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Building 21st Century Skills through Sustainability Education

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Guest Blog Post By Victoria Waters, CEO and Founder of Green Education Foundation (GEF), vwaters@greeneducationfoundation.org.

According to a 2008 United Nations Study, there may be as many as 6.3 million new solar power jobs by 2030, and as many as 3.5 million jobs centered on improving the energy efficiency of buildings. Are our students ready to compete for those and other new economy jobs? The demand for “green collar” workers is coming, and in many cases is already here. Today, unfortunately, we are being outflanked; Brazil and China lead the world in renewable employment globally, according to a 2010 study by Clean Edge, a clean-tech research firm. The imperative is recognized at the highest levels; 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.”

The opportunity to empower and prepare the 14 million students enrolled in CTE programs is profound. According to a 2009 study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, more than half the expected newly available clean-energy jobs will be accessible to workers with high school degrees or less. The study states that an investment of $150 billion a year in clean energy — roughly one percent of national GDP — would result in 1.7 million new jobs, with roughly 870,000 of them accessible to workers with high school degrees or less.

In CTE programs nationwide, momentum is building; the NASDCTEc is working to infuse sustainability into each of the 16 National CTE Career Clusters. For example, in the context of the Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources cluster, educators will consider with their students the impact of an input selection on profitability, environmental impact, and the health and wellness of workers. Green Education Foundation (GEF)’s innovative School as a Teaching Tool lesson set for K-8 and Green Building Course for high school students are being leveraged by a number of CTE programs to incorporate sustainability concepts into the Architectural and Construction cluster. The Green Building Course and the School as a Teaching Tool use the school as a learning laboratory to conduct extensive building energy and water audits, and the high school course requires students to present recommendations for building improvements to school administrators, including energy rebate information and retrofit opportunities.

One critical unaddressed component that is key to delivering on the promise of sustainability education is teacher enablement. Today, educators often do not have the experience or training to confidently teach sustainability in the context of their subject matter. GEF is launching 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 and NASDCTEc understand that empowering K-12 students and their teachers with sustainability education is vital to a paradigm shift, to change our collective thinking and our future. 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 .

Dean Folkers, Deputy Executive Director

By Dean in News, Resources
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