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When sustainability and education are mentioned together, it’s about more than just educating students about sustainability and environmental responsibility. It’s also about the need to create educational practises that are sustainable and equitable – practises that are committed to the long term learning needs of all students.

These two sustainability focuses are utterly intertwined when we put learners first. Sustainability in education is more important than ever because of the multi-faceted disparities and inequalities that this pandemic has highlighted. They were always there of course, but these last couple of months of online schooling has greatly revealed those systems that don’t serve learners well; systems not designed to recognize students as individuals or their different learning circumstances, needs, styles and interests. It may be overwhelming to contemplate overhauling the ways things have always been done – but if this time can give us anything positive, it’s this unexpected and unusual moment to pause, take stock and pivot away from what isn’t working, towards what could be a game changer for education. But that window of opportunity may be brief before we’re hurdled back into ‘normal’ again.

Let’s take the opportunity, because ‘normal’ wasn’t working! What is meant by that statement? In education, ‘normal’ was working for some, but was a long way off for most. And if we are collectively invested in the success of our present and future generations we need to create equitable learning for everyone. When it comes to our planet and our future success as a species, whatever some may think, ‘normal’ isn’t going to work for any of us.

We need to focus on educating every student to become environmentally responsible through sustainable education systems that see students as individuals, allowing them to become the critical thinkers, change makers and thoughtful citizens we so desperately need.

How do we achieve this? We create educational environments that are learner focused rather than grading focused. Environments where pedagogy, sustainability and the physical space come together to provide students with opportunities to learn more about context rich topics that are important to them, and are supported and encouraged to ask questions, collaborate, research, interact with experts, problem solve, and conduct field experiences. 

Let’s stop creating environments that don’t support the skills that learners actually need for their future success. Having students seated in rows of non environmentally-conscious desks, while being asked to memorize information is simply not conducive to deep learning, and the majority of students will not reach their potential in that setting.

In order for learners to be engaged and thrive they need ownership over their learning and the space they are learning in. This is why sustainability in education is more important than ever. From a fully humanitarian perspective we need todays and all future generations of learners to develop the skills they need to be the leaders of tomorrow; leaders that address inequality and the climate crisis. 

Let’s provide them with sustainable learning environments that are healthy, equitable, environmentally responsible and promote collaboration and creativity. Such environments set the stage for rich learning opportunities that engage and inspire students to be the critical, empathic thinkers we all need.

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