Environmental Education in Australian Schools: Over the Past Decade, Australian Schools Have Made Considerable Progress Educating Students about the Environment and Sustainable Practices. Cynthia Karena Looks at the Current State of Play
Karena, Cynthia, Ecos
Progress in environmental education in Australia has been made through curriculum development, sustainability projects, and the enthusiasm of teachers, parents and the community.
Many community and corporate environmental education programs vie for schools' attention. They include Landcare, Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, Gould League Multicultural Gardens, Energy Smart Schools Program, Keep Australia Beautiful, CSIRO's Carbon Kids, Habitat Heroes, Green Cross, Reef Guardians and Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots.
In 2001, in response to the multiplicity of different programs, the Australian Government, in partnership with the States and Territories, developed the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI). About a quarter of all Australian schools (more than 2000) have participated in AuSSI so far, which was designed to:
* provide resources, support and ideas for teachers to make schools more sustainable
* incorporate sustainability into school policy and the curriculum
* involve parents and the community in sustainability projects.
The 2000 federal government National Action Plan (1), which has four key strategies, outlines in part how Australia can participate in the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). The first three strategies encourage governments, schools, business and industry to achieve a culture of sustainability by developing policies to reduce their environmental footprint; the fourth strategy is to educate the community and to harness community spirit to live sustainably.
'[The plan] had very little effect on schools until the 2005 Education Statement (2), which gave a framework for what schools could be doing,' says Professor Annette Gough, who coauthored the statement.
Prof. Gough is a pioneer in Australian environmental education, and now heads the School of Education at RMIT University. She says the 2009 National Action Plan (3) 'puts a stronger agenda for universities in environmental education through teacher education'.
But there is something missing from the plan, says Dr Amy Cutter-Mackenzie, senior education lecturer at Monash University and co-editor of the Australian Journal of Environmental Education.
'The words nature, wild, consumption, wilderness, animals, place, space or eco do not appear in the document,' she says. 'This suggests they have no role in environmental education--or more accurately, education for sustainability'. (4)
Dr Cutter-Mackenzie cites Sobel (5), who argues that environmental education must allow children to 'have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it and feel comfortable in it, before being asked to heal its wounds'.
'This is where environmental education starts--with young people: their own lives, their own place, their own environment, and the other-than-human; says Dr Cutter-Mackenzie. 'Such messages are clearly inconsistent with those of 'education for sustainability' and/or many popularised conceptions of sustainable development.'
But Cam Mackenzie, an advisor on environmental sustainability to the Queensland government, points out that many countries don't even have an action plan.
'We are doing exemplary work in environmental education in Australia; we are leap years ahead" says Mackenzie, who has seen environmental initiatives implemented in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, China, South Africa and India.
'In general, Australia is better at the curriculum integration, resources minimisation and sustainability action plans than the international programs. Most overseas environmental education programs haven't the same depth as AuSSI. They tend to follow a more traditional approach that focuses on environmental sustainability issues such as reducing waste, water and energy. …