The Environment Sustainability And The Curriculum In Scotland
Currently in our world there is a massive movement towards making everything more “environmentally friendly”, but why?
The main debates are all centred around Global Warming, a phenomenon caused by increases in emissions of “greenhouse gases”. Some of these gases occur naturally such as water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. On top of these we have the gases caused by industry hydroflourocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. With the most discussed greenhouse gas being carbon dioxide, this being caused chiefly by the burning of fossil fuels, wood and solid waste.
The gases that our planet cannot process then travel up to what is known as the ‘o-zone’ layer and form a film all around the earth which allows the suns rays in to warm up the earth but will not allow heat to emanated outwards and as such the planet warms up, like a greenhouse.
Scientists have worked out that in the state our planet is currently in the planet is capable of safely processing roughly 9 Gigatonnes of CO2 every year without any repercussions, this equates as 4.5tonnes allowance for every person on this planet. This sounds like a lot of gas but when you consider that last year the average American citizen 20tonnes last year and the average European emitted 10 tonnes, you could see why our planet could possibly be in bother.
Between the rise in greenhouse gases and the rise in deforestation worldwide the planet is becoming more and more unstable. Some signs of this have already shown themselves like changes in weather systems, and the beginning of melting polar ice caps, causing coastal flooding, and changes in sea currents, which in turn can cause more frequent and more severe storms.
There are many theorist who claim that global warming is just a hoax but given that every major scientific body in the world have done their own studies and all found it to be true, then it seems to be a very important and pressing issue.
Other environmental issues that are high on the agenda at the moment are the search for alternate power sources in order to preserve human economic systems for longer. Currently the main sources of power in britain are coal, oil and nuclear power, the first two produce massive amounts of greenhouse gases and also deplete natural stocks of oil and coal, these are rapidly disappearing and it is believed that the world’s oil could run out entirely within the next 30 years. Nuclear power however produces less gases but producing radioactive waste products, which have to be stored very safely and as well as being potentially very dangerous if the power plant where to go in to meltdown. The last time this happened was in Chernobyl and had very dire consequences with 4000 deaths linked directly to the accident and 90,000 are claimed to be due the radioactive fallout.
Sustainability looks at how we can prevent such problems by finding alternate means of powering the human race. There are many possible solutions including solar energy, wind energy, hydroelectricity, bio fuels and geothermal energy. All of which are known as renewable energy sources as the methods mean that the input can be used over and over indefinitely.
So how does all this tie in with our schools? The curriculum for excellence section on technology aims to teach pupils the knowledge to be able to understand the difference between what is a renewable and a non-renewable energy source, the pupils should also be able to identify certain energy sources and understand the impact that certain energy sources have on the environment. At standard grade and higher levels the technical and physics curricula also cover a more in depth look at both renewable and non renewable sources and how they work as well as the energy needs of society and the need for energy conservation. However in technological studies only 15 hours of a 2year course is dedicated to looking into energy sources.
One of the recommendations I would make for in schools and how they could improve the knowledge of pupils in this area would be to extend the topics in technological studies and physics to cover more of how the energy source works, where does the fuel come from. Other possible aspects that they could look into would be the costing of the energy source covering the cost for fuel and to construct the power plant as well as looking at the cost of the labour to run the plant. For instance, if you were to compare a coal power plant to a wind farm, the power plant would need built, would need constant deliveries of coal, personnel to move the fuel, personnel to put the coal into use, and also there would be managers, and numerous other members of staff, such as maintenance, however a wind farm would need to be built, the fuel is free, there are no logistics involved in moving fuel, or utilising it, the wind farm output could be monitored by a very small amount of people in possibly one small office, that wouldn’t even necessarily have to be onsite so there could be no construction of office space.
Another recommendation I would like to make would be a slight change in the curriculum for standard grade geography, as currently it contains information about farming worldwide as well as deforestation, however it does not cover any of the ramifications of said practices. My first point would be to include how changes in farming techniques through history have led to changes in output, the land that is required, the methods used for both production and harvest. For example it has been recorded that since the introduction of pesticides in Africa there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of some wild animals due to the amount of insects being killed off thus leaving larger animals with no food and in turn even larger animals are now beginning to suffer as they cannot find sustenance. I would also like to see an increase in talking about deforestation is affecting our planet. With trees being cut down there are less to deal with greenhouse gases therefore a rise in climate change and slow destruction of eco-systems, as well as some eco-systems being destroyed through animals loosing their homes through lack of forests.
In Classes such as PSE or RMPS it would be entirely possible to introduce topics, even just small topics, based on the moral implications of environmental issues in today’s society. Looking into why should we try to reduce our carbon emissions, why try to conserve as much wildlife habitat, should we stop using pesticides? These topics could even be linked to the topics in technology and physics, where one would cover the how’s of energy production and conservation and one could cover the why should we? These classes could be massively instrumental in making the children consider their social responsibility, i.e. what consequences could my actions have for other people. I feel that in making these changes we could really force children to think about the problems being caused by human indifference to the environment and more importantly make them want to something about it.
My final and possibly most important recommendation would be for every school to sign up for the eco-schools project. There are currently schools from all 32 local authorities in Scotland, as well as schools from over 40 countries world-wide, signed up for this project in which school attempt to gain awards for making their schools eco-friendly. Perhaps the most important part of this scheme is that the children have to be involved, they make the suggestions and decisions. It is not just as simple as making the place look litter free. They eco-schools programme has a set list of criteria that must be met before achieving each level of award, starting from bronze level through silver level with the highest award being the green flag.
With this scheme the biggest attraction is as mentioned, the pupils are involved from start to finish. The teachers are there merely for guidance and to help implement changes that the pupils see fit. In the Scottish programme for eco-schools there are 8 topics, all of which must be covered to gain the green flag, but the silver and bronze awards can be gained for covering fewer topics. The eight topics being; litter, energy, health and well being, transport, waste minimisation, biodiversity, school grounds and water. Although litter and waste minimisation topics are linked the main distinction is that litter looks at what the eco-schools Scotland website describes and “waste in the wrong place” as in it is left on pavements, and playgrounds, as apposed to be put into bins. Waste minimisation looks at recycling as well as try to just use as little as possible (“reduced, re-use and recycle”). The topic of energy could well be tied in with physics or technological studies as it deals with how to reduce energy and how to get energy from alternate sources (e.g. wind power). Health and well being is centred around trying to promote healthy eating and living around the school, (i.e. healthy food and exercise). The topic on transport aims to reduce the number of pupils receiving a lift to school, and promote walking or cycling where possible. This not only reduces carbon emissions, and the risk of children being involved in traffic accidents, but also promotes a healthy lifestyle. Both biodiversity and school grounds aim to make the school area itself more eco-friendly, the main differences being that biodiversity is aimed at making the grounds better suited for animals, such as birds and even insects to thrive in, whereas school grounds is aims to try and make the playground less of a concrete plain and more of a natural environment. This can be achieved through creating garden areas, among other things, which would tie in with biodiversity. Lastly water is concerned with trying to reduce the school usage of water through looking into flow rates of taps, water that doesn’t need to be used, leaks in the system and any other possible means of reducing water consumption. It is believed that purely through using “lo-flow” toilets and taps a school with a population of about 600 can be saved up to £5000 per year.
As you can see through signing up to the eco-schools project a single school could make a significant difference both by not only making their school more environmentally sound but also hopefully their pupils will go home and try to promote a more environmentally friendly household.
In conclusion to this I would suggest the biggest single change a school could make to educate their pupils about the environment would be to sign up for the eco-school project, as long as they actually take it all on board and make the changes need for the awards, At the moment there are many school and even local authorities purely signing up to be seen on the eco-schools register and not actually implementing the changes needed. Also I believe that any changes to the curriculum as I have mentioned would not only greatly benefit the education of our children but also improve our chances of rectifying any issues with our planet.
http://www.optimumpopulation.org/opt.af.limitco2.html (Andrew Ferguson, 2003)
http://www.royalsoced.org.uk/schools/telford (Thomas Telford, 2007)
http://environment.about.com/od/faqglobalwarming (Larry West, 2008)
SQA arrangements documents for:
Religious moral and philosophical studies
Religious moral and philosophical studies