Australian Association for Environmental Education Conference
Caring for our Future
The importance of strategic approaches and partnerships in education for sustainable development
Speech by Peter Woods
Chief Information Officer
Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage, 4 October 2006
- Firstly I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and thank Len Wallam, of the Wardandi Noongar people, for welcoming us today. The importance of reflecting and engaging indigenous perspectives remains central to all of our work as educators.
- On behalf of the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, I would also like to acknowledge the important work being carried out by all here who are actively engaged in education and learning for sustainability, in particular our Western Australian hosts. Western Australian educators have been among the leaders in this area for many years.
- I would also like to welcome to Australia and the conference our international visitors, especially members of the ENSI Executive from Europe.
- Every two years the AAEE Conference brings together a range of educators and practitioners from our schools, TAFEs and universities, as well as researchers and those working in community groups and government, to review and celebrate our achievements, and discuss the way forward. The Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage is pleased to have once again been able to provide support for this event, not only in financial terms through its sponsorship, but also through involvement on a number of levels, reflecting the range of our current activities and commitment to the area.
- The National Environmental Education Council will be attending the conference, with the Council Chairman, Professor Paul Perkins, speaking on Friday on the need for organisational and generational approaches to address sustainable development.
- Departmental staff will also be presenting a workshop on the development of the new National Action Plan and inviting input from participants as part of a broader community consultation process on the new plan
- There will also be a poster presentation on the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative, a prime example of what can be achieved if governments and educators work together.
- Additionally a range of presentations from the Australian Research Institute in Education for Sustainability (ARIES) will highlight just some of the research the Australian Government is currently pursuing in partnership with Macquarie University. The findings from these projects are already providing valuable direction to our activities at the national level and hopefully are assisting you in your own work.
Through our grants programme we are also supporting research by other bodies, including the National Centre for Sustainability at Swinburne University of Technology, RMIT and the CSIRO.
- Six years ago none of these presentations would have been possible. There was no national advisory body advising the Minister on matters of environmental education; no national research programme; the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative, as a national programme with the involvement of all States and Territories, did not exist. Most significantly there was no national approach to environmental education or action plan to take this agenda forward. AAEE and many organisations and individuals working in this area have played an important role in the initiatives that have been implemented since 2000.
- The resources being applied to our education activities have increased significantly since the release of the National Action Plan for Environmental Education in 2000. In recent years the Australian Government has committed $2 million to the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (with now over 2000 schools involved), $4 million to support research and around $250,000 each year in grants to fund education projects being undertaken by a wide range of community organisations, including AAEE.
- These are significant achievements, but the Australian Government is continuing to build on its efforts to reorient existing education and government programmes towards education for sustainable development. As a key example, in the past 12 months the release of the National Environmental Education Statement for Australian Schools has provided a nationally agreed description of the nature and purpose of environmental education for sustainability through all years of schooling.
Challenges and ways forward
- While there is increasing acceptance of the view that the human race is living beyond its means and that our present way of life is unsustainable, the task of encouraging people and organisations across all sectors of the community to adopt new ways of living and working is enormously challenging. At the same time the issues are increasingly pressing.
- In a world where:
- the Earth’s population has grown from 1.5 billion at the beginning of the 20th century to 6.5 billion currently, and is expected to grow to 9.5 billion by 2050;
- billions of people around the world still live in poverty and have inadequate access to water and power;
- the developing economies of China and India are placing major new demands on the Earth’s resources;
- war and global terrorism are a fact of life;
and at same time
- the science of climate change is increasingly accepted,
equipping people to deal with complexity and work for a better and more sustainable world for everyone is critically important.
- Education which focuses on real outcomes in terms of changed values and behaviour, rather than process, is essential.
- Given the scale and complexity of the issues, it is also essential that we work with each other to achieve the desired outcome, a sustainable world. We cannot do it alone, either as individuals, organisations, governments or countries.
- In the face of the raft of challenges facing the world, and even the growing acceptance of the need for action, there is competition for the attention of decision-makers and the allocation of resources.
- In this situation it is important to be strategic in our focus and to look for partners to maximise the use of the available resources and the impact of our activities.
- This fundamentally is the approach being taken by the Australian Government.
- Working at the national and international level necessarily requires us to be aware of the broader picture and to be strategic in our thinking. This affords us a special perspective, and a range of opportunities as well as responsibilities. Our recent focus has been on looking at the broader policies and structures which impact on sustainability outcomes, to see connections, identify barriers and opportunities, and look to ways to align our objectives in education for sustainable development to wider social, economic and environmental concerns.
- In line with this focus I want to outline two initiatives which offer considerable opportunities for participation and advancement of all our efforts in education for sustainable development - the just released Australian Government strategy for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD) and the development of a new national action plan for education for sustainable development.
Australian Government Strategy for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development
- I am pleased to be able to announce that, to coincide with this conference, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Campbell, has today launched the Australian Government Strategy for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. The strategy sets out a Vision, Goal and Strategies to foster sustainable development through education and learning over the years 2005-2014. It provides a framework for all partners to contribute to the Decade in Australia. In particular it sets out the broad approach to be adopted by the Australian Government.
The vision articulated in the Strategy is that:
At the end of the Decade the Australian community will have the understanding, knowledge, skills and capacity to contribute to sustainable development and will embrace the intrinsic value of sustainability as a national aspiration. Our ultimate vision is a sustainable Australia.
The goal is:
To mainstream sustainability across the community through education and lifelong learning.
- The Strategy was developed with input from the wide range of individuals and organisations, including AAEE, that attended the symposium held in Melbourne last year sponsored by the Department and the UNESCO National Commission. In addition Senator Campbell wrote to all his Ministerial colleagues to obtain their views on the draft strategy that had been developed by the National Environmental Education Council in conjunction with the Department of the Environment and Heritage.
- Comment from other portfolios outlined an extensive range of activities contributing to sustainable development and acknowledged the role of education in delivering change. The variety of activity across the Australian Government is significant, and is mirrored by activities at the State and Territory and local government level. Such activity provides opportunities for greater dialogue and collaboration, which in turn will promote stronger outcomes across all sectors of the community.
- The approaches adopted under the Strategy fall into six broad headings:
Communicating the concepts
- First and foremost there is a need to build broad awareness and understanding of the principles and goals of education for sustainable development. Learning and development opportunities and public communication campaigns aimed at communicating sustainable development in simple terms are required.
- Targeted training and professional development initiatives will be developed to assist in equipping educators and key decision-makers in government, industry, business and the community. Case studies which share knowledge of successful approaches will also be produced.
Basing our approach on sound research
- Sound research is fundamental to ensuring that resources are directed to areas of greatest need and where they will have greatest impact. An understanding of the barriers and opportunities that exist in different sectors and the most appropriate ways to reach particular audiences is needed.
- The key initiatives of the first National Action Plan for Environmental Education have all been implemented. The development of a new national action plan will be a central aspect of the Australian Government commitment to sustainability in the initial period of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.
Promoting a whole-of-government approach
- If we are to be successful in achieving the required paradigm shift to sustainability, government agencies at all levels need to understand the impact of their legislation, policies and programmes on sustainable development. Various policies and processes are already in place at the Australian Government level to assist integrated whole-of-government decision making and these will be built on. A participative research project is already underway looking at organisational learning and change for sustainability within Australian Government agencies, with the involvement of a number of portfolios.
- I have already mentioned the importance of partnerships. Most notably for the Department of the Environment and Heritage at the moment is our partnership with State and Territory environment and education agencies through the National Environmental Education Network. However we are also looking to develop partnerships with other bodies in formal education, local government, industry and the community.
- Internationally we are already working with bodies such as UNESCO , UNEP, SPREP, and the Japanese Institute for Global Environment Strategies. Next Monday in Perth we are hosting a meeting to discuss closer collaboration with the European-based organisation ENSI and other regional bodies with a view to implementing new partnership arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region. Recently I attended a meeting of all Education Ministries in the Pacific to discuss a regional education for sustainable development framework.
Monitoring and evaluation
- Fundamentally important is that we monitor and evaluate our activities to ensure we are achieving what we have set out to achieve. We can all point to things with which we have been involved which we believe are significant achievements. But what real difference have they made in terms of promoting and adopting the new ways of living and working across all sectors of the Australian community that are required to achieve sustainability? We need to continually ask ourselves this question. For the Department’s part we have funded ARIES to develop an appropriate set of indicators to measure progress through the UN Decade.
Overall the Australian Government sees the UNDESD as providing an opportunity to highlight and build on existing initiatives and to deepen engagement with the community on sustainable development.
Development of a new National Action Plan for Education for Sustainable Development
- Closely linked to the strategy for the UNDESD is the development of a new National Action Plan for Education for Sustainable Development. The Plan will set out a range of actions needed to contribute to the realisation of the strategy’s vision and goal for education for sustainable development in Australia.
- As with the first National Action Plan, the second plan will provide national leadership and seek to set direction and catalyse actions in all sectors, while specifically outlining tasks for which the Australian Government will take responsibility.
- The first plan established a number of key structures – NEEC, NEEN and ARIES. The next plan needs to support these structures with appropriate initiatives across all sectors to embed sustainability.
- As I have stated, to address unsustainable practices and promote sustainable development, new ways of living and working across all sectors of the Australian community are required. Progress to date in formal schooling has been significant but we need to extend this focus to industry and business and to our higher education institutions, to our universities and TAFEs. Given the pressing nature of the issues we need to target current, as well as future, decision makers and those currently in the workforce.
- As with the first plan also, the second national action plan will be based on an extensive community consultation process. The Department is in the process of finalising a tender process to select a consultant to assist with that process. We are also seeing this conference as an opportunity to start getting feedback from people working in the area on what they believe is most important. Your involvement in its development is vital.
- The United Kingdom’s approach to sustainable development makes an important acknowledgement “Sustainable development cannot be delivered from the top.” To be successful in building a sustainable future, people must take responsibility for what they do.
- The title of the Australian Government Strategy for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development is Caring for our Future. To ‘care’ implies an engagement with the issues that is not simply an obligation or a duty but also something to which we attach value.
- If we are to achieve a situation where “sustainability is mainstreamed across the community through education and lifelong learning” and “the Australian community embraces the intrinsic value of sustainability as a national aspiration” we have no alternative but to work together– our future depends on it.
- I wish you all an enjoyable and productive conference and look forward to having the opportunity to discuss with you our common objectives.