Planning For Sustainability


This chapter looks at the concept of sustainability and the contribution this can make to the primary curriculum and classroom. Planning for sustainable development education in primary schools could seem challenging, as potential topics are complex and there is often no specific curriculum guidance to form a clear framework. Aspects of sustainability could be considered in many subject areas: in geography, working on climate zones; in science, looking at materials and the water cycle; and in English, looking at literature concerned with climate change and human migration. Topics have a tendency to be thought provoking and often cross-curricular in nature. Arguably however, a broad and balanced education has a responsibility to ensure children have relevant knowledge and experience to inform their own sustainable choices in the present and the future.

In this chapter the rationale for including sustainability in the primary curriculum is expressed, and the following sections explore possibilities for including rights education, the protection of the natural world and global citizenship.

Why include education for sustainable development?

The motivation to include education for sustainability in the curriculum comes from a realisation that the problems created by humanity need a global response. Action needs to be taken across countries as resources diminish, and conflict causes destruction in many parts of the world. The impact of human activity on the natural environment has implications for this generation and future generations. In order to make a difference, children need to be informed and willing to influence change.

Part of the solution can be seen as making our lives more sustainable. The most commonly quoted definition of sustainable development was made in the Brundt- land Report (1987): ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. This principle includes sustainable relationships within human society and the natural world. Subsequent global summits between nations have developed the aims further, culminating in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals agreed in 2015 and looking towards achievement in 2030. These goals include specific aims for education:

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.

(United Nations, 2015:17)

The Earth Charter (2010) sums this up succinctly as ‘bringing forth a global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace’. Under section IV Democracy, Nonviolence and Peace, the charter specifically outlines the role of education in ‘providing all, especially children and youth with educational opportunities that empower them to contribute actively to sustainable development’. This is a key concept. Children can not only learn about the world but can be encouraged to consider critically the issues involved and find ways to act on that knowledge.

Non-government organisations, such as Oxfanr, are actively involved in working for more sustainable futures for citizens across the world, and education is seen to be key in achieving this aim. Oxfam UK (2015) identifies the role of a global citizen, who not only has knowledge about the wider world but is inspired to be involved in making the world more sustainable and equitable. To this end, they produce a wide range of materials to support planning in schools. However, teachers have to be aware that there are multiple points of view and planning should enable critical thinking and awareness, in order that children can begin to make decisions for themselves.

What does sustainability look like in the primary school and classroom?

The Global Goals encompass a wide range of concerns and there will need to be decisions about how to present these issues to children as they progress through school. Areas that could be considered include: Rights and Relationships, Protection of the Natural World and what it might mean to be a Global Citizen. The following sections look at these in turn with some examples from practice.

Rights and relationships

The Global Goals include a clear emphasis on the importance of human relationships in order to achieve a fairer and peaceful world. This includes looking at gender, diversity and conflict resolution. Children’s experience of community in school can be seen as a microcosm of the wider social environment and a place to begin to understand what it means to be part of a wider diverse society. Relationships are an important part of the experience of school and can encourage children to have positive and accepting attitudes.

Elements of this aspect of sustainability have always been an important part of primary education. As a child begins in nursery, they need to adapt to the challenge of making relationships with children and adults that are not part of their immediate family. This is supported by teachers giving clear guidelines and a safe accepting environment. Children are given choice and encouraged to work together.

Older children are socialised into the community of school, with explicit expectations for acceptable behaviour, through school and classroom rules and procedures. This is an important part of planning for your own classroom. Article 12 of the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to be heard and this is taken seriously in schools, where school councils give children a voice in policy and often in the recruitment of staff. In your classroom you can encourage children to construct rules for acceptable behaviour and to find ways to resolve difficulties, be inclusive and treat adults and children with respect. This is covered in more detail in Chapter 3, looking at ways to promote an environment for inclusion, but can also be viewed as an aspect of sustainability.

Some schools have taken this idea further and have taken part in the United Nations Children’s Fund Rights Respecting Schools Programme. The programme has four key areas: well-being, participation, relationships and self-esteem. The website provides training and lesson planning ideas. Obviously, the programme is designed to be a whole school commitment — but the free resources could provide inspiration for your classroom and practice.

One school that has followed this programme has been impressed by the difference it has made for their children, both in school and when they leave to move on to secondary education, as the following example from practice 10.1 shows:

Example from practice 10.1: Rights Respecting School Award at City Primary School

Yasmin Khalique, Jerome Lantelme, Sarah Smith, Heather Ryan work as the Unicef’s Rights Respecting School Award (RRSA) team at City Primary School. They explain how their work is an integral part of their school’s culture and values.

We are a school that goes to great lengths to listen to our children, where they have a voice and are encouraged to express their thoughts and where our differences, as well as similarities, are respected and celebrated. We actively encourage both children and adults alike to become compassionate and caring towards each other and our environment. The programmes of RRSA work continually reinforce an awareness of children’s rights and encourage positive and inclusive language and behaviour. We seek to extend that understanding beyond our school and into families and local communities through dialogue, arts projects and media. A quote from a recently retired Head Teacher of five years illustrates the long-lasting positive impact that coming to our school has on pupils.

Earlier this year I met with one of the Assistant Head Teachers at our feeder

Secondary School. She told me that that our children really stand out. They are the ones who show a real thirst for learning, who are mature, sensible and independent. They are the students who all the teachers want in their tutor groups. She told me we should feel very proud of the work we do at our school.

Yasmin Khalique, Jerome Lantelme, Sarah Smith, Heather Ryan: RRSA Team.

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