'Enough for Everyone Forever?': Considering Sustainability of Resource Consumption with Year 10 Students

By Walshe, Nicola | Teaching Geography, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

'Enough for Everyone Forever?': Considering Sustainability of Resource Consumption with Year 10 Students


Walshe, Nicola, Teaching Geography


Sustainability is increasingly important within education. This enquiry considers the question 'Enough for everyone forever?' with a focus on global energy resources. It explores the relationship between population and resources, looking at the theories proposed by Malthus and Boserup through a graph-labelling activity. The students then considered the social and economic impacts of environmental problems and used a Why/Why Not Wheel to decide the pros and cons of taking action to reduce their ecological footprint.

Why sustainability? A rationale

Sustainability is increasingly important as a concept within education, particularly in the light of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-1 4). In 2009 the DCSF launched the Sustainable Schools Framework which encourages schools to 'prepare young people for a lifetime of sustainable living, through its teaching, its fabric and its day-to-day practice.' Although Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) became part of the National Curriculum in England in 2000, according to the Environmental Audit Committee its integration into teaching was initially patchy. However, the 2008 National Curriculum places significantly more emphasis on ESD, both within discrete subjects and through one of the seven new cross-curricular dimensions: global dimension and sustainable development (see Figure 1).

Wthin the new geography Programme of Study (QCA, 2007) there is clear recognition of the significant role geography can play in educating students about sustainability:

Geography inspires pupils to become global citizens by exploring their own place in the world, their values and their responsibilities to other people, to the environment and to the sustainability of the planet, (p. 101)

While government publications and policy seem to stress the importance of ESD, little formal research has been undertaken on students' real understandings of it. In previous work with my year 8 students I found that they appeared to knowthe 'three pillars' of sustainability (environmental, social and economic), but many had only a superficial appreciation of the concepts themselves and very limited understanding of the interconnectivity between them (Walshe, 2008). This is particularly concerning for a concept, the very nature of which is predicated on the notion of such interconnectivity as well as students' understanding of the unavoidable tensions between the natural environment, the social dimension and economics. This lack of deep understanding, coupled with students' apparent desire to better understand the relevance of sustainability to their lives, caused the geography department at Bottisham Village College to try to develop lessons where students would begin to get to grips with sustainability as a complex concept and make more direct links to their own lives.

Enough for everyone forever?

'Consuming Resources' is one of the three compulsory topics of the 'People and the Planet' unit within the Edexcel B geography specification. The first part of this topic examines how and why resource consumption varies in different parts of the world, and the second looks more specifically at how sustainable the current pattern of resource supply and consumption is. It is this second part around which we designed a short geographical enquiry entitled 'Enough for everyone forever?' (Figure 2). The focus within the specifications is on global energy resources, rather than a more wide-ranging look at consumerism asa dimension of consumption (as discussed by Rawding, 2009). The overarching enquiry question, 'Enough for everyone forever?', was based on a definition of sustainability which is apparently used in Australia, and which we felt contained sufficient pith to engage students, and a critical question to challenge their thinking (Taylor, 2004).

In a recent Teaching Geography article, Peter Jones (2009) describes one lesson on sustainable energy in which students were introduced to the concept of sustainable energy, and went on to survey the school's energy consumption.

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