Local Communities and Schools Tackling Sustainability and Climate Change

By Flowers, Rick; Chodkiewicz, Andrew | Australian Journal of Environmental Education, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

Local Communities and Schools Tackling Sustainability and Climate Change


Flowers, Rick, Chodkiewicz, Andrew, Australian Journal of Environmental Education


Introduction

Local communities and schools remain key sites for the development and implementation of programs that tackle issues of climate change and sustainability. Despite widespread agreement about the importance of developing environmental awareness during childhood and through the school years (Department of Environment and Heritage, 2005; Fisman, 2005; Palmer, Suggate, Robottom, & Hart, 1999) opportunities and support for environmental education in Australian schools and their communities have remained limited. We argue that partnerships between communities and schools have the potential for achieving more transformative change, through more authentic and transformative learning experiences in, about, and for the local environment.

Recently, a lack of direct experiences of nature and teachers' uncertainty about environmental education have been identified as factors that prevent school children and young people from gaining an awareness of the environment. For example, Malone (2007) refers to children growing up in Australia without any direct experiences of the environment as the "bubble wrap generation". Kennelly & Taylor (2007, p. 7) have also pointed to the lack of agreement among primary school teachers and educators in Australia "on what environmental education should actually look like in schools, and there is teacher uncertainty as to what is achievable in particular school contexts and even uncertainty as to whether or not environmental education is appropriate in schools".

Despite these issues, there is, however, a growing interest in what Kalantzis and Cope (2008) call "new learning", and in exploring new approaches to environmental education with children and young people. These include experiential learning (Kennelly & Taylor, 2007); place based education (Smith, 2007); local learning (Fisman, 2005); and free choice environmental education (Kola-Olusanya, 2005). Many also emphasise the need to re-orient and strengthen environmental education in schools, and to establish whole-school approaches to sustainability that involve staff, students and the community (Ferreira, Ryan, & Tilbury, 2006; Henderson & Tilbury, 2004; Shallcross & Robinson, 2008; Tilbury, Coleman, & Garlick, 2005).

While calling for such approaches, these studies also note that reaching out beyond the school gate through direct, authentic and transformative educational experiences remains a major challenge for educators (Hayes & Chodkiewicz, 2006; Kalantzis & Cope, 2008; Whelan, 2005). In this paper we describe and discuss some of the ways communities and schools have been working together for sustainability in one Australian State, New South Wales (NSW). Based on this, we offer our thoughts for the effective development and implementation of authentic and transformative learning opportunities.

Sustainable Schools Programs

Environmental education in schools, and efforts to use whole-school approaches, have been in existence for decades. Among the well established international whole-school programs are Eco-Schools, set up in 1994 and now operating in 43 countries, involving more than 27,000 schools and 4,000 local authorities (FEE, 2008); Enviro Schools in the UK and New Zealand; and the Canadian Green Schools program in over 5,500 schools (SEEDS, 2009).

In Australia, sustainable schools programs were first piloted in 2003-4 in two Australian states, NSW and Victoria. The programs were then expanded to include all Australian States and Territories, with Federal Government support and co-ordination provided through the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI). A total of $2 000 000 over three years was allocated in 2005 to support the program (DEH, 2005a). For the 2009/10 financial year the allocation is $650,000, with each State and Territory matching the level of Federal government funding (K. Plowman, personal communication, May 29, 2009).

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