Incorporating environment into education

By Elyse Merriman

As the face of our world changes, so does our ability to adapt to it. With all the concern about climate change and other environmental issues, bringing these topics into the classroom has lately received special attention.

The Environmental Careers Organization held a roundtable discussion to provide a forum for individuals from varied backgrounds to focus on the topic of environment and its place within primary and secondary education, Wed., Jan. 23. The participants were from various facets of the education system, the government and industry. The purpose of the roundtable was to join perspectives and collaborate towards the place environment has in the future of the education system.

The University of Calgary’s department of environmental science was represented by physics and astronomy professor Dr. Ann Lise Norman.

“[The roundtable] was a useful exercise to get together and discuss with other educators what our primary messages that we want to get across to students that are in high school or the K-12 system and how to go about facilitating that,” said Norman.

ECO Canada president and CEO Grant Trump was also part of the round table.

“It was wonderful that we had such large participation from cross-sector groups, post-secondary, government, employers large and small, students, counsellors [and] teachers,” said Trump. “They were certainly engaged at the event and we got a large amount of information.”

Both Trump and Norman had visions geared towards the incorporation of the environment into the education system.

“[It was important] to get environmental education out there and to bring home the importance of it to our everyday lives and our everyday world so that we are aware of how we can make changes,” said Norman. “From childhood on, it is an important change that needs to take place due to energy conservation. It’s really a societal problem and the best way to solve a society problem is to start with the children.”

Grant had some suggestions about how the environment should be included in cirricula.

“Those components could be anything from linking schools with environmental employers so that the employers could come and talk about environmental issues of the day, it could be where employers talk about jobs of the day,” said Grant. “Partnerships with business are very critical. It also could be [put] directly into the curriculum. It’s important that all people have a basic environmental knowledge to make good decisions and tying those to math courses, science courses, social science, and making environmental examples to show students that the environment is virtually part of everything that we do.”

There would also be a ripple effect on post-secondary institutions and industry.

“It would possibly increase the numbers of students who would be interested in taking environmental science as a main course of study at post-secondary institutes,” said Norman.

Trump had similar views but recognized other sources of labour­–and not just the effect that recent or future post-secondary graduates will have on the economy.

“What we’ve got to look at is ‘what is the supply?’” said Trump. “When we look at supply, all [the considered] avenues are young people coming straight out of post-secondary education, but there are other sources of labour such as immigration, aboriginal community, and people transferring from sectors of an economy that is going through decline. That’s not to downplay the importance of new graduates that are coming though.”

As for the future of environment and industry, Trump explained events happening as “natural evolution.” He noted that when you take a look at oil and gas and do environmental assessments through regulatory bodies, most oil and gas companies would have an environmental aspect in their annual reports.

“That’s simply going to grow and it’s just a part of doing business,” said Trump.

As for the future of the environment, Trump expressed future generations must have a good knowledge of the environment so they can make wise choices on sustainability.

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