Associate Professor Debra Bateman is the Deputy Dean, Learning and Teaching of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University. She is a passionate writer and thinker in the area of Futures Thinking and has extensive experience in curriculum development in schools and Universities. Debra argues that the inclusion of sustainability in curriculum is a no brainer.
It is easy to get caught up in the arguments of how to teach sustainability in schools, and where it sits within a volatile and unstable educational policy context. Amidst a landscape that demands greater focus on the basics of learning, described as literacy and numeracy, and more checking of compliance through the application of simplistic and flawed benchmarking and testing, it is increasingly difficult for teachers to feel the appropriate level of autonomy to decide what is most relevant for their students’ learning. The purpose of this piece then is to provide a through line, and enable teachers to reclaim the pedagogical space to develop strong sustainable (among other) perspectives in their day to day curriculum of the classroom.
Sustainability is about continuance. In a world where so many things are disposable, and change is part of the dominant discourse of western culture, a great start for thinking about the meaning of continuities is to identify things around us that have not changed over time. For example, the natural rhythms of sunrise and sunsets continue without change. Bickering over land and resources has continued throughout the ages. Within cultures, there are many traditions and rituals which have continued without change. Yet, in a world of change how are some things sustained and others not? What are the choices, values and commitments that embody the types of action and acceptance that enable things to remain the same? How can those same reflections and principles be applied more broadly?
Who we are and where we are
When I first began teaching, we were inducted into thinking that environmental education or learning about principles of sustainability were things that needed to be learned in other places. I remember our annual pilgrimage in the middle and senior primary school levels to the Gould League, where children measured their household rubbish, and learned about changing cities and rural places.
While I still have the wonderful publications from that organisation on my bookshelf, and many of the principles remain important, as I’ve researched more in the area, taught across different settings, and the Gould League closed its premises, I feel more committed to the idea that sustainability needs to be part of who we are and where we are.
I don’t think it matters how it is taught, but that it is taught. And, like Indigenous perspectives, sustainability is not something ‘other’. It is part of both our history and our futures. It is soulful and practical and part of a shared commitment that each of us have a role to play in being responsible and ethical in our sharing of resources. It is part of every activity that we do, and every curriculum design, thinking about how we use time and people, and how our energies are put towards shaping powerful, preferable and purposeful futures.