The RSGS Education committee has been hosting a series of discussion events, looking at proposals for educational reform and different aspects of proposed curriculum change for Scotland. Following on from a physical conference taking place in February 2023, there have been webinars looking at the proposed new Scottish Diploma (October 2023) and Interdisciplinary Learning (November 2023).

The third in this series of webinars took place on Wednesday 24th January, focusing on Learning for Sustainability (LfS), an entitlement for all learners, a responsibility for all practitioners but one that often falls on Geography teachers to help implement in schools.

We began with a presentation from Prof. Peter Higgins from Edinburgh University, who introduced the importance of LfS, particularly in regard to preparing pupils for an uncertain future. He referred to this as a ‘wicked problem’ without a simple quick fix. He summarised the vision for LfS, incorporating three elements: education for sustainable development, global citizenship and outdoor learning. The importance of outdoor learning was included because of the need to develop pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours and connections to nature. He gave a background to LfS policy and aims in schools and also introduced the Target 2030 action plan detailing how we plan to reach these aims. There are many resources available on this, detailed in the wider reading below. There is broad support that we should be looking at everything we do in schools through a sustainability lens.

The second presentation came from Mike Robinson, RSGS Chief Executive. He recognised that there is quite a lot of pessimism around the topic of climate change and environmental degradation and that it is so important to emphasise the positive message that it is not too late and we can still live sustainably if the knowledge and the will is present. Not only is this the right thing to be doing, but also there is now the potential for a huge range of jobs and careers in this field. He explained that when dealing with climate change, it is important to recognise that there is currently a skills gap in almost every organisation and this was the impetus for developing the RSGS climate solutions course, an attempt to meet this need. He also emphasised resources produced by RSGS including The Geographer magazine and other resources targeted at young learners, both physical and online. In an attempt to plan more long-term, RSGS have also set up a Future Generations Fund. He emphasised the importance of subject knowledge and specialist teachers, but also the time in the curriculum to do it justice.

Both presenters then set up the provocation for discussion: What actions are needed if learning for sustainability and climate solutions are to assume greater significance in the curriculum and in our schools?

Feedback from discussions in the five break-out rooms (approx. 40 attendees):

· Often schools focus on small-scale achievable goals, rather than the big picture

· Knowledge gap, perhaps greater emphasis on this topic in initial teacher education (ITE) across all subject areas including primary sector (climate solutions course could play a role in this)

· Expectation in Professional Standards for all teachers, but often this is just given lip service rather than being embedded in practice

· Onus should not just be on pupils to fix this in the future – current practice of all members of school community should play a part

· Need for somebody in senior leadership to take ownership of this, difficult for classroom teachers due to lack of time and capacity and needs somebody to have an overview/co-ordinator role

· Limited awareness of statutory requirements and LfS agenda is really just trickling down to classroom practitioners.

· Bureaucracy often getting in the way of initiatives, particularly regarding built environment

· There are good initiatives (e.g. Cairngorms 2030) with a lot of willingness in community to engage with schools, but time to accommodate this is very difficult

· Need for this to be funded properly if it is going to be done properly

· Geographers should not be expected to do it all, but should also not be the gatekeepers – LfS should be seen as across all subjects at all levels

· Needs an experience or course as this helps focus attention on this area of study in a school

· Space and time to allow this to happen

· Importance of social justice and sustainability and how they link together

· Must be linked to qualifications to improve engagement – perhaps through theinterdisciplinary project learning element proposed in the Scottish Diploma of Achievement

· Mindset and cultural shift needed in what the curriculum needs to offer – getting out of subject silos without denigrating the value of subject knowledge

· Powering Futures Challenge programme @ SCQF Level 6 – interdisciplinary challenge-based programme linking with business to better prepare learners for the uncertainties of the future

· By including these aims in curriculum documents, this will help combat apathy towards LfS.

· Lack of time and value given to outdoor learning in schools

All participants were in agreement that this is an essential part of a rounded education and that the way it is currently being delivered does not reflect this. Lots of positive ideas and enthusiasm for improving LfS in schools.

The next webinar in this series will take place in late February and will focus on Geospatial analysis.

Wider Reading - Learning for Sustainability

Beames S, Higgins P, Nicol R, Smith, H. Outdoor Learning Across the Curriculum: Theory and Guidelines for Practice (2023)

Beames S, Higgins P, Nicol R. Learning Outside the Classroom: Theory and Guidelines for Practice (2023)

Raworth, Kate, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (2018)

Richardson, J., Steffen W., Lucht, W., Bendtsen, J., Cornell, S.E., 2023. Earth beyond six of nine Planetary Boundaries. Science Advances, 9, 37.

Scottish Government (Christie, B & Higgins P.) Educational outcomes of Learning for Sustainability: A Brief Review of Literature (2020)

Scottish Government (Christie, B & Higgins P.) Impact of Learning for Sustainability on educational outcomes: A summary of findings (2020)

Scottish Government “Target 2030” A movement for people, planet and prosperity Scotland’s Learning for Sustainability Action Plan 2023-2030 (2023)

Scottish Government, Vision 2030+ : Concluding report of the Learning for Sustainability National Implementation Group (March 2016)

Sterling, Stephen R, Sustainable education : re-visioning learning and change (2001)

Sterling, Stephen R, Learning for Sustainability in Dangerous Times (2024)

Wider Reading – Climate Solutions RSGS.ORG/