- Beyond the school gate
- Improving student learning
- Let's teach maths and science
- What's real in a virtual world?
- Careers and transition
- Curriculum for the 21st century
- Early childhood education & care
- Teachers and Teaching
Education for sustainability
Jo-Anne Ferreira and Julie Davis discuss ways in which their teaching builds students’ capacities in Education for Sustainability (EfS). They explore ways in which their research is developing cross-sectoral partnerships focused on EfS, creating new roles and new possibilities for teacher educators and for teacher education.
Teacher education has long been regarded as slow to take up the challenges of Education for Sustainability (EfS) thereby embedding EfS in our schools. For example, the United Nations in 1990 identified the professional development of teachers in education for sustainability as ‘the priority of priorities’. However, global initiatives on reorienting teacher education towards sustainability are yet to be effectively recognised in Australian state or national policy.
Time for change
The United Nations DESD provides impetus and new opportunities for integrating EfS into pre-service teacher education in Australia and for faculties of education to respond to these new opportunities. In the Faculty of Education at Queensland University of Technology (QUT)— Australia’s largest teacher education faculty—the Decade has inspired us to look for teaching and research synergies across our Faculty in relation to EfS and to broaden the focus of our research partnerships and collaborations outside of the Faculty. We believe that such activities will help us to provide our students with learning experiences that allow them to ‘learn the values, behaviour and lifestyles required for a sustainable future and for positive societal transformation’ (DESD 2004), to be well-equipped to integrate EfS into their own classroom teaching, and for Faculty staff to forge new partnerships and alliances in areas not traditionally utilised by teacher educators.
In rethinking our work as teacher educators in relation to the Decade, we employed the ‘cradle-to-grave’ concept used elsewhere in the environmental field, most notably in product life-cycle analyses. This concept provided us with a way to explore how, as a Faculty of Education, we may be able to have an effect on lifelong/lifewide learning. We sought to identify opportunities for us to embed EfS in a broad range of educational experiences— from early childhood and formal schooling through to tertiary, business and community education—through building our students’ capacity and through undertaking cross-sectoral research . Our efforts to address this broad range of educational experiences are outlined below.
Broadening our understanding
Pre-service teacher education courses within the Faculty of Education at QUT already have a considerable focus on EfS. For example, there are core units in Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE) embedded into each of the early childhood, primary and secondary teacher education programs. These units, in line with changes to all our teacher programs, have recently been redesigned to provide a stronger focus on critical and transformative curriculum and pedagogical practices. We anticipate that education for sustainability will be reinforced by the teaching and learning approaches newly developed across all of our current programs. For example, an innovative learning project using soft toys and web-based tools has been developed in the School of Early Childhood. This project encourages students to collaboratively investigate and design learning materials that support a range of investigations into current social and environmental issues. A sample of topics selected by students in the first semester of this project included recycling, water conservation, sustainable environments and sustainable gardening. The teaching and learning methods used in core units model the learner-centred, critically-reflective methods that best support the goals of EfS. For example, students learn how to critically reflect not only on social and environmental issues, but also on their own learning and their own teaching experiences, in both tutorials and assessment items. These units provide opportunities for students to trial a range of strategies and to receive peer feedback on their effectiveness and suitability in meeting the goals of EfS.
In addition, pre-service teacher educators in the early childhood and primary programs at QUT can choose to undertake an elective pathway in SOSE which has a strong emphasis on EfS. In these units, students examine the relationships between the three pillars of sustainability: society, the economy, and the environment. For example, students are encouraged to develop visions for sustainable futures, build partnerships with community groups and strengthen their analytical skills through units that focus on EfS in the Asia–Pacific, EfS and consumerism, EfS and learning outdoors, and EfS and globalisation. These units address the multiple dimensions of sustainability and so prepare our students to offer teaching and learning experiences that, as future teachers, help to overcome fragmentary ways of thinking, are relevant and contextual, and will motivate their students to work towards sustainability.
We are also strengthening the partnerships within our Faculty through co-teaching units and through collaborative research projects. These alliances not only provide social and professional support for staff; they also strengthen the EfS teaching and learning experience for our students and so help to deepen and broaden sustainability learning generally within the university.
Extending the boundaries
The DESD has also provided considerable momentum in the area of our educational research by providing opportunities for learning-based partnerships with public sustainability educators in the business, government and community sectors. Here, we have been identifying opportunities to undertake research with educators who sit outside the more easily recognised formal education sector.
One current research project, for example, involves literature review, field research and networking with people and organisations in the very diverse and fragmented early childhood sector. We are also involved in a new interdisciplinary research centre (Institute for Sustainable Resources) that has been established at QUT this year. This involvement has provided opportunities for working collaboratively with researchers and others both outside of the Education Faculty and outside the University.
For example, we have been engaged in the development of educational materials and programs for private corporations interested in public education about sustainability. This has brought us in touch with architects, town planners, engineers, marketing managers and the like, who have not traditionally been part of the teaching and research networks of educators.
While presenting some challenges to our ways of thinking and ways of practice, we believe that such crosssectoral collaboration is essential to furthering the aims of the Decade. These collaborations have allowed us to broaden our understanding of teacher education beyond the formal sector as we have found that there are many in the business community, for example, who seek to move beyond the limitations of communicating messages about sustainability towards more proactive, empowering forms of educating for sustainability.
Through our efforts to build our students’ capacities in EfS and to undertake cross-sectoral research, we believe we are improving our own capacity to offer interesting and provoking educational possibilities— from the cradle to the grave.
UNESCO (2004). United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005–2014: Draft International Implementation Scheme, Paris, UNESCO.
UNESCO-UNEP (1990). ‘Environmentally Educated Teachers: The Priority of Priorities’. Connect, XV (1), pp. 1–3.
The author owns the copyright in this article. For information related to the reuse of this work in any form please contact the publisher firstname.lastname@example.org