Teaching sustainability in secondary education

Last year, at the symposium Het Groene Brein Roots!, I met a Programme Coordinator from the teacher training course at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, RUAS. He mentioned that he was working on a project on teaching sustainability, in order to integrate sustainability into the secondary education curriculum.

teaching sustainabilityAt the time, I was also working on this topic, together with TBT Consultancy. So following this initial meeting, we met again and talked about the further development of his plans. And now, two training courses have been developed at RUAS for Sustainable Development Coordinators, focused on promoting the understanding of sustainability within secondary education (click for info at this link, only in Dutch).

“Someone within the school walls needs to know what teaching sustainability is all about”

I believe a milestone has been reached with these developed courses. Whereas sustainability was initially only taught at universities, it has percolated to higher education, to vocational education and is now slowly being introduced in secondary education. And that is very important. In order to understand sustainability it should be taught as an integral part of a coherent world view. The sooner that happens, the better. After all, as soon as the sustainability concept is understood, it can readily be applied at all knowledge levels and within any variety of situations.

Although sustainability is now a well-known term, integrating the sustainability concept into existing curricula is still a challenge. It isn’t, or at least it shouldn’t be, a separate discipline but at the same time it shouldn’t only be left to specialist subject teachers to integrate sustainability into their courses. As we concluded after our meetings: a school needs someone who knows how to integrate sustainability into the whole curriculum. And the more people there are within a school that understand sustainability, the better the sustainability concept can be taught.

Don’t just teach, show it as well

Teachers shouldn’t contend themselves with merely explaining what sustainability is, especially not in secondary education. It is much more effective to show students examples in the direct vicinity of the school. Sustainability should be an integral part of school operations, illustrated with examples that appeal to students. Something they can observe and ask questions about.

Everyone enjoys a good story, but in secondary education this is especially important. Part of the sustainability training course should therefore be learning how to tell a good story. The person within the school who knows about teaching sustainability, should also be able to talk about it in an appealing way for secondary school students. That can be a challenge. Solar panels may look impressive but don’t do very much, a high efficiency boiler doesn’t even look very impressive and basically continues to be a big, white cupboard.

Because of this, it will require knowledge and skills to develop the supporting educational materials and access and select the large amount of information to be found, for instance, on internet. And for that matter, teaching sustainability requires a substantial investment in time, which should be sufficiently available for an investment in the Sustainable Education Coordinator training to become a success.

Also published on Wijnand’s personal blog.

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