© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2022

Better environment education demanded in Canterbury

Jordan Dunn
Zhane Skipper
SS4C activist concerned about Environmental education  Zhane Skipper

Concerns for environmental education for the youth of Canterbury have been expressed by students and professionals.

Greater emphasis on climate education was one of the demands Christchurch students and other protestors stressed during the most recent School Strike for climate (SS4C). 

Environment Canterbury (ECanCouncillor Lan Pham supported the students' demands during the protest and called for more youth engagement and education regarding environmental issues.

Pham said ECan was currently the sole funder of Enviroschools in Canterbury, a programme designed to commit schools to a "long-term sustainability journey". ECan's Long Term Plan (LTP) proposed an increase in funding to Enviroschools as the programme had an "over-subscribed waitlist", she said. 

In Canterbury, 100 schools are participating in Enviroschools.

Pham said the three-year plan was to have 30 more schools involved.

Allen Hill, who teaches sustainability at Ara Institute of Canterbury and is a member of the New Zealand Association for Environmental Education (NZAEE), said he liked the idea of Enviroschools but insisted more was needed for youth engagement.  

Hill said the Ministry of Education needed to prioritise environmental education in the same way politicians and businesses were to engage with secondary school students better  

"From an education priority perspective, at a national level, sustainability and environmental education is not a priority," Hill said. 

Enviroschools was able to function in primary and intermediate schools because they had a less rigid curriculum. Secondary schools, in Hill's view, were "far more focused on assessment and qualification". 

Just 13 percent of Enviroschools are secondary schools. 

The scheme's dependence on passionate volunteers had created an inconsistency, Hill said.

"It shouldn't be driven by passion, it should be driven by systemic, well-integrated approaches to sustainability and environmental changes," he said.

enviroschools 736x600
Kids first Kindergartens, Lincoln, at the Mahoe reserve with Enviroschools

Genevieve De Spa owns and operates Kakariki Camps, a school camp promoting ecological identity. She said an attitudinal shift was needed from the Ministry of Education. Relying on Enviroschools to educate our youth was not adequate, she said.  

Enviroschools was "trying to fit into a system that isn't made for it".   

De Spa said children needed to feel connected to nature to form an ecological identity.

Jackie Talbot, secondary tertiary Group Manager and spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, said secondary schools were able to offer multiple subjects with a "specified focus on the environment". These included agriculture and horticulture, biology, geography, earth and space science, and education for sustainability.

"NCEA achievement standards have open-ended contexts and schools have the flexibility to design courses that suit the needs of their learners. This can involve adapting contexts to make the learning focused on the environment, whether that environment is local, national or global," Talbot said.