sustainable development. Environmental education, and more particularly education for sustainability, also seeks to incorporate environmental goals into mainstream society, according these goals equal priority with other legitimate social and economic objectives.
Environmental education is critical to Australia's transition to a more sustainable society.
While there is a need for environmental education in all sectors of the Australian community, its inclusion in formal schooling remains one of the most effective means for addressing the challenge of sustainability.
Environmental education in schools today
The status of environmental education in schools today is highlighted by the findings of the Curriculum Corporation's 2003 Environmental Education Review. Commissioned by the National Environmental Education Council and the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage, the review indicated that key topics such as biodiversity, sustainability, greenhouse and endangered species were under-represented or missing from State and Territory curriculum documents.
While these gaps exist, it is generally recognised that a significant proportion of environmental education in schools takes place outside of the curriculum. Approaches vary from one school to the next, but schools engage in a variety of environmentally-related activities, ranging from composting and worm farming through to whole-school environment programs. A diverse range of kits, resources and other materials have been produced by community groups, governments, business and industry and other organisations to support these initiatives.
It is also acknowledged that environmental education activities in schools have different aims and have been introduced for different reasons. Some programs focus on experiencing the natural world, while others seek to influence actions and behaviour in support of ecologically sustainable development. Increasingly, schools are recognising the broader social and economic benefits from an involvement in environmental programs.
Greater coordination for environmental education
Given the current nature of environmental education in schools, the Australian Government has in recent years focused on, among other things, improving the coordination of activities. This approach recognises there are many bodies involved in environmental education in schools. It also promotes the effective use of resources and quality outcomes.
Initiatives such as the National Environmental Education Network, which includes State and Territory education and environment agencies, have been instigated under the National Action Plan for Environmental Education to assist the coordination of environmental education activities. The most significant initiative to result from the Network to date has been Sustainable Schools.
The defining feature of Sustainable Schools is the integration of existing and fragmented approaches to sustainability education into a holistic program with measurable environmental, financial and curriculum outcomes. The initiative implements efficiencies in a school's management of resources, such as energy, waste, water and biodiversity, and integrates this approach into the existing curriculum and daily running of the school. It also encourages the formation of partnerships by involving the school's local community.
Through Sustainable Schools, students are active in making their schools more sustainable, while teachers have much needed access to professional development in Environmental Education, delivered through supporting agencies and Environmental Education centres. The initiative does not replace other Environmental Education activities in schools; rather it links to these, and provides a planning and organisational infrastructure to enhance the effectiveness of existing activities.
The aim is to extend the initial trials of Sustainable Schools in NSW and Victoria nationally. The Department of the Environment and Heritage is currently liaising with each State and Territory regarding the further development of this initiative.
Building on the Sustainable Schools work, the Department of the Environment and Heritage and the Department of Education Science and Training are currently working with State and Territory education departments on the development of a National Environmental Education Statement for Schools. The purpose of the Statement is to set out the key aims and principles for schools in the area of environmental education and how these can be achieved.
Recognising that an environmentally literate community is fundamental to addressing Australia's environmental challenges, a program of environmental education research is also being developed in order to identify key factors and impediments influencing sustainability education. Results of this research will inform and enhance the effectiveness of future policies and programs.
For more information contact the Environmental Education Section of the Department of the Environment and Heritage on (02) 6274 1523 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
School and community