School buildings and landscapes are more than just a backdrop for teaching students about the environment; increasingly the buildings and landscapes are becoming teachers too. This point is emphasised in a contribution by CELE to a new report from PISA, Green at Fifteen?, looking at the attitudes of 15-year-olds towards the environment.
Environmental education often tends to focus on a textbook approach, adapting the curriculum to teach students about current issues surrounding environmental sustainability. However, the physical environment also has a role to play in raising students’ ecological awareness and knowledge. For example, findings from an online survey on sustainable school buildings, by the National College for School Leadership in the United Kingdom, showed that students were more eager to participate and performed better under the direction of school leaders committed to sustainable development practices.
The building can serve as a tool for instruction, where students can learn from doing, seeing and experiencing, thus gaining a greater perspective of ecological problems.
Recycled construction materials, alternative energy sources, rainwater collection for irrigation and sanitary flushing, and maintenance and management of local nature preserves surrounding grounds are all modern responses that address pressing environmental dilemmas by changing how the school facility interacts with the environment. Often architects design new schools so that students can see how it is constructed or measure energy and water use.
Schools are adopting a range of approaches to propel environmental education in the classroom, from one-time initiatives to larger scale, more holistic strategies. Some projects have started out as grassroots initiatives, in which a simple idea to implement recycling or to clean the forest behind the school has spiralled into whole-school adoption of sustainability concepts. For example, at Esquimalt High School in British Columbia, Canada, environmental awareness started with a “Waste Weigh-in” that displayed the amount of refuse produced within the school and cafeteria that could be recycled rather than thrown away.
At the other end of the spectrum is an approach implemented from the conception of the school, where schools are designed and built to include as many sustainable features as are available and affordable.
The process of school design also has a role to play. Increasingly, students are being included in the design process and contributing ideas which the architects are able to incorporate into the plan. This collaboration stimulates students’ engagement and encourages broader thinking.
For more information, contact Alastair.Blyth@oecd.org.