Embed sustainability across the curriculum

Embed sustainability across the curriculum

In the same week that, after a month of devastating floods, the president of South Africa declared that climate change is here and we “can no longer postpone what we need to do”, the UK Department for Education unveiled its Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy. The education secretary claimed that the government is putting climate change and sustainability “at the heart of education” and said that two new initiatives – the National Education Park and the Climate Leaders Award – will “shift the dial” in how we approach sustainability in education. Not everyone is convinced that the dial is being moved anywhere close to far enough. One view is that the government’s approach to green education is not bold enough because it is resisting steps to embed sustainability across the curriculum.

The Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy is divided into ‘action areas’. One of them is climate education. In addition to learning about the natural environment, this action area also covers support for teaching and learning in the natural environment. Another key action area is green skills and careers, promising to seek to inspire young people to choose career paths that support the transition to net zero, the restoration of biodiversity and a sustainable future. This include the promise of a T level in agriculture, land management and production by September 2023.

The National Education Park and Climate Leaders Award initiatives were first announced at COP26. We discussed them in our blog The government’s DofE-style award for the environment is a step forward. The big new announcement last week was the plan for a new natural history GCSE. We commented that the new qualification is likely to be studied only by a minority of students and that the government “has avoided the more radical, ambitious and impactful approach of embedding learning about sustainability and climate change across the curriculum.”

Embed sustainability

One of the documents used to inform the new strategy is the 2021 Dasgupta Review, a landmark Treasury document which called for high-profile nature education because “our long-term prosperity relies on rebalancing our demand of nature’s goods and services with its capacity to supply them” – in other words, it makes good economic sense to improve the way that we manage nature and the environment, and education has a crucial role to play in ensuring that happens.

When the Dasgupta Review was published, the Guardian newspaper’s write-up included a particularly striking quote: it said that the review “would like to see an understanding of nature given as prominent a place in education as the ‘three Rs’, to end people’s distance from nature.” Frustratingly, the newspaper article did not make clear where the comment comes from or exactly who said it; those exact words do not appear to be in the review itself.

There is a concern that, despite the government’s talk of putting sustainability at the heart of education, the new strategy does not in fact go far enough.

The Green Schools Project works with schools to promote environmental education and local action to tackle climate change and other green challenges. In its response to the publication of a draft version of the new strategy, the Green Schools Project called for:

  • the national curriculum to be updated so that human-caused climate change is covered in sufficient depth and is taught through all subject areas
  • an hour a week for all classes in all year groups for dedicated climate and nature education
  • opportunities for all pupils to be actively involved in carbon reduction projects at their schools and in their local community

Life-Based Learning and green education for children

The Life-Based Learning approach aims to reorganises learning around the immense challenges that we all face in the coming decades. One way of doing this is through an integrated approach that moves away from the rigid compartmentalisation of learning into individual subjects, with the ensuing risk that much of importance is lost in the interstices between one subject and the next. Instead, LBL reframes the curriculum around nine learning themes. Subject content is respected – all of it – but it is delivered through nine life themes that directly address the challenges we face.

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Image at the head of this article by NiklasPntk from Pixabay.

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