You hear about it in the news all the time. Becoming sustainable or carbon neutral is the latest thing to do. When we look at these trends, we should see how the education system can become sustainable - environmentally, economically, and socially. Ethan Bodnar planted the sprout in my head that became this idea of a sustainable education. In order to digest this, we must first determine what it means to be sustainable according to Wikipedia:
Sustainability is a characteristic of a process or state that can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely.
In the case of education, that process would be the creation of individuals prepared to function and thrive in society. This process must be sustainable on three levels:
- Socially - The system must be socially sustainable. This is probably the most important factor of the education system. Students must feel comfortable and thus learn in the system. Additionally, the community must feel a strong connection to the system.
- Economically - The product of the system (an educated individual) must be equal to or greater than the amount spent on them. This means that we must create individuals who can excel in the economy through innovation, knowledge, and hard work. Thus, they will contribute enough back to society to offset the cost spent on them.
- Environmentally - The system must not hurt the environment and must produce individuals with a respect for the environment surrounding them.
Wikipedia outlines various characteristics of sustainable development that can easily be applied to the education system, so as to accomplish the above objectives.
Participation and ownership. Get the stakeholders (men and women) to genuinely participate in design and implementation. Build on their initiatives and demands. Get them to monitor the project and periodically evaluate it for results.
Students, teachers, parents, and community members should all be involved in the design process of the school. In addition, students should be invited to take an active role in the leadership of the school. Finally, the school should welcome to the community and provide outreach programs.
Capacity building and training. Training stakeholders to take over should begin from the start of any project and continue throughout. The right approach should both motivate and transfer skills to people.
Students and the community should be able to maintain the education system without Federal assistance. Students should receiving transferable skills usable in the work force.
Government policies. Development projects should be aligned with local government policies.
Educational standards should be implemented and followed on a national basis so education is truly equal.
Financial. In some countries and sectors, financial sustainability is difficult in the medium term. Training in local fundraising is a possibility, as is identifying links with the private sector, charging for use, and encouraging policy reforms.
Develop fundraising methods and mold parts of the fundraising model after higher education. If we offer a better education, it will be easier to encourage former students to donate and provide a supplemental source of income for new projects.
Management and organization. Activities that integrate with or add to local structures may have better prospects for sustainability than those which establish new or parallel structures.
It is far better to build a new initiative or curriculum, buy newer technology, or pay more competitive salaries then to build a new school. Integrate management throughout the system to save resources.
Social, gender and culture. The introduction of new ideas, technologies and skills requires an understanding of local decision-making systems, gender divisions and cultural preferences.
While the standard for achievement should be national, the methods of reaching it should be tailored to the local socioeconomic group.
Technology. All outside equipment must be selected with careful consideration given to the local finance available for maintenance and replacement. Cultural acceptability and the local capacity to maintain equipment and buy spare parts are vital.
A careful selection process should be observed when buying new technology. Teachers and students should be brought into the process. Open source and web-based solutions can help to ease costs and often will work with current hardware. Technology should be close to what students will see in the work force and extensive training should be given to students and teachers so they can leverage the latest technologies effectively. Technology should be open and transparent to the entire community.
Environment. Poor rural communities that depend on natural resources should be involved in identifying and managing environmental risks. Urban communities should identify and manage waste disposal and pollution risks.
As in higher education, schools can set an example for society by using renewable practices. In addition, schools should foster a respect for the environment in students.
External political and economic factors. In a weak economy, projects should not be too complicated, ambitious or expensive.
Whenever possible, schools should be scalable and should be locally sustainable within 5 years.
Realistic duration. A short project may be inadequate for solving entrenched problems in a sustainable way, particularly when behavioural and institutional changes are intended. A long project, may on the other hand, promote dependence.
There wil allways be more students needing education, so short-term solutions are not acceptable. Instead, the quality of teaching should be the #1 focus.
By observing the practice of sustainability, we can ensure that students will be well educated for generations to come. In addition, schools can be seen as a boon, rather than curse, by non paternal taxpayers. If we do not change, schools will continue to be stagnate if not grow worse. Just as in business, sustainability should be an important factor of out education system.