British schools should follow the example of the Inuit and use an igloo as inspiration for their curriculum, a coalition of education academics from around the world will tell delegates at the international climate change summit in Copenhagen today.
The academics, including representatives from the London-based Institute of Education, as well as universities in the US, China and Brazil, argue that their governments need to rethink the entire school curriculum curriculum in order to give sufficient emphasis to environmental sustainability.
They recommend that education departments follow a model used in the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut, predominantly occupied by the Inuit.
The igloo is used as a metaphor for learning: education is seen as a spiralling progression, which ultimately produces something resilient and enduring.
"Sustainability is a core value of Inuit life," the researchers said. "So that rather than having to be incorporated or infused into policies and programmes, concepts of sustainability form a natural foundation from which all policies and practices are derived."
Instead of traditional curriculum subjects, Nunavut pupils study four strands: an integrated core of history, geography and environmental science; "wellness", comprising emotional, social, physical and spiritual health; communication, incorporating language and literacy; "describing and improving the world", which includes maths, science and technology.
In this approach, sustainability is more than a cross-curricular add-on. Instead, it is woven into every aspect of the curriculum, at a fundamental level.
"Subject divisions within schools hinder education for sustainable development," the academics said. Instead, pupils should bring together different forms of academic knowledge in order to solve real-world problems.
The introduction of a curriculum of this type in Britain would, inevitably, mean less emphasis on testing: at the moment, sustainable development is given low priority because it is not an examination subject.
But as well as rethinking the curriculum, the Government also needs to ensure that teachers are adequately trained.
At the moment, the academics claim, one of the key obstacles to environmental education is lack of teacher knowledge.
"Education is not a magic bullet in approaching climate change and sustainability," they said. "But without co-ordinated educational interventions, even the best thought-through technical policies will fail."
What the dons say
Climate change makes sustainable development an urgent priority.
- Schools will play a critical role through what they teach and how they model sustainable practices.
- Universities should offer sustainable development courses for pre and in-service teachers.
- Resources and time for experimentation need to be provided, and sustainability integrated into the curriculum.
- Research needs to identify promising practice and to identify problems and opportunities.