Schools embrace environmental education

Environmental education is now a fundamental part of the school curriculum, and the University of Waikato is a key provider of teaching and research in this area.   

Dr Chris Eames of the Centre for Science and Technology Education Research (CSTER) has been involved in developing New Zealand Curriculum frameworks for environmental education.  Schools are now expected to work with their students to be actively involved in contributing to the environmental, social and economic well-being of this country. 

Dr Eames has subsequently led research looking at ways schools can develop sustainable approaches in their management, operations, curriculum and grounds.

Working with a national team of school advisers and teachers from schools in five regions of the country, the researchers explored how such whole school approaches can enhance student learning. Using a framework developed for understanding students’ thinking, feeling and acting towards environment and sustainability issues, they found students to be highly engaged in their learning and empowered to work towards the resolution of problems.

For example, one teacher was able to engage students from diverse ethnic backgrounds in planting alongside a waterway in the school grounds to improve water quality. In another study, young primary school students focussed on providing suitable habitats for native birds in their school grounds. These studies highlight the development of informed participation and decision-making which can provide students with the skills for sustainable citizenship.

Other work in environmental education at the University of Waikato includes teacher professional development through the Science Learning Hub, a web-based science platform that makes New Zealand science accessible to schools and supports student learning about the environment.