How Is the Concept of Education for Sustainability (EfS) Currently Being Interpreted by a Small Group of Interested Teachers?
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We are fast approaching a climate catastrophe and yet education for sustainability (EfS) continues to be a programme addressed with a lack of urgency in many of our schools. Any chance of New Zealand schools achieving the Sustainable Development Goals educational target (SDG 4.7) by 2030 is decreasing. This target aims for all learners to gain adequate knowledge and skills for the sustainable development of current and future generations. This requires human action and with only one decade remaining it seems the EfS concept requires a greater focus. However, there are also various interpretations of this complex EfS concept. The term sustainability itself appears open to interpretation as the original intent of the word was to encourage forest longevity and it has been amended or recontextualised to ‘fit’ as environmental education. The EfS concept aims for human action to develop from a sense of global responsibility. However, opportunities for specific professional learning opportunities to promote awareness of the EfS concept appear weak. It seems that primary schools are making efforts to promote student awareness and secondary schools are also attempting this focus, but it is now essential this concept is consistently addressed. This research aimed to explore the varying interpretations of the EfS concept through the specific lens of three primary and secondary educators by conducting semi-structured interviews. The general aim of EfS programmes is to encourage knowledge about environmental sustainability and action in the wider world. However, how this is achieved and conveyed to students reflects each educa-tor’s personal interpretation of this EfS concept. This was of interest as recent literature surrounding the EfS concept has focused predominantly on: the challenge to consistently define sustainability; historical approaches taken; and deviations of the concept from previously named environmental or ecological education. However, it seemed there was a gap in the research regarding how those already engaged in environmental education programmes are interpreting the EfS concept. To understand how it is personally valued and subsequently how it is implemented into teaching practice led me to design research questions based on how different understandings of the EfS concept have developed and if there are specific challenges experienced in this implementation process. The participants recruited were made up of three educators who are currently responsible for EfS delivery in their respective schools. They were each recommended by their principal due to their level of involvement and/or interest in teaching with a sustainable focus. Each participant was personally interviewed face-to-face utilising the qualitative research method of semi-structured interviews. Once the interviews were transcribed and member checks completed, themes relevant to varying interpretations and development were analysed. The results of this research confirm that the EfS concept is interpreted in different ways, although the participants all shared the view that it is better to do something pro-active than nothing at all. They all indicated they had received minimal professional development specific to the EfS concept but found that sustainability came up again and again, both intentionally and incidentally. For this to be encouraged amongst all staff required clear understanding, support from school management and an openness for change.