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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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The National Action Plan for Education for Sustainable Development

Special report

The Australian Government is developing a National Action Plan for Education for Sustainable Development (NAP ESD) to achieve a more sustainable Australia through community education and learning.

The NAP ESD will identify a range of strategies and actions to enable the community to contribute to sustainable development, outline tasks for which the Australian Government will take responsibility and provide national leadership in encouraging actions by others.

The NAP ESD will supersede the existing National Action Plan for Environmental Education, released in July 2000. The existing plan has lead to the implementation of a broad range of valuable initiatives in Australia. These include the establishment of the National Environmental Education Council (NEEC), National Environmental Education Network (NEEN) and Australian Research Institute in Education for Sustainability (ARIES). The plan can also be credited with the development of the successful Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI).   

The overarching framework for the NAP ESD is Caring for our Future – The Australian Government Strategy for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, 2005–2014.  Within this framework, the NAP ESD will build on current activities, broadening the focus to explicitly acknowledge the interconnected nature of the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. 

The challenge ahead

To address unsustainable practices and promote sustainable development, new ways of living and working across all sectors of the Australian community are required. Citizens must be well informed in order to engage with the complex issues involved, including the need to balance competing interests.

Educational programs are key elements in winning community support for sustainability, and schools are a key element within the process of community education and learning. One of the major roles of the NAP ESD process will be to determine priorities for education for sustainable development within the school sector, and to identify possible strategies, actions and research projects to address these.

The Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative

The Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI) is a partnership between the Australian Government and the States and Territories that supports schools to work towards a sustainable future. With assistance from AuSSI partners, schools are offered support and guidance to adopt best practice, quality curriculum support, audit tools to manage resources, and ideas for on-ground projects. They are also offered ideas about how to involve the local community and encourage a shift in the broader community towards more sustainable practices and processes.

AuSSI provides networking and clustering opportunities for schools. It supports schools in their growth as they move from simply being aware of sustainability issues towards playing a leadership role in environmental education for sustainability and sustainable living. AuSSI fosters school ownership and empowerment and focuses on student involvement and learning.

AuSSI seeks to promote action learning and the integration of sustainability issues into school curriculums. It encourages the involvement of the whole school and its local community and supports teaching and learning for sustainability as a fundamental component of the curriculum and school governance practices.

The benefits to schools can include: reduced consumption of resources; improved management of school grounds and facilities; a focus for teachers and students to work on real-life problems and outcomes; professional development opportunities for school staff; and the establishment of the school as a model for sustainability within the local community.

Information on AuSSI initiatives across Australia is available via the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Water Resources’ website, the State and Territory websites of NSW, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, and from community bodies CERES and the Gould Group in Victoria.

Nationwide, more than 2,000 schools are now participating in AuSSI. Participating schools have reported reductions in waste collection of up to 40 per cent, reductions in water consumption of up to 40 per cent and savings on electricity expenditure of as much as $8,900.  A comparative assessment of pilot AuSSI programs in Victoria and New South Wales was conducted in 2004–05. It found that both pilot programs generated identifiable educational, environmental, social and professional benefits.

Teacher education

At present, whole-school approaches to sustainability are not sufficiently widespread in Australia. The uptake of AuSSI and related initiatives in schools is dependent on teachers who are knowledgeable about sustainability and have the capacity to implement whole-school approaches.

Recognising the vital role that teacher education plays in achieving changes in Australian schools, the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Water Resources recently commissioned a report through ARIES to investigate how Learning for Sustainability can be most effectively mainstreamed into teacher education.  The research is titled Whole-school approaches to sustainability: A review of models for professional development in pre-service teacher education.

Existing programs used in various parts of the world were examined. The research identified three principal models of professional development used to instigate change in pre-service teacher education. The report recommended that a combination of the Action Research and the Whole-of-System models be used to embed Learning for Sustainability in teacher education. The recommended approach would seek change at a number of levels in the teacher education system, including teacher education accreditation, curriculum and resource development.

NAP ESD development process

The project website developed by consultants UrbisJHD will provide information about the progress of the NAP ESD. A discussion paper, due in April, will provide the basis for discussion at State and Territory workshops to be held during April and May 2007.

This article has been prepared from the following sources:

Development of a New Action Plan (UrbisJHD)

Caring for our Future – The Australian Government Strategy for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, 2005–2014 http://www.environment.gov.au/education/publications/caring.html

About AuSSI http://www.environment.gov.au/education/aussi/about.html

Comparative Assessment: Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative Pilot Programme in NSW and Victoria http://www.environment.gov.au/education/publications/comparative-assessment.html

Whole-school approaches to sustainability: A review of models for professional development in pre-service teacher education

Key Learning Areas

Studies of Society and Environment

Subject Headings

Educational planning
Education policy
Western Australia (WA)
Northern Territory
South Australia
New South Wales (NSW)
Environmental Education
Sustainable development