Education for sustainability in New Zealand

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Thanks to Jess Tipton for alerting me to the section of the New Zealand government website that focuses on "education for sustainability".  This is how it begins:

Education for sustainability

Education for sustainability

"Sustainability is a critical issue for New Zealand – environmentally, economically, culturally, politically, and socially. We need to learn how to live smarter to reduce our impact on the environment for future generations."

In the What is EfS section, we find:

"New Zealand’s national curriculum focuses on 21st century learning, ensuring learners are equipped to participate in and contribute to their own society and the wider world. An important aspect of this is encouraging students to consider significant future-focused issues such as sustainability.

The future-focus theme of sustainability is evident throughout The New Zealand Curriculum. It is integral to the vision, principles, values, and key competencies, and provides relevant and authentic contexts across the eight learning areas.

Structuring learning around a unifying theme such as sustainability provides opportunities for students to make connections between learning areas, competencies, and values. It requires teaching and learning approaches that draw on all elements of effective pedagogy and focuses on empowering students to take action for a sustainable future. ..."


In the EfS in Schools section we find:

"Education for sustainability fosters innovative approaches to curriculum design and review, and provides many opportunities for students to become confident, connected, actively involved, life-long learners.

Schools choosing to include a sustainability focus can do so in a number of ways. For example:

  • through developing a whole school approach – where students engaging in practices, projects, and ways of working that lead to a more sustainable future forms the basis of the curriculum and teaching and learning programmes
  • by using the NCEA Achievement Standards in Education for Sustainability to engage students in worthwhile qualifications
  • by including the multitude of meaningful learning contexts, issues, and community projects that sustainability provides across learning areas and levels of the curriculum"
NB, the emphasis of the word Choosing is mine.
In the Learning Experiences section there are six lesson series and activity sequences, and in the Tools & Resources section, there are learning programmes and action planners and links to resources.
Whilst it is evident that this will be valuable for teachers and schools, it is interesting to compare all these resources with what these other parts of the website have to say:

Looking up biodiversity, you find this:

The Living World strand is about living things and how they interact with each other and the environment.  Students develop an understanding of the diversity of life and life processes, of where and how life has evolved, of evolution as the link between life processes and ecology, and of the impact of humans on all forms of life.  As a result, they are able to make more informed decisions about significant biological issues.  The emphasis is on the biology of New Zealand, including the sustainability of New Zealand’s unique fauna and flora and distinctive ecosystems.

and this:

Develop an understanding of how the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere interact to cycle carbon around Earth.

This is quite a contrast with what I've already quoted, and it strikes me that this is not much different from what we have in England in that these statements set out what teachers have to do, leaving it to them how to do it – and leaving it up to them to decide how far to go in stressing the issues (and what we might do).  Neither of these statements reflect the problems facing the Earth.
Then there's this:
Here, the statutory expectations are set out.  Try searching for climate / climate change / biodiversity / species / endangered / sustainability / sea level / pollution / … to see how little mention there is.  This inevitable, of course, as [2] has to reflect [1].
In reading these two sections the significance of the word Choosing which I noted above becomes clear.  Despite all the resources, lesson plans, schemes of work (which the DfE here does not emphasise), the statutory provision in New Zealand is essentially the same as in England: Teachers can do all this sustainability stuff if they really want to.
Indeed, the English curriculum is better than what we find in New Zealand because issues such as climate change are emphasised (though not as much as we'd like to see).
Maybe it's time to cut the DfE some slack, or would that be going too far.  Of course it would ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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