Inquiry says sustainable development should be included in curriculum
Members of a national inquiry into the future of further education are trawling for ideas about how to promote the environment.
While colleges have led the way in incorporating energy-saving designs in the architecture of new campus buildings, the Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning is seeking ideas about how green issues can be included in the curriculum to encourage student debate. Sustainable development is just one of several themes being examined.
The inquiry has been set up by Niace, the adult education body, to provide an alternative perspective to the 2006 Leitch Review of Skills, which examined FE in relation to economic productivity. Lord Leitch said the UK should be a world leader by 2020.
While skills training is a well-established principle behind college funding, Niace believes some of the less easily measurable benefits of post-19 education - much of which does not lead to qualifications - have been lost because priorities have been changed.
The Niace inquiry is being led by Tom Schuller, an academic and former adviser to the Scottish Government, who left the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to take up the post, and is expected to publish an interim report later this year.
Mr Schuller admits the challenge will be winning a fair hearing for the inquiry's findings after the Leitch report. The difference is that his inquiry is giving particular emphasis to 19-plus adult education. It is an area to which, Mr Schuller says, governments have traditionally paid too little attention.
"As citizens, almost all of us are aware that sustainable development poses huge challenges. However, many of us are baffled by the complexities of the issues," he said. "This is an absolutely crucial area where lifelong learning can counter people's feelings of powerlessness.
"But there remain many questions about how such learning opportunities should be developed and delivered, as well as their content. We need a lot of work quickly to establish who should have responsibility for what, and this is exactly what the inquiry will address."
The part of the inquiry concentrating on sustainable development will examine the specific skills that are needed to help the environment as well as encouraging students to contribute to the debate.
Niace believes the Government and media have succeeded in putting the environment on the agenda but argues that education has an important role to play in turning public interest in the subject into a better practical understanding of it.
A Niace spokesman said: "In spite of the growing public and political awareness of the challenge posed by climate change in recent years, there is still a huge amount to be done if this awareness is to be translated into meaningful action."