The need to develop sustainable ways of living that can reduce the ecological footprint and conserve precious natural resources for future generations is widely recognised as a critical concern of education at all levels. Western Sydney University is one of the pioneers in aiming to establish ‘sustainability literacy’ across all levels of the institution, not just by making curriculum changes geared towards sustainability education, but by integrating new ways of thinking and learning that enable students to recognise the connections between environmental concerns, social patterns and individual actions.
The School of Education prepares teachers and educators for 21st century schools, pre-schools and adult learning environments. Their pre-service teaching programs on ESD are grounded in the fundamental belief that the future of education is based on effectively engaging students and teachers in challenging them, and learning relevant knowledge through an invigorating and networked community of learners.
The Education for Sustainability Unit (EfS) applies active methods to introduce undergraduate students to sustainability issues and the role they can play in ESD. Key issues in sustainability education are explored using a combination of highly engaging experiential and blended learning methodologies. Student construct personal ecological webs, undertake a materials analysis, and gain first-hand experience of land-care and organic gardening. The unit culminates with a student-led sustainability expo on campus. This learner-centred approach builds skills for inquiry, analysis and creative action. It promotes personal and social change, develops civic values and empowers learners to be leaders for a sustainable future. The EfS unit is available to students in a range of programmes, including education, arts, science, social science, engineering and business.
Another example is the Master of Education in Social Ecology, a Programme that is based on the understanding that everything we do as individuals affects others; that we are parts of the systems in which we live and take responsibility for. Students develop an advanced understanding of social-ecological theory and apply it using critical thinking and creative practice. Key themes include transformative learning and leadership, environmental education, social action and advocacy, community development, ecological learning systems, indigenous ways of knowing, eco-psychology and the emergent characteristics of complexity, systemics and ecological understanding. The masters offering basically brings in new learning forms, appropriate to a society facing the effects of changes in ecological relationships, for example through climate change.
But ESD at Western Sydney University goes beyond the implementation of individual ESD units into curricula. The Sustainability Scholars Network (SSN) is an exemplary initiative that aims to develop a scholarly community of practice, supporting the delivery of ESD in each curriculum and working on joint publications for transformative learning. It is open to academics across all disciplines.
Western Sydney University is the major stakeholder of RCE Greater Western Sydney (RCE – GWS), providing a link to ESD in communities and the public beyond campus. The RCE tackles distinctive sustainability challenges associated with a rapidly developing, culturally diverse, peri-urban region. The main objectives of the RCE-GWS being (1) Transitioning to a low carbon economy; (2) Developing sustainable communities; (3) Ensuring agricultural sustainability and food security; (4) Conserving biodiversity and river health. RCE-GWS has a strong interest to connect with other RCEs regionally and internationally, of which there are currently 154 globally, to link students (for example via social media and international study tours) to benefit from each other’s programmes.
RCE-GWS has connected students with RCE Tongyeong, South Korea for a two-week transformative study tour around sustainability and tourism management for their local community. Another group of students will also be visiting RCE Bohol, Philippines in April 2017. This will be a mixed cohort of science and tourism students, investigating the impacts and challenges of local urban planning in the context of climate change, developing ecological agriculture and conservation/agro-tourism in a largely subsistence Asian farming economy.
Additionally, a pilot using the RCE Global Community as panellists will join an online discussion (via Facebook) with first year Bachelor of Health Science students. The aim is for the students to gain a global perspective on health and the SDGs with international RCE guests – including representation from RCE Saskatchewan (Canada), RCE Espoo (Finland), RCE Minna (Nigeria), RCE Borderlands (Mexico), and RCE East Midlands (UK).
Photos have been uploaded on facebook.