How can Sustainability be systematically integrated in Education?
The teacher in me has a practical mindset; hands- on, I think about how things would work best for my students. But along my journey through Europe I started to think more and more about policy and the role it could play in promoting education for sustainability. One of the reasons for this is that a lot of the inspiring examples of education for sustainability I have visited were the result of small groups of dedicated educators, convinced like me that education has an important role to play for a sustainable society. Their motivation driving the development and implementation of education for sustainability. The problem with sustainability being driven by a few passionate people is its continuity and structural implementation. As long as it is not the priority in education, and not written in the curriculum, school or national policy, it risks remaining a side project. An optional project that takes place only when there is time and people to push this (both scarce resources in a school). So how can we make sure that learning for sustainability becomes systematically integrated, rather than a one-off project?
How can we systematically integrate sustainability in education?
On June 19th I was a part of the organization of an event in Brussels to discuss exactly this question. Together with Joep Bresser from Netherlands House for Education and Research (NEth-er) and Fons Janssen from the European Climate Pact -NL we invited policy makers, researchers, student representatives and teachers to share their expertise and explore answers. It was an interesting and positive event with presentations from the field by teachers Marije van Bommel, Elles Kazemier and myself. Followed by an in depth and uplifting panel discussion with policymakers Dr Pisiotis, students, researchers and teachers about the way in which the EU can and already is supporting education for sustainability. It was great to discover that the European Commission is of the same mind as I am: “Embedding environmental sustainability in all education and training policies, programmes and processes is vital to build the skills and competences needed for the green transition.” I couldn’t agree more with this quote from the European Commission’s proposal for a council recommendation on Learning for Environmental sustainability (2022).
Greencomp: Competencies for Sustainability
In order to support educators in this endeavour, The European Sustainability Competency Framework, Greencomp has been developed. A framework that organises 12 competencies for sustainability into four areas; Embodying sustainability values, Embracing complexity in sustainability, Envisioning sustainable futures and Acting for sustainability. (see figure 1 below). Dr. Pisiotis, co-author of Greencomp was one of the experts in our panel discussion. It was interesting to hear more about her work and the continuation of Greencomp. I think it is a clear framework that really helps educators to align sustainability in their work regardless of level or age group. If you would like to dive into this and learn and share practical implementations with educators around Europe, join the Greencomp online community.
EduSTA: Where teachers learn how to teach for sustainability
EduSTA: Where teachers learn how to teach for sustainability
Competencies like systems thinking and futures literacy, as included in Greencomp, are, however, not usually skills we teachers have been taught, let alone that we are trained in how to teach for these. This was an important point made by Elles Kazemier, coordinator of professional development in Edusta, also expert in our panel discussion. EduSTA is an Erasmus+ Teacher Academy, and aims to do exactly that; support teachers in gaining the competencies to teach for sustainability. EduSTA is collaboration of 5 European universities from the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. It aims to develop micro badges for online courses in four competence areas that cover the professional teaching practice – knowledge, educational design, enabling action and reflexivity.
All, of course, specifically focused on sustainability education. The badges that will be developed are based on teacher competencies mentioned in existing sustainability education frameworks, like UNECE’s Learning for the Future (2011) and A rounder sense of purpose (2019) and builds upon the Green comp Framework. Theses badges will be centred around the idea that they will help build the capabilities as mentioned in for example GreenComp, and it is planned that in 2025 teachers can upskill themselves using EduSTA microcredentials.
Climate change and the ecological crisis won’t wait, so for teachers who want to start educating competencies for sustainability this school year, have a look at the website of a Rounder Sense of Purpose. A ‘Rounder Sense of Purpose’ is an Erasmus+ project and has created a Framework of 12 teacher competencies for sustainability, linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, and linked these to useful teaching tools that can be applied to teach these competencies in different contexts and levels of education (see figure 2). For example the webbing game to teach systems thinking, that can be applied to SDG 13: Climate Action. I like the practical translation of these competencies, as well as their link to the Sustainable Development Goals; great integration!
Figure 2 The 12 Rounder Sense of Purpose competencies presented as a pallette. (www.aroundersenseofpurpose.eu/)
It is interesting and hopeful to learn about the work happening on an European level, from the EC council recommendation on learning for environmental education, that summarises my wishes for education for sustainability quite aptly, to the Greencomp and a Rounder Sense of Purpose Frameworks. Like Dr Pisiotis said; we will need both top-down action as well as bottom up initiatives to make learning for sustainability mainstream. A growing group of educators feel supported by these European initiatives. Although the event in Brussels marked the end of my year travelling through Europe, my journey searching for sustainability education however is far from over. I intend to explore the initiatives in my own country (NL) for now, and I’ll be supporting schools to innovate for sustainability through my own Erasmus+ small scale collaboration partnership: Sustainability Acceleration Program (SAP) for schools. If this is something you would like your school to get involved in: sign up for our online information session on September 13th.