As a sustainability educator, it has been interesting to watch schools make the transition to the new Australian Curriculum which requires the teaching of sustainability as a cross-curriculum priority. Some schools have embraced sustainability in many forms – implementing programs as part of infrastructure, daily operations, curriculum, student leadership programs and community celebrations. However, others have found it challenging to engage with sustainability – and this is often due to a range of perceived barriers including a lack of support, training and confidence, as well as limited time and funding.
I’ve also realised that one of the biggest obstacles is actually misunderstanding about sustainability education. Here are some common myths I’ve encountered and some ideas on how to overcome them…
Myth: Sustainability is a curriculum ‘add on’.
Some schools view sustainability as something that is in direct competition with other educational demands. They couldn’t be more wrong. Traditionally, sustainability was taught by Science and Geography teachers, but there are entry points within all key learning areas which achieve learning and teaching outcomes. On the Australian Curriculum website, ACARA uses a leaf symbol to indicate content that lends itself to the theme of sustainability. This shouldn’t, however, limit what is explored in the classroom. Writing persuasive texts? Choose a local environmental issue to debate. Exploring volume in Maths? Measure the volume of your bins and calculate how full they are when collected. Analysing financial markets in Economics and Business? Investigate the impact of climate change on business costs, revenues and profitability.
Myth: Sustainability is all sad faces and bad news.
There is a general misconception that sustainability education is all about doom and gloom. In fact, the opposite can be true. Sustainability education helps develop capabilities, skills and knowledge for 21st century learners in positive and engaging ways. It supports students to expand their critical thinking, refection and evaluation skills. It encourages optimism, hope and resilience. It allows students to connect to nature, which boosts physical health and mental well-being. It provides an opportunity for students to act in ways that contribute to a prosperous, sustainable and socially just society. The not-so-great news about our natural environment can easily be balanced by empowering young people take meaningful action in their personal lives and community.
Myth: Sustainability drains a school’s budget.
Quite the opposite. The school budget often benefits when students embark on school sustainability projects. This alone is not a reason to embed sustainability in the curriculum but it is definitely an added bonus. Significant funds can be saved on utility bills such as water, electricity, gas and schools will benefit through lower paper and waste collection fees. In turn, this money can be channeled into other important projects around the school.
Myth: There isn’t enough support out there.
Never fear, Cool Australia is here! Along with our partners, we offer a suite of FREE to access resources – written by teachers, for teachers – that cater for a range of learning areas, year levels and student needs. We also offer a range of online professional development webinars, workshops and courses.
We need to start busting these myths so that schools are energised to implement this valuable cross-curricular (and planetary) priority. Teaching young people about sustainability has never been more important. My advice is to start with the ‘easy wins’, find where the interest and passion lies within your colleagues and students and build your sustainability education program from the ground up.