Learning our way to a Sustainable Future - ESD in Scotland's Colleges

This is a reproduction of an article written by Christine Calder, Academic Development Lead at Dundee and Angus College and one of the EAUC-Scotland Education for Sustainable Development Topic Support Network Convenors, and Betsy King, Development Manager at Learning for Sustainability Scotland, for Inspiring Lecturers, a publication by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), Colleges Scotland, and The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS). It outlines the general context for Education for Sustainable Development, and reflects on the opportunities the upcoming GTCS registration and professional development requirements for Scotland's Colleges will bring to ensuring we are learning our way to a sustainable future.

The global pandemic has seen our lives turned upside down, with disruption to everything we consider normal. Overnight we adapted to an online world for college teaching, while millions worldwide saw their livelihoods thrown into turmoil. It is certain that we live in a complex interdependent world, where any significant disruption will have implications for the stability of natural systems, their long-term future, and that of all living things on the planet, including ourselves. The lens of Covid-19 has also amplified the impacts of human activity on others. Tackling poverty, gender-equality, hunger, human rights and social injustice are just a few of the priorities to secure a sustainable future for us, and the natural world upon which we ultimately depend.

Amid unprecedented upheaval, we have seen tantalising glimpses of what a new normal could be: a world in which kindness to strangers is a daily occurrence, where the air is clearer and where nature is starting to show signs of recovery. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an international accord that Scotland signed up to in 2015, provide a framework for this better world. The 17 inspiring Goals outline a vision of a sustainable world where everything is in balance. 

Sustainability in the Curriculum

The big issues addressed by the SDGs touch everything a college does: from what and how students learn; how the campus is managed; how staff and students relate to each other; how institutions work with their local community; and also college's reach in the wider world. However, within each classroom (whether virtual or physical) lecturers have the ability to embed elements of sustainability to help educate and inspire the next generation about how they can positively impact the world around them.

In February 2019, a lecturer from each of the curricular departments at Dundee and Angus College had the opportunity to take part in a pilot course run by LfSS (Learning for Sustainability Scotland) and EAUC Scotland. This pioneering 10-week blended learning course was designed to increase participants’ knowledge around the SDGs, exploring their own beliefs and attitudes towards many areas of sustainability. Crucially here was a focus on approaches to embed sustainability within each area of the curriculum to initiate a whole college approach.

Laura Watson, a Lecturer in Dance, was keen to get students involved in steering their own learning, and looked to cocreate something with her HNC Dance class. However, what initially started as a discussion about how to embed an element of sustainability in their classes quickly grew into a much larger project, due to the enthusiasm of the students. They had all recently watched the documentary ‘A Plastic Whale’ and it had affected every student within the class. Collectively they took on the challenge to base their end of year dance show on highlighting the issues around the use of plastic whilst also embracing the wider aspects of sustainability. Given a modest budget for their clothing, the students took a collective decision to obtain their costumes from charity shops, to not only recycle clothing but also support local and national charities. The sets used were recycled from previous productions. One student even spun sugar to look like a plastic bag that could be eaten during the performance. It’s incredibly challenging to portray in a few words the emotions that were felt as the students took the audience on a colourful and thought-provoking journey of sustainability during their performances.

The Future

Sustainability in learning and teaching: Themes of sustainability and the impacts of course relevant decisions on people and the environment, should permeate teaching practice, inform it, and be made explicit to learnersCollege Lecturers’ Professional Standards

Sustainability is already an important aspect of the Professional Standards for College Lecturers in Scotland. Within the next few years, all lecturers will be required to register with GTC Scotland. Professional Update is a key component of registration, which encourages lecturers to focus, record and reflect on their professional learning to help their personal and professional development. The focus of each lecturer’s professional learning is key and should be driven primarily by the development needs of each lecturer, which will be influenced by the needs of their students, colleges and crucially their region. Some lecturers may be looking to explore certain elements of sustainability, possibly those that sit within the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Others may be looking to specifically focus in on elements that are affected by the rise in green skills.

Examples of professional learning activities specifically involving sustainability could include:
- Taking part in Learning For Sustainability Scotland’s College Champions Training
- Reading the book e.g. The Little Book of Green Nudges
- Attending an EAUC Education for Sustainable Development Topic Support Network
- Inviting a colleague in to your class to observe and discuss a lesson where embedding of SDGs was being done for the first time (or second or third)
Please be aware these are just examples and full details of Professional Learning activities can be found on the GTC Scotland website here.

If any aspect of Education for Sustainable Development is an area you would like to use as a focus for your Professional Update, now is a great time to get involved.

If you are interested in learning more, consider joining the Education for Sustainable Development Topic Support Network, looking at the resources on EAUC-Scotland’s webpages, contacting EAUC-Scotland at Scotland@eauc.org.uk, and becoming a member of Learning for Sustainability Scotland or your local Regional Centre of Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development.

Christine Calder, Academic Development Lead, Dundee and Angus College
Betsy King, Development Manager, Learning for Sustainability Scotland
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