Demystifying sustainability


ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

You are not alone if you find yourself challenged when thinking about ‘embedding’ sustainability into your service, or how to engage young children in learning about environmental responsibility. In their recent research, Dr Sue Elliot and Professor Nadine McCrae from the University of New England identify gaps and challenges for educators when it comes to sustainability and environmental learning.

The research points to an ‘urgent need to demystify sustainability’ because ‘educators frequently require programming assistance to translate sustainability concepts into authentic practice’. It also suggests a key challenge for educators is in moving educational programs beyond sensory and scientific concepts and simply being outdoors, to authentic investigations and projects around real issues.

The importance of sustainability is reflected in all of the seven Quality Areas (for example, Quality Area 2 and maintaining hygienic practices with a sustainable focus) and is specifically identified under Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard (NQS):

Standard 3.3: The service takes an active role in caring for its environment and contributes to a sustainable future.

Element 3.3.1: Sustainable practices are embedded in service operations.

Element 3.3.2: Children are supported to become environmentally responsible and show respect for the environment.

Standard 3.3 is one that services find challenging. Nationally, Element 3.3.1 and Element 3.3.2 have consistently featured in the top 10 elements not met.

While this is the case, we do know that educators and service providers have been developing their collective skills, knowledge and experience in relation to:

  • how physical spaces and resources support learning
  • sustainability and what it means to embed sustainability across service operations
  • what education in sustainability looks like in practice, particularly for young children, babies and under three year olds
  • building confidence in educators about articulating and connecting sustainable practice and environmental learning.To help demystify sustainability, the Guide to the National Quality Standard outlines and unpacks Standard 3.3 to support quality outcomes for children, families and communities (including our global community). It is through our understanding and intentionality that:
  • educators and children work together to learn about and promote the sustainable use of resources and to develop and implement sustainable practices
  • children develop positive attitudes and values by engaging in learning experiences, joining in discussions that explore solutions to the issues that we face, and watching adults around them model sustainable practices (Climbing the little green steps, 2007)
  • school age care environments and resources can emphasise accountability for a sustainable future and promote children’s understanding of their responsibility to care for the environment, day to day and for long-term sustainability (Framework for School Age Care, p.15).

Sometimes hearing about examples of what this looks like in practice can also help demystify challenges and clarify expectations. KU Ourimbah Preschool & Children’s Centre (NSW) and their story about winning the 2016 UN Association of Australia Victorian Division World Environment Day Environmental Education Award immediately came to mind. Here the service’s Nominated Supervisor, Rosanne Pugh, shares some key messages about their journey to winning this prestigious award.

Further reading and resources
Sustainability in children’s education and care
Taking an active role in the environment and promoting a sustainable future 
IPA World – Children’s right to play and the environment
Australian Association for Environmental Education – Early Childhood
Special Interest Group (AAEE EC SIG)
ECA – ‘It will be a wasteland if we don’t recycle’

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