Teaching Sustainability to Prepare Children for a Complex Future: Environmental Education in Primary School

Primary education may play a critical role in preparing students for the complex global problems of today. How early should schools begin to encourage student engagement towards a sustainable future? Not only in teaching them what sustainability means and why it is important, but also in developing the competencies to be innovative, creative and critical problem-solvers. We describe an environmental education program that took place in a primary school in Singapore. Within the program, we investigated how a collaborative learning instructional design helped grade four students explore a complex environmental problem by generating their own ideas around, and solutions to, the problem. We argue that there is a need to teach about sustainable development with instructional methods that cultivate skills crucial to complex problem solving. These include thinking critically and creatively, communicating and collaborating. Our instructional design was developed to encourage students to employ such skills, while at the same time learn the concepts around decreasing human production of waste in the environment. Our work has shown that grade four students are able to engage in complex problem solving through peer collaboration, produce unique and practical solutions, use some effective communicative and collaborative behaviours, and learn about an important environmental issue. We hope to contribute to a discourse on the importance of teaching about sustainability with the instructional methods that prepare young children to be effective problem-solvers for a sustainable future.

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