The overall aims of CFs are to focus educational attention on the challenges relating to sustainability and climate change, to initiate, maintain, disseminate, and refine the products of these efforts, and to pursue these goals by providing a home-base for national and international interactions among teachers, students, researchers, program developers and evaluators, and other interested parties.
CFs aims to: 1) connect and empanel groups of experts, drawn from universities, government departments, educational institutions, and CSIRO; 2) initiate, develop, and maintain a series of position papers that define the scope of the crisis and provide the background to classroom activities; 3) further support educators with accessible accounts of the background factual evidence, and areas of current uncertainty; and 4) equip educators and students with the skills and the dispositions of inquiry, critique, and creativity through the use of digital data-bases, and online communication among and between study groups.
Evidence: Descriptions and explanations
By ‘understanding challenges arising from the sustainability and climate change’ we mean developing, evaluating, and exchanging 1) accurate descriptions of the features and scope of the crises, descriptions that become more complex as the learners’ experience in the program proceeds, as well as 2) valid explanations of the conditions related to, and resulting from human-induced climate change and levels of sustainability, and the threats these conditions present to the quality of human life, and of life on earth in general.
Over millennia, for instance, humans have pursued the water, food, and energy that can sustain their populations. The forms that these efforts took were based on decisions that, at the time, seemed reasonable in terms of the social, political and technological settings that then prevailed. Taken together and applied to the current setting, however, these decisions have led to crises of sustainability faced by people and other life forms on a range of fronts. It is important to reflect on those decisions in terms of what is now known about their consequences, to understand why they lead to exacerbated climate changes, and to appreciate the conclusion of the scientific community – and the ways in which that community provides rationale for its conclusion – that major adaptations are needed, rather than ad hoc cosmetic changes.
Social settings: History and argumentation
That climate change and sustainability issues have been simultaneously studied, disseminated, and debated, and denied for a couple of decades is no accident. The public polarization of debate has deepened the crisis, ‘weaponized’ public opinion, and, at the same time, made the need for educational efforts more urgent. The key questions arise: What are the aspects of the evidence that could lead to its dismissal? What is required to underpin constructive action? What learning and argumentation skills must be promoted in society in general, and among students?
The generations who have created the crisis are not the ones that will need to cope with it. New technologies are reshaping social, political and technical cultures and creating and sustaining a variety of sub-cultures and affiliation groups: Social media impact daily on the exchange of ideas, some of which set boundaries around both political action and the development of social and technical innovations.
The educational imperative: New forms of reading, writing and knowing across the curriculum
All over Australia, every week of the school year, thousands of school teachers and hundreds of thousands of their students are engaged in some form of project-based or ‘extension-based’ educational activities related to the connection between the natural and human environments. For the most part, these activities are conducted without a supporting framework that informs a coherent, cumulative program that can help teachers connect their activities from year to year in a meaningful way.
The study of the environment has not been shaped into a curriculum: The developing content, the forms of pedagogy that might best motivate and support understanding of that content, appropriate ways of evaluating both the program’s success and students’ progress, and explicitly stated alignments among content, pedagogy, and evaluation are, in most educational jurisdictions in Australia, not available to guide the work of school teachers or teacher educators.
Over recent years we see these educational activities take place against a backdrop of increasingly intense concern over the effects of human conduct on the sustainability of natural systems. To make any claim for scientific and moral integrity, studies of the environment now need to acknowledge the reality, scope, and velocity of climate change, the role of human activity in that change, and both the immediate and intergenerational commitments needed to mitigate and reverse its effects.
So Australian educators and school systems are deeply implicated in these programs of sustainability and restoration; education will be central to success in the longer term. Acknowledging this presents teachers with challenges often well beyond the reach provided in their initial education programs, and education sites and systems with the largely unprecedented need to develop accurate, coherent and cumulative programs of cross-disciplinary study that are honest reflections of the developing base of evidence: The ‘climate crisis’ is also an ‘education crisis’.
Along with the urgency of these issues as educational challenges, educators are both struck and motivated by the fact that the climate change-sustainability connection constitutes ‘a wicked problem’: Its resolution will be ongoing; conditions will always be in the process of change.
This means that educational efforts need to be themselves sustainable and regenerative, systematically and critically drawing on the most recent empirical and conceptual advances, as well as on our developing moral consideration of the issues, continually over time. It is attention to ‘workflow’ considerations, and the supports that inter-disciplinary collaboration and digital, online resources can together offer that work, that allow us to see the importance of ‘programmatic’ bases for curriculum development in this area.