Sustainability education starts at home

No 15 Ranking World Impact Ratings SDG 4 - Quality Education.

All it took was a book to convince John Morgan that sustainability education was the way of the future - even if the term wasn’t recognised at the time. 

It was the late ‘80s and he was a student teacher in Bristol, England. The book: Teaching Geography For a Better World spoke to him in an impactful way. 

Now Professor of Education in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University, he has penned his own books on the  subject. Among them is Teaching Secondary Geography as if the Planet Matters, which Professor Morgan champions. And it’s not confined to his pet area of teaching expertise.

 “All subjects across the curriculum have an environmental component, and students need a chance to think about and explore the meanings of sustainability,” he says.

Back in Bristol, it was called environmental education. Followers were perceived as alternative lifestyle practitioners with a heavy hippy bent. Then came the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992, and things started to change.

“The history of environmental education is that it hasn’t been at the centre of the curriculum ... but now it’s moved to education for sustainability … it’s more mainstream,” says Professor Morgan. 

It can start with the simplest of gestures at the youngest of ages -
such as sitting at the dinner table and talking about where the food comes from and what waste there is. 

“And then you try to develop some principles and understanding of
concepts such as globalisation and waste, and from that you learn it’s not always a choice you can easily make; there are political and economic forces which influence these decisions.”  

Understanding environmental perspectives is a key dimension of
culturally responsive pedagogy, Professor Morgan says. “Education is a resource for hope. It helps us to think about the future in different ways.”  

He sees that in the lecture theatre. “The student teachers I work with say ‘I’m going to finish my degree, and then I want to teach’, which is incredibly powerful”  

Getting the THE ranking made for a really symbolic moment, he
says.  “It’s important for the University. It makes the debate more public, and makes us aware of what we should be moving towards.”

Professor Morgan’s research covers a range books and papers in this area, including: 

Making Geographical futures

There are surprisingly few academic books about geography with the term future or futures in their titles. For much of the twentieth century geographers contributed to important discussions about the shape of worlds to come. This paper offers a review of these debates within Anglo-American geography, and links them to continuing debates about educational futures in schools.

Developing the work of Andrew Ross, the ‘futures of education’ field is divided between two forms of ‘futurology’ – bourgeois and environmental. Geography educators are more likely to draw upon perspectives from ‘environmental Futurology.  

Read Making geographical futures on Research Gate

Sharpening New Zealand's Future-Focus
(co-written with Sasha Matthewman)

The Future-focus is one of the eight principles of the New Zealand Curriculum. However, the term is sometimes conflated with the move expansive term '21st century learning', which, this article argues, accepts uncritically dominant assumptions that New Zealand's future is as part of a hyper-globalized, fast-paced, capitalist world.  

This article insists on future focus' as a means of developing the curriculum to support pupils as they learn to think critically about globalization, sustainability, enterprise and citizenship. Using the example of scenario-building in the context of carbon-based economies and high consumption lifestyles we emphasise that 'Futures Education' requires important skills of study, analysis, creation, imagination and interpretation.

Read Sharpening New Zealand's future focus on Research Gate.