Updated: Nov 3
What do the different National Curriculum subject areas bring to sustainable education?
I gave a lecture today to a group of B-Ed students at Plymouth University on sustainability in education and one of the questions that came up was “where does sustainability fit into my subject”? An excellent question. We ran out of time to go deeper into this so, I’m answering it here! Sustainability and environmental education has come under the umbrella of science and geography - they’ve done a good job of getting us started, but it’s time for all the subjects to turn up, bring their unique contributions and therefore provide a holistic and higher quality educational experience to our learners.
What does English have to offer sustainable education?
English teachers are the experts in communication, ideas sharing and getting a message out. The masters of written and spoken word in a wide variety of forms, from poetry to persuasive writing and creative writing - all are essential avenues for us to spread awareness, ideas and start discussions about the issues/solutions around the climate and nature crisis. Books for younger children are often full of environmental themes - animal characters set in natural landscapes. The world of books has loads to offer now in specific environmental messages and sustainability topics.
What does Maths have to offer sustainable education?
Mathematicians are magicians with data and so much of the hard evidence proving the need for us to act and change course, comes through solid numbers. 60% of insect life in the UK has disappeared in the last 20 years. A single oak tree can support more than 2000 different species. 96% of all mammal life on Earth is made up of humans and our food, and just 4% is wild. Information presented through numbers is clear and hard hitting. Looking at the data and engaging with the numbers is a really powerful way for young people to understand the issues of the climate and nature crisis.
What does DT have to offer sustainable education?
Brilliant with 'stuff' - DT teachers are all about innovation, design thinking and material use and these are all really important areas to consider in the wider sustainability conversation. Repurposing, reusing and changing how we interact with physical objects in our daily lives is a really important contribution that DT can make. Circular models of resource use is also an exciting area - we have traditionally used raw materials to make something new and then discarded it. Reusing and keeping materials in circulation is an essential re-think.
What does Art have to offer sustainable education?
Art has a lot to offer in terms of delivering messages and ideas through various mediums and speaking to wider audiences. Art already does a lot to connect us to the natural world as so many artists use the beauty, textures and colours of our planet as the inspiration and the impetus to create. Spending time outside in the natural world has been proven to increase creativity in young people by 50% and the outcomes which convey the beauty, the awe and wonder of our planet give extra incentive for us to protect it and do a better job of looking after it.
What does Music have to offer sustainable education?
The Save The Whale campaign was hugely helped along by a recording released of whale song in the 1970s that enabled a wider audience to hear this creature, enjoy its song and begin to appreciate its worth in a new way. This fuelled action to stop the decline in whale populations. Lots of campaigns have been supported, led or boosted through music, not to mention catchy tunes which stick in your head and reinforce knowledge (The Continent Song is one!). Look up I am The Earth by Glyn Lehmann.
What does History have to offer sustainable education?
The sustainable conversation is interesting because there are two schools of thinking - 1. the answers will come from moving forward - technology and innovation or, 2. we go back, to go forward. A lot of sustainable fashion is going back to simple natural materials. Transport behaviour changes encourage walking and cycling. Organic farming is as old as time! Looking back to move forward is a really interesting concept to explore. History also helps us learn how-we-got-here - what were the markers in our past that led us to mass consumption, industrial farming and resource use that we have today?
What does PE have to offer sustainable education?
This is an easy one - get them outside and get them playing! Learning to be a team player and work together are less explicit links but no less vital in creating successful change in relation to planet positive behaviours. Using natural spaces or what you can find outside to develop the movements and skills covered in PE, as well as opening up conversations about how air pollution might effect sports performance and how changes in weather impact our opportunities to play are all valuable contributions.
What do Languages have to offer sustainable education?
International collaboration and conversations have never been more important than they are now. The climate and nature crisis will be felt and experienced in different ways around the world and the benefits of having all experiences and voices heard on this topic are massive. Understanding other perspectives, cultural frameworks and attitudes is also hugely beneficial. We so often have a fixed world view and anything that nudges us out of that and broadens that view is a bonus.
What does IT have to offer sustainable education?
Computing can raise interesting questions about how our energy consumption is linked to the increase in computing systems in all areas of our lives. Designing and creating content can have a sustainable or planet focused theme. With older children, it might be interesting to look at global environmental campaigns or campaigners (there are plenty of young environmental campaigners out there) and see how using social media or communication technologies have boosted their ability to reach huge audiences and make real progress in reaching their goals.
Science and geography have put down some good foundations but, sustainability covers every aspect of our lives now - the clothes we wear, the food we eat, how we travel, social justice, international governance and even our psychology. It's only logical that it should appear in every area of learning.
Planet & People is a Community Interest Company with two main aims:
To empower the next generation to create a better future for planet and people. Our funded Planet Action Workshops are delivered in schools across Devon - get in touch with us if you need support with environmental education at your school.
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