News from around the world: Education for Sustainability – training the teachers

By jay

The US Green Building Council (USGBC) has launched a project to educate students for a sustainable future by 2040, by training teachers to integrate lessons on sustainability into curricula. We look at the US plan as well as what’s happening in NZ.

The National Action Plan for Educating for Sustainability (EfS) will help teachers to “empower students to make decisions that balance the need to preserve healthy ecosystems with the need to promote vibrant economies and equitable social systems for all generations to come,” says the USGBC.

Created in partnership with US education leader Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the action plan outlines a strategy for all 50 US states to adopt a comprehensive green schools policy that will include a graduation requirement around sustainability literacy by 2040.

The groundwork is being laid with the formation of working groups; an online communications platform; creating a funding campaign; and sharing and distributing best case models and materials.

By 2020, EfS coaches should be available for all school districts, and by 2023, sustainability professionals should commonly be members of leadership teams in school districts. The following year, EfS will be embedded into the process of learning to be a teacher.

In New Zealand, the major player involved in training teachers to teach sustainability is The Enviroschools Foundation, a not-for profit organisation that runs two programmes – Enviroschools and Te Aho Tū Roa, in English-speaking and Te Reo Maori-speaking education settings respectively.   While they are distinct programmes, the two initiatives have in common a focus on community partnerships, the empowerment of young people, and the valuing of Maori perspectives and knowledge.

More than 950 early childhood education centres and schools in New Zealand are involved with the two programmes, which have been running for over 10 years. Tamariki and rangatahi (children and young people) in the programmes play a significant role in creating sustainable communities by:

  •  Implementing practical projects to reduce waste to landfill, conserve energy consumption, increase biodiversity and protect waterways.
  • Being role models of sustainable practices amongst their families and peers.

Since 2012, The Enviroschools Foundation has been mainly funded through an agreement with the Ministry for the Environment.  At a regional level, local government plays a significant role in the implementation of Enviroschools.

In terms of teacher education in New Zealand, there is no national directive regarding the inclusion of EfS.  As a result, what is offered and whether it is compulsory or optional, varies between the different institutions.

Until the end of 2009 New Zealand had an equivalent team to the EfS coaches being established in the States, however, these positions were disestablished with a change in educational priorities.

To find out more about the Enviroschools programme, click here.

Parts of this article originally appeared in the Sustainable Business News.