Learning about Sustainability
- Pupils will understand the concept of sustainability, a range of common approaches to increasing sustainability and explore alternative models of sustainability.
Sustainability is a concept that has many definitions. Most have in common these ideas:
- a futures dimension: how the natural environment can be maintained and kept going into the future by humankind, and
- that the Earth’s resources cannot support current human demands in the long term.
This needs stewardship of environmental goods such as natural resources and ecosystems, environmental services like the climate and waste absorption, and environmental qualities which are important to people’s well-being.
Sustainability is closely linked to the wider idea of sustainable development, which includes securing the needs of people in the present and in future generations. Alongside the natural environment, it includes economic and social concerns: these three are often in tension (wind-farm development is a good example). Sustainable development often has political and cultural dimensions, such as quality of life and citizenship at local and global scales; this is the approach taken by ESDGC in Wales.
Because environmental systems are interlinked, and people - environment relationships are important to both sustainability and sustainable development, they are also linked to the concept of interdependence. Sustainable development recognises that people across the world have needs and wants that are often conflicting, and that our knowledge about how to proceed is often uncertain, so the skills of enquiry and critical thinking are also central.
In education, science and geography are particularly important in developing the knowledge, understanding and skills to investigate the environment and its relationship with people, whilst other parts of the curriculum, including the arts and PSE, also develop the aesthetic and citizenship aspects of learning. As well investigating the evidence and raising awareness of issues, in ESD pupils consider alternative solutions and choose paths of action through critical and creative thinking, helping give a sense of empowerment and the realisation that they can make a difference. This also helps avoid telling pupils what to think or do; for example, investigating fair trade:
- without critical thinking: lessons that ‘lead’ pupils to the conclusion that buying fair trade goods is the right thing to do;
- with critical thinking: lessons that compare examples of different kinds of trade, including fair trade; pupils examine each on merit and balance different needs (environment, economy, society) to come to personal decisions about whether to buy fair trade or not.
In practice, sustainability and sustainable development are introduced at an early age in simple and concrete ways, particularly through exploring local environments, finding out how they work, how people use and impact on them, and what can be done to look after them. Progression in pupils’ learning develops as they learn about wider or more complex environmental systems and people-environment interactions, a greater range of scales, and other dimensions such as the impact of people’s decisions and values.
Key questions for investigation:
- How and why are places, environments and people linked?
- What kinds of development are more or less sustainable?
- How can the needs of people and environment be managed?
- Should development be managed to serve the needs of present and future generations?
- How do we take care of this place well, or improve it?
- What sort of resources/materials could/should we use? What is their source? Could they be reused or recycled?
- What impact does change have on the environment, people and communities, jobs/the economy? Who made the decisions? Who will benefit or lose out?
- What will happen in future? What are the alternatives? What kind of future would we/others like to see?
Contexts for investigation (adapted from ESDGC A Common Understanding for Schools, Welsh Government guidance):
- Use photos and stories to investigate children’s lives in different climates and environments
- Keep a daily weather record at different times of the year
- Discuss how to improve/look after the school site and environment
- Visit a local woodland/seashore to observe biodiversity
- Use the landscape as an inspiration for art, music, drama.
Key Stage 2
- Measure weather on the school site and compare with data from other places; investigate changes in the short/long term
- Do a survey of energy use around the school, e.g. transport, heating, power; investigate other energy sources
- Learn about biodiversity and food webs in a contrasting UK/global environment
- Use a familiar or distant landscape as an inspiration for poetry or creative writing.
Key Stage 3
- Investigate changes to the climate, its causes and impacts on different environments and societies; compare the carbon production/eco-footprint of different countries
- Research and draw up a school energy saving or waste management plan.
- Investigate rates of degradation in different materials; study renewable materials and new technologies
- Study a threatened ecosystem/environment and discuss the reasons and impact from different points of view
Whole school case studies
Headley Park Primary School, Bristol
Sir John Lawes School, Harpenden
St Peter's Roman Catholic High School, Manchester
The Academy of St Francis of Assisi, Liverpool
Fair trade in a Welsh special school
Sustainability days in a Welsh secondary school
Curriculum Case Studies
GLP-W school examples will be available shortly.
Key Stage 2
Literacy and science: Energy saving leaflet (exemplification from Learning Wales)
Numeracy and science: Solar Panels (exemplification from Learning Wales)
Science/geography: Why recycle? (classroom activity from Learning Wales)
Science/geography Case study 1: Marine food webs and sustainable fishing
RE Case study 2: Investigate the Jewish festival of TuB’Shevat.
Key Stage 3
Literacy and science: Global warming (exemplification from Learning Wales)
Numeracy,science and PSE: Climate Change Challenge (classroom activity from Learning Wales)
Science Case study 1: Frozen oceans
Welsh policy context:
Sustainable development is a central priority for the Welsh Government, promoting development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
- Choices and decisions
- Natural environment
- Consumption and waste
- Climate change.
- Learning how the development of resources and technology in the past and the present can change life in Wales.
- Learning about the relationship between the environment and the people of Wales and the effect this has on Welsh life today and in the past
- Exploring current issues that affect the lives of people in Wales and the Welsh economy, e.g. alternative energy sources such as wind farms
- Learning about sustainable development in Wales and the wider world.
- Understanding that opinions on issues such as sustainability can be expressed through the decision-making process in Wales.
- Visiting, studying and appreciating the various landscapes of Wales.