It’s World Environment Day. Another opportunity for global campaigners to rally around the need for stronger commitment to stop the human impact on the planet before it is too late. Another day for policy makers to be challenged as to why some barriers to progress are so hard to tear down. Why are governments dragging their heels in training teachers to teach about sustainable development, for instance?
The 2017/8 GEM Report highlighted the strikingly low percentage of countries that were covering education for sustainable development in teacher education in 2012. Teachers are clearly being left poorly prepared to teach a way forward for addressing the acute environmental issues, including climate change, to the waves of students passing through schools.
As the 2016 GEM Report laid out in its chapter on ‘Planet’, education can develop the knowledge, skills and solutions to help increase concern for the environment, build awareness of environment risks, and change individual behaviour. It also acknowledges the importance of transforming education systems so that education helps foster sustainable lifestyles and shifts away from the current focus on individual economic and material gains. What a waste, then, to not be making the most of this opportunity, empowering our teachers to help guide students into a greener way of living.
Give credit where it’s due: countries setting the example
Let’s give credit where it’s due and look at countries forging a path for change faster than the rest. In Brazil, for instance, environmental issues are included in teachers’ environmental sciences courses, and trainee teachers are expected to develop environmental projects in their placement schools. Jamaica has made significant progress through the Sustainable Teacher Environmental Education Project and has integrated sustainable development education in some teaching courses. A course on environment and sustainability is compulsory for all teachers of all levels in eight teacher training institutions.
But a handful of countries here and there is not enough to change global actions for the environment. The pace needs to pick up much faster.
It is hard to hold governments to account for the content of their teacher education courses, as these aren’t easy to monitor. As we showed in the 2016 GEM Report, only 8% of 66 countries surveyed integrated sustainable development in teacher education in 2013, up from 2% in 2005. Networks of teacher education institutions could help by collecting information on programme content, however, as could regional networks, such as the Caribbean Network, or the Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability in African Universities Partnership.
Monitoring teacher education is important because it shows the extent to which students around the world are being challenged on the current human behaviour patterns. Extending environmental education and developing ecological literacy skills can help students recycle, consume responsibly and conserve energy.
Teachers need to be better prepared to teach students respect of the environment! Help us relay this message to policy makers.