Environmental Education for Sustainability (EEfS)
EEfS goes beyond “caring for the environment”. It is about the global social, cultural, and economic wellbeing of all people – as well as our planet, and the biodiversity that relies upon it. EEfS encompasses an overlapping matrix of global citizenship, democracy, and the environment.
In the context of the early years curriculum, EEfS involves ideas and practices associated with sustainability, climate change, critical thinking, identity, community, and kaitiakitanga.
One of the taonga of the Tiriti o Waitangi is kaitiakitanga, meaning stewardship, protection, and preservation. It is a way of respecting and caring for the environment, based on a Māori worldview.
Kaiako support mokopuna to engage respectfully with, and to have aroha for, Papatūānuku. They encourage an understanding of kaitiakitanga and the responsibilities of being a kaitiaki by, for example, caring for rivers, native forest, and birds.
Te Whāriki, page 33
There are three dimensions to EEfS, each suggesting a different role for learners and teachers. While the first two are important, it is working in the third dimension – education for the environment – where the impact of learning is most substantial and sustainable.
- Education in the environment – for example, visiting a place of environmental interest.
- Education about the environment – for example, researching places, things, and events (including cultural narratives).
- Education for the environment – for example, tamariki as active citizens (civic actors) and agents of change with a degree of action competence to advocate for a healthy environment and society.
There are strong synergies between early learning and the characteristics of EEfS. Both highlight attention to learning dispositions and working theories.
The three dimensions of EEfS call for different approaches to teaching and learning practice.
1. Education in the environment
Kaiako take tamariki on a planned excursion to the local park. Tamariki explore the space, kaiako engage in learning conversations before returning to the early learning setting.
2. Education about the environment
Kaiako follow up a conversation regarding the rubbish in the creek. Tamariki had noticed the rubbish when they walked over the bridge to the park. Photographs are displayed for discussion. Kaiako document the tamariki comments.
3. Education for the environment
Through learning conversations with kaiako, tamariki come to understand that the rubbish in the creek is a problem. Kaiako see this as a potential and rich opportunity for tamariki to learn about agency, citizenship, and taking civic action to improve well being for “people, places, and things”. The conversations with tamariki – which are documented – become more solution focused and draw in the support of whānau. They decide to inform the local council. A photo display, together with a list of the tamariki concerns and ideas for solutions, are sent to the council office. Tamariki are informed that the council agree to support a “clean up” and have signs erected to care for the waterway. Each time the tamariki visit the park, either with the early childhood service or whānau, they check in on the well-being of the creek.
Kaitiakitanga at Te Puna Reo o Puhi Kaiti
Erana Haerewa describes how tamariki, guided by Kaiako and a local environmentalist, have become kaitiaki for the inanga in a local river at Te Puna Reo Māori o Puhi Kaiti.
Fulfilling the promise of a rich curriculum through EEfS
It is the third dimension – education for the environment – that is most likely to bring about changes in attitudes and behaviours for individuals and communities. In other words, where deeper learning for tamariki is likely to take place. This learning includes tamariki developing:
Tamariki develop action competence when they engage in problem solving, and take action with a shared vision for improvement for the environment. Competence aligns with being able and willing to be a participant. Action is concerned with behaviours, movements, and habits.
When tamariki experience a rich EEfS curriculum in the early years, they begin to develop an environmental identity (also known as ecological identity). This identity helps determine how they orientate themselves to the world around them. Tamariki with a strong sense of environmental identity begin to personalise and consider wider global issues. They are therefore more likely to be proactive within their context.
A sense of agency
An understanding that through their mana and their voice they can make a positive difference. Their ideas and opinions count. When tamariki feel they have agency, practices and knowledge are more likely to become embedded.
Curiosity and a sense of wonder
The complexity within environmental sustainability issues presents excellent opportunities for inquiry, curiosity, and wonder.
Te Whāriki 2017 encourages kaiako to support young children to have “a sense of themselves as global citizens” (p.12), recognising that “As global citizens in a rapidly changing and increasingly connected world, children need to be adaptive, creative and resilient” (p. 7). EEfS also provides opportunities to introduce tamariki to concepts of democracy and citizenship where they can be both problem seekers and problem solvers. When tamariki act collectively for a common goal of mutual benefit, they become “civic actors”.
Understanding of kaitiakitanga
Place-based education is a powerful and practical way for tamariki and communities to explore and understand the tikanga of their local context and mātauranga Māori. Place-based experiences enable tamariki, whānau, and kaiako to develop attitudes and dispositions to think and act as kaitiaki. It does this by weaving the curriculum with the local environment, its history and that of local hapū, and those who hold mana whenua.
EEfS is a platform for cross-curriculum domain knowledge (maths, literacy, and science).
Role of kaiako
The role of the kaiako in EEfS is to co-construct learning pathways as tamariki develop working theories in response to the world around them. Kaiako do this by providing provocations and modelling curiosity and inquiry. They also contribute by igniting and strengthening community connections and projects around EEfS with tamariki.
Kaiako who are effective supporting EEfS are those who:
- have knowledge and understanding around the benefits of communities of practice
- include place-based education and understanding of mātauranga Māori in their curriculum design
- surface what matters here for EEfS in their context
- are creative and articulate in identifying the cross-curricula domain knowledge in EEfS
- grow their EEfS knowledge base and build capacity in others
- are informed about the impacts of climate change
- advocate for EEfS in strategic thinking, policy, and future visions
- create measures of success to highlight the impact of engagement.
Ko te manu e kai ana i te miro, nōna te ngahere. Engari, ko to manu e kai ana i te mātauranga, nōna te ao
The one who partakes of the flora and fauna, that will be their domain. The one who engages in education, opportunities are boundless.
Mātauranga Whakauka Taiao / Environmental Education for Sustainability Strategy and Action Plan, 2017-2021
Christine Vincent-Snow presents a case for advocacy that calls for early childhood teachers to consider their role in promoting and creating sustainability within early childhood educational settings in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
This website offers a way for people to connect with each other, to share ideas and work together for the kaupapa of creating healthy and viable communities and ecosystems.
This video tells the story of how one early learning service encouraged tamariki to collect and use re-found/recycled objects to construct a robot sculpture (engaging with a sculptor).
Glynne Mackey discusses ecological identity – what it is and how it is supported in early learning settings (p.26 of the journal).
The purpose of this strategy and action plan is to better equip New Zealanders, especially children and young people, with the knowledge, skills, and motivation to tackle environmental issues.
Māori educationalist Wally Penetito shares his views on the value of place-based curriculum in retaining knowledge of local history and tikanga, as well as challenging “taken-for-granted” world views.
This 18 month-long, action research project, explored teaching and learning possibilities in nature-based settings “beyond the ECE setting gate”.