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The Framework for Change: Lobbying for Curriculum Recognition

Contributed by Gail Bromley, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, U.K. and Mary Harrison, Trentbull University, Ohio, U.S.A.

This workshop was developed to explore the potential for improving the integration of Education for Sustainability (EfS) issues into national science curricula for schools. Using current curriculum documentation available in the United States (US) and in Britain as case studies, the extent to which inclusion of EfS was explicit, or even implicit, was presented to participants. In Britain, the geography curriculum offers some opportunities for teachers to develop EfS themes. Here, however, as in many other countries, geography is not seen as a core subject and is not compulsory for children over the age of 14 years. The key core subjects are mathematics, english and science and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, nevertheless issues relating to sustainable development and environmental management within the core science curriculum are negligible.

The situation in the US is little better; although there is a Presidential Task Force developed to encourage environmental and sustainability education, the National Science Education Standards, which teachers work closely to, make little reference to sustainable development as a curriculum topic. This lack of coherent policy, coupled with strong propaganda on the part of industrial groups to promote technocentric values, has resulted in a cultural resistance to the adoption of sustainable practices. When members of the Science Faculty in Kent University, Ohio were questioned on the importance of biodiversity education and EfS, comments ranged from ‘…that’s politics not science.’ to ‘…you can’t get money for doing that’, ‘…our graduates won’t be able to get a job in biodiversity’ and ‘…it has no relevance to our curriculum’!

Assuming that science and technology will remain as key core components in schools education, it would make sense to engage the scientific teaching fraternity and ensure that EfS is seen as an integral element within the science curriculum. Science has much to offer for the furtherance of EfS e.g. skills for accurate observation and data collection and an understanding of both biophysical concepts and scientific processes. These elements could, along with the development of a more holistic approach to scientific understanding, help produce students who can engage in informed scientific debate. This would sit particularly well in England with the new Science 2000 group, whereby a number of science advisors are seeking to develop the science curriculum so that it will enable all pupils to be scientifically literate.

Workshop Format

To assist this process, workshop participants were asked to discuss and list:

  • key biophysical concepts that lend themselves to the integration of EfS teaching; and
  • scientific processes for EfS teaching to interconnect with.

Workshop Outcomes

Ultimately it was hoped to develop a series of key points, statements or case studies that could be used as part of a lobbying document to science curriculum development agencies.

Following discussion, groups within the workshop adopted three different approaches:

Lobbying from the bottom up
One group were firmly in favour of using data gathered by the botanic garden about pupil/teacher enthusiasm and increasing numbers of students/visitors wishing to participate in sustainable living programme activities. This data could be utilised to prove the need for a more integrated approach to EfS within the curriculum.

Lobbying the curriculum developers
A second group listed biophysical concepts e.g. effect of environmental degradation on ecosystem services , and went on to explore both scientific processes and scientific teaching methodologies. They recorded the importance of utilising the new iterative approach to science and the importance of exploring the philosophy of science and integrating ethics and values.

The statements offered as points to integrate into the science curriculum documentation were:

We should include EfS in science education because:

  • EfS is relevant to the lives of everybody; and can engage young people actively in their schools and communities’ (NB a side note here added ‘read increased enrolment in science education’).
  • ‘The world is facing environmental crises and science education has a vital role in supporting progress towards sustainable futures’.

The group suggested case studies to support these statements could be based on ‘Recognition of indigenous knowledge and wisdom of people who live their lives sustainably e.g. traditional medicine and agriculture supported through partnerships between local communities and botanic gardens’.

Lobbying from the top down
The third group felt that it would only be worth lobbying from the top down; they felt that this was the only way one would get any significant change. To engage politicians and decision makers, they recommended that the following tactics would enable successful lobbying:

  • remind people of their national and international obligations e.g. sign up to Agenda 21 and CBD;
  • use the fact that the electorate is increasingly aware of the severity of the crisis;
  • sell EfS as an opportunity i.e. for new technologies;
  • remind them that EfS is not incompatible with educating for job opportunities and economic success;
  • use the fact that the electorate is becoming ‘greener’; and
  • offer EfS as an integrating focus for the science curriculum.