Sustainability Education K-12 Curricula – Building 21st Century Skills

School is considered the place where young people prepare for their future. Our schools are expected to provide valuable skills and experience as students get ready to enter college or the job market. Are we living up to that challenge? Are our students trained to compete for the anticipated 6.3 million solar jobs and the 3.5 million green building jobs projected to be created by 2030?1  The demand for green jobs is coming, and in many cases is already here. Like those who foresaw the revolutionary nature of technology and computing, those who adapt to the new sustainable world economy will lead us.

The US Department of Education recognizes the critical link between preparedness for the new economy and education. At the Sustainability Education Summit in September 2010, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated, “As the President says: ‘This is not just going to boost our economy in the short term; this is going to lay a platform for the future.’ Education and sustainability are the keys to our economic future—and our ecological future.”

In schools, momentum is building; sustainability education programs are being incorporated into K-12 curricula. GEF’s community of over 6000 of our nation’s schools uses our free lessons to introduce sustainability in fun and engaging ways to over 5 million students. We are launching our innovative Green Building Program to incorporate sustainability concepts, including economic and societal considerations, to broaden the conversation beyond the environmental. As an example, our high-school environmental science elective Green Building Course uses the school as a teaching tool to conduct extensive building energy and water audits, and requires students to present recommendations for building improvements to school administrators, including energy rebate information and retrofit opportunities.

One critical piece is teacher enablement. Today, our teachers often do not have the experience or training to confidently leverage sustainability resources in the classroom. GEF has collaborated with academic leadership institutions from across the K-12 spectrum to solicit effective ways to infuse sustainability into the current disciplines. GEF is pleased to have launched its Sustainability Education Clearinghouse, an on-line resource where teachers can share sustainability lessons and best practices from their real-life classroom experiences. In addition, we are developing a Green Teacher Program for K-12 faculty with the goal of providing the knowledge, skills, and curricular resources essential for teachers to integrate sustainability education into their current disciplines.

GEF understands that empowering K-12 students and their teachers with sustainability education is vital to a paradigm shift, to change our collective thinking. What do you think? How can we better prepare our young minds for a sustainable future? We welcome your thoughts and the opportunity to continue the dialogue at vwaters@greeneducationfoundation.org.

1 Green Jobs: Towards Decent work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World, United Nations, 2008

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About Green Education Foundation (GEF)

Mission Green Education Foundation (GEF), a non-profit organization, is committed to creating a sustainable future through education. Sustainability Education provides educators with the real-world applied learning models that connect science, technology, and math education with the broader human concerns of environmental, economic, and social systems. GEF provides curriculum and resources to K-12 students and teachers worldwide with the goal of challenging youth to think holistically and critically about global environmental concerns and solutions. Visit www.greeneducationfoundation.org to register for free and to gain full access to GEF’s comprehensive library of standards-based lessons and activities.
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