The Australian-Ness of Curriculum Jigsaws: Where Does Environmental Education Fit?

By Gough, Annette | Australian Journal of Environmental Education, June 2011 | Go to article overview

The Australian-Ness of Curriculum Jigsaws: Where Does Environmental Education Fit?


Gough, Annette, Australian Journal of Environmental Education


Introduction

In recent years there has been growing recognition that action is needed now if Australian society, and global society, is to have a sustainable future. Numerous reports (1) over the past two decades from international and Australian government bodies have agreed that a holistic approach towards sustainable development--development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, p. 8.)--is needed. Such sustainable development encompasses the interconnectedness of social, economic and environmental issues, rather than just focusing on environmental protection.

These reports have also acknowledged the importance of education at all levels in achieving a sustainable future:

Education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues... It is also critical for achieving environmental and ethical awareness, values and attitudes, skills and behaviour consistent with sustainable development, and for effective public participation in decision-making. (United Nations, 1993, Agenda 21, paragraph 36.3)

This education for sustainability (or sustainable development) is the means by which Australian schools and communities can (and should) work towards creating a sustainable future.

In this paper I review how the Australian government has responded to these developments, with a particular emphasis on the past seven years--that is, since the announcement of the implementation plan for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNESCO, 2004)--and with particular reference to the governmental structures to support the development of environmental education and specific developments in formal education sectors.

I also highlight a key tension in the implementation of environmental education in school curriculum over the past three decades. This tension continues as the National Curriculum proposes "Earth and Environmental Science" as a separate subject at Year 11 and 12 levels (National Curriculum Board, 2009), while also incorporating sustainability across the curriculum, consistent with the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCEETYA, 2008, p. 9). That this tension remains unresolved is part of the Australian-ness of environmental education.

Over two decades ago Ian Robottom (1987, p. 95) postulated that "if the conventional curriculum is a jigsaw puzzle made up of subject 'pieces', then environmental education may be a piece of a different puzzle altogether". As I discuss in this paper, it may be that environmental education is more than just part of a different jigsaw puzzle. As Fensham (1987, p. 22) noted with respect to the characteristics of Australian environmental education as he saw them in 1977, "we were not to see ourselves as apart from but integrally part of the Australian environment(s)" and "action and learning were seen as being symbiotic aspects of environmental education in all its stages--a very different pedagogical view from that which prevails in much of substantial learning". Thus not only does environmental education imply a non-conventional curriculum for Australian environmental educators, it also implies a different pedagogical view, and different worldviews--and, more than two decades on, government actions in environmental education curriculum in Australia indicate that the question as to which jigsaw puzzle(s) environmental education belongs remains unresolved.

The jigsaw is a powerful metaphor for environmental education in that it "is at once a force of nature, a natural phenomenon, and the by-product of some supernatural plan. Nature creates its own puzzles and we imitate them" (Drabble, 2009, p. 273). However, the jigsaw puzzle(s) of which environmental education is/are a part is/are not confined by the safety of a frame, "of knowing that all the pieces will fit together in the end. …

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