The Challenge of Establishing a University Curriculum of Education for Sustainability in the Context(s) of Life-long Learning and Interdisciplinarity

By Roy Montgomery, Anne Spicer, Mike Barthelmeh and Ian Spellerberg.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Education

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published Online: June 22, 2015 $US5.00

'Education for Sustainability' (EfS) has as wide a range of contested meanings as the word 'sustainability' itself but an urgent need for EfS is evidenced by a growing body of literature on the topic in the past decade. A principal challenge for proponents of EfS is the matter of where to begin. For example, if sustainability is described as comprising three or four key dimensions (environmental, social, economic and, increasingly, cultural) then this commonly provides the mandate for multidisciplinary university teaching programmes that begin with streams or cores around the environmental sciences, economics and other social sciences. This is usually based on the belief that as students progress, they will be able to integrate these different elements into a meaningful whole, or that one or two anchor courses will provide the missing links to understand sustainability in a holistic fashion. However, there has been considerable debate, particularly since the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987, about the harm that is caused, however inadvertently, by maintaining dualisms or sub-classified distinctions between nature and society. This presents problems for the conventional learning models used by most universities where the compartmentalisation of knowledge, particularly at entry level, is a given. It also begs the question as to whether much can be done for the EfS agenda at a tertiary entry point when almost twenty years will already have passed in the learning trajectory of any given individual. In this paper, therefore, we acknowledge the larger problem of framing EfS in the context of the life path of individuals where prior contact with nature in experiential terms and familiarity with interdisciplinary thinking and practices will vary. We posit a framework for course content at the tertiary level within a post- secondary school pathway for EfS. The pathway has an interdisciplinary approach, enabling a broad introduction and an integrating conclusion at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, while providing for a more detailed exploration of aspects of sustainability within individual discipline areas. It also provides for the sequential translation of theory into practice throughout a lifetime of learning. As a key part of that translation, the significance of continuing professional development (CPD) within the professions is noted. We conclude with a research agenda for pre- and post-tertiary EfS.

Keywords: Education for Sustainability, Lifelong Learning, Tertiary Curriculum

International Journal of Sustainability Education, Volume 11, Issue 2, June 2015, pp.11-26. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: June 22, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 912.546KB)).

Dr. Roy Montgomery

Senior Lecturer, Environmental Policy and Urban and Regional Planning, Faculty of Environment, Society and Design, Lincoln University, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

Anne Spicer

PhD Candidate, School of Landscape Architecture, Faculty of Environment, Society and Design, Lincoln University, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

Assoc. Prof. Mike Barthelmeh

Associate Professor, School of Landscape Architecture, Faculty of Environment, Society, and Design, Lincoln University, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

Prof. Ian Spellerberg

Director Isaac Centre for Nature Conservation, Faculty of Environment, Society and Design, Lincoln University, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand