Sustainability Education

Sustainability education is a dimension to learning rather than a traditional subject discipline.

Sustainability education is significantly different to other areas of the curriculum. There is no established body of knowledge to master, the boundaries are difficult to define and progression and attainment are hard to identify. 

What unites sustainability education is a commitment to understanding more about how best to sustain life on Earth in all its different dimensions. This means that sustainability education straddles established subject boundaries rather than fitting within them. It also raises questions about the extent to which education should be drawn into the political arena.

Sustainability education favours participatory approaches to learning as opposed to knowledge transmission. Working co-operatively with other, helps students to develop personal and social skills and to understand that sustainability problems have many dimensions.

The simplest approach is for learners to incorporate new learning within their existing intellectual structures but higher level responses involve greater criticality and new perspectives. Critical engagement helps to guard against tokenism and bias whilst creative engagement has a key role in harnessing motivation.

When they are combined, criticality and creativity have the potential to create a positive synergy in which new ideas are likely to flourish (Figure 1). This is important because the alternative - gloom and despair - is a mindset which is educationally bankrupt.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Links between sustainability literacy, well-being and employability in a business context

After Tan, Y. E. (2013) The Futures Initiative: The first two years p 21


1) Read these extracts which express different concerns about environmental education. Do you agree with them?

Read these extracts »

2) Find out why Ken Robinson thinks there is a need for a new educational paradigm. Discuss how the criticisms which Ken Robinson levels against formal education apply to teaching and learning about sustainability.

"Historians are often seen as trapped behind piles of dusty books. We wanted to work with our students to develop skills for their future careers."

Professor in Early Modern History explaining her vision for a community engagement project

"Talking gets you to say things you didn’t know you knew."

Student reflecting on participatory learning

"I wanted to create learning experiences that are meaningful and have significant value to students’ personal and professional lives. I also wanted to build on my own earlier experience of implementing enquiry-based learning and education for sustainable development projects."

Business School tutor's rationale for new course

a) Do you think education always has to be 'relevant'?

b) What types of teaching do you find help you to learn best? 

Scoffham, S (2019) ‘How Can We Learn to Live Within Planetary Limits?’ in Hammond, S. and Sangster, M. (eds.) Perspectives on Educational Practice Around the World, London: Bloomsbury

Worldwatch Institute (2017) EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet, Washington: Island Press (see especially Chapter 1 by Erik Assadourian)

Values »

Find out more

Find out more about sustainability in practice at Canterbury Christ Church

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To hear how our students are engaging with sustainability at Canterbury Christ Church, find us on facebook and wordpress.

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Last edited: 20/11/2019 08:21:00