Incorporating sustainability into the curriculum

30 May 2012

Waste Watch believes that Education is an essential tool for achieving sustainability.

By educating children and young people to understand the links and synergies between society and the environment we are preparing future citizens to not only understand how our wellbeing and natures goes hand in hand, but also provide young people with the ability to think critically and  to make informed choices based on evidence. This is vital for the future leadership of society in a rapidly changing world.

Currently schools tend to limit sustainability to isolated topics in subjects such as geography or science. Waste Watch believes that sustainability should be taught at the core of the curriculum. Sustainability should and could be embed across any subject, especially English, maths and science.

Many schools still see sustainability as an extra, for example running a green event, doing extracurricular work, or running an eco club. But such ‘add on’ activities should be used to complement sustainability as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, rather than be the focus of sustainability work.  

However, many schools faced with incorporating sustainability as part of a broad and balanced curriculum may feel daunted due the lack of ideas of how to go about doing so. This isn’t exactly helped in England by a state system that does not support, train or assess teachers and students in sustainability. We feel this is a missed opportunity that has been well received in Wales and Scotland.

Fortunately, there are some good examples which schools can draw inspiration from; one of them being the recent BBC Two ‘Ecomaths’ series which demonstrates how maths is used in the real world to help create a sustainable future.

Waste Watch’s Education Officer, Pamela Kane, collaborated with Ecomaths to show students how. Children learn and explore through maths to reduce food waste by turning facts and figures into fractions and percentages. You can watch the results below.

Although, programmes such as ‘Ecomaths’ are a step in the right direction, on their own they are not enough. Schools need to embed sustainability and place it at the centre of learning, culture and building management. This needs support and leadership from the government to place sustainability as a fundamental aim within its current curriculum reform as recommended by a recent expert review panel.

Furthermore teachers need to be trained and supported to demonstrate how to embed sustainability in way that does not create more work but leads to better understanding, questioning and learning about core subjects framed within a changing world.

Waste Watch understands the challenge of embedding sustainability, not only into the school curriculum, but also into a school’s culture and values, and is working towards finding the best way to help schools in the process.

Over the next year we will be providing evidence to show how to place sustainability at the centre of a whole school approach. Furthermore we will be challenging the Department of Education to take notice of increasing calls to recognise education for sustainability as a vital skill required for our future as part of their current curriculum reform.

For more information please contact

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