Finland: sustainable development in the steering of education and training
Finland adopted a more serious attitude toward environmental education and protection of the environment after the Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. The report of the Commission for Environmental Education in 1978 and the national core curriculum from 1985 raised environmental education as one of the educational goals in general education.
Environmental education came to be a cross-curricular theme and also part of vocational education and training. A working group appointed by the Finnish National Commission for UNESCO formulated the National Strategy for Environmental Education in 1992. The strategy recommended measures to be taken in maternity and child healthcare, children’s day-care, the entire educational system, research and scholarship, the Finnish Defence Forces, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and parishes, non-governmental organizations, trade and industry, media, and international cooperation.
In the 1990s, environmental education was expanded to consider all the dimensions of sustainable development. The focus shifted to the study of the ecological, economic, social, and cultural effects of human activities. It began to assess operating habits critically and to search for new solutions considering all the dimensions of sustainable development simultaneously. The revised core curricula of the new millennium state that sustainable development must be included in the teaching of all subjects, and the school’s operational culture must support learning.
Political and administrative steering
The Council of State defines the general lines of educational policy and draws up the development plans. Every four years it endorses a plan for the development of Ministry of Education training in the field of administration and development of research and scholarship in universities. The development plan Education and Research 2003–2008 states that sustainable development shall be promoted in education and research.
The Ministry of Education published in February 2006 the report “Sustainable development in education; Implementation of Baltic 21E programme and Finnish strategy for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005–2014)”. It contains policy definitions for the whole educational system. A working group appointed by the Ministry of Education made a proposal for a national action plan for Global Education. One of the activity areas included in the Global Education 2010 programme promotes the ability to perceive the world as a whole with limited natural resources; a world in which we need to learn to save resources and distribute them fairly, equally, and equitably.
The Local Government Act states that local authorities shall strive to promote the welfare of their residents and sustainable development in their areas. In a 1997 Strategy for Sustainable Development adopted by the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (revised in 2001), the importance of collaboration between sectors and the integration of sustainable development perspectives in municipal planning are emphasized.
In compliance with laws, decrees, and the approved distribution of lesson hours, the Finnish National Board of Education draws up the national core curriculum for basic, upper secondary and upper secondary level vocational education and training and the foundations of degrees for vocational education. NBE also approves the core curricula for pre-school education and both the morning and afternoon activities of school-goers. Based on the core curricula, local authorities and other education providers devise their own curricula which are specified and complement the aims and core contents.
Teachers implement the aims and contents of the adopted curriculum in the classroom. Cross-curricular themes are key areas in educational work. Their aims and contents are incorporated into several subjects and they pose a challenge to integrate instruction. Sustainable development is a cross-curricular theme in the national core curriculum for basic education, adopted in 2004, for upper secondary education, adopted in 2003, and for basic and upper secondary education for adults, adopted in 2004. Sustainable development must be included in the local curriculum work in the common and optional subjects and in common events, and it must be apparent in the school’s operational culture. The central tenets in both the curricula for basic and upper secondary education are the development of environmental literacy and future thinking, a sustainable way of life and learning to participate in public affairs and influence decision-making.
In vocational education and on-the-job learning, promotion of sustainable development is a common emphasis in all fields. Four credits of environmental knowledge can be included in optional studies. Knowledge of environmental skills is part of the vocational skills in one’s own field. The beginning of 2006 will see an act regarding the implementation of the demonstration of vocational skills bring forth sustainable development in each vocational field.
The Ministry of Education is responsible for the development of educational, science, cultural, sport and youth policies and international cooperation in these fields. It also defines the allocation of resources. The Finnish National Board of Education supports the curriculum work of the schools and educational institutions and the implementation of environmental systems via training, production of learning materials, networking support, and a web-service on sustainable development. The national core curricula and foundations of degrees, in turn, steer the producers of learning materials and degrees, teacher trainers and the initiation of development projects. Research, scholarship and assessment provide new perspectives to the development of education and training. Researchers and scholars are involved in many school development projects. New innovations are generated in national and international projects and programmes.
The administration provides library, information and web-services. Training, visits and theme days are organized for schools. The administration also participates in local, regional, national and international cooperative projects. National parks and other reservation areas and their nature centres are important learning environments for people of all ages. Environmental awareness is promoted particularly through extensive distribution of information in the media. Metsähallitus, a state enterprise whose primary tasks are to supply wood to the forest industry and manage most of Finland’s protected areas, is in charge of nature guide services in Finnish national parks.
The Finnish Association for Environmental Education promotes education for sustainable development and coordinates the activities of organizations in the field. The objective is to support and promote the educational work of organizations, improve the dissemination of information, and reduce overlaps in the activities of organizations. At the same time, it strives to create a common understanding among the organizations of what good education for sustainable development is. The association hosts a nature school group and a network of researchers in the field. It promotes interaction between researchers and educators.
Nature and environmental schools support the environmental education work done in schools and day-care by teaching ecological literacy. The teaching takes place in the nature or other environments relevant to the instructional themes and is active learning, hands on and learning through experience. At the moment there are 24 nature and environmental schools in Finland. The network covers mainly the biggest cities in Southern Finland. The most important target groups of nature schools are the pupils and teachers in pre-school and basic education. Special environmental systems have been designed for schools. The Green Flag is an international programme of environmental education with the purpose of developing ecological everyday practices and furthering the participation of children and young people in decision-making.
Norway: the Norwegian approach to sustainable development
Norwegian authorities claim to have taken a systemic approach to the issue of environmental education in line with the goals of the Brundtland Report, and see themselves as a vanguard of education for sustainable education. This systemic approach attempts “to create an institutional framework which at all levels promotes environmental education and in which environmental education is compulsory and fully integrated into normal activities”. Actually, the Norwegian Government became inspired by the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 and included environmental education in the curricula for primary and secondary education already in 1974. In 1974 a subject called “nature and environmental protection” was introduced and later changed to “nature and the environment”. However, these early efforts were often limited to focusing on pollution control and nature conservation, and it was not until the national curriculum of 1987 that the environment was seen as part of the larger social and economic picture.
While environmental education is an integral part of the Norwegian school system, teaching about sustainable development is not as systemic as one might hope. While there can be little dispute that the Norwegian population – young and old – has ready access to and knowledge about the environmental challenges we are facing, there seems to be a certain apathy – as illustrated in the decline of environmental enthusiasm – towards taking real and decisive steps in order to deal with these.
Since the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987, sustainable development has been declared a policy goal by the Norwegian Government. However, the enthusiasm and priority given to sustainable development varies according to the social, political and economic situation. Despite fluctuations in priorities within the electorate and political system, sustainable development has been developed and integrated into the policy structure. Sustainable development is an integral part of the language and justification of policy and politics in Norway.
In 1989, the Norwegian Government issued the White Paper no. 46 “On environment and development” as a response to the publication of Our Common Future two years earlier. A concrete result of the White Paper was the implementation of an obligatory course called “Nature, society and the environment” in teacher training in 1992. The subject was removed in 2002 with little resistance from politicians and bureaucrats. Research shows that lack of knowledge among teachers as well as scant resources are key challenges to integrating sustainability issues into teaching. The teachers’ attitude and interest in the theme, along with variables such as time and economy are also determining factors for why sustainable development and related issues are given small priority.
In response to the UN Decade for Education for Sustainable Development the Norwegian Government issued a document that summarizes the current situation and outlines challenges ahead for education for sustainable development. Even though this document is often referred to as a strategy plan for sustainable development, it does not spell out a new strategy or path, but provides an overview of the different initiatives taken by the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training. The initiatives include developing and supporting project-based learning about sustainable development. The document does not provide information on how many schools are involved in these projects, but it mentions that the national curriculum should guide education for sustainable development.
The National Curriculum
During the past decade “Lærerplan 97” (L97 – Curriculum 1997) has been the guiding document for teaching in primary and secondary education in Norway. In the fall of 2006, L97 was replaced by a new reform and curriculum called Kunnskapsløftet (KL07 – “The Knowledge Promotion 2007”). The overall organization of the subjects remained the same, except for some changes in the structure of individual subjects and number of hours devoted to the different subjects. The major change is that the new plan provides clearer, shorter and more overarching goals for the education.
In both L97 and KL07, issues related to sustainable development are primarily covered in the subjects: social science and natural science (in KL07 the “environmental” part of the subject’s name was omitted). However, in the curricula for the subjects: “Food and Health”, “Christianity, Religion and Ethics”, and “Arts and Crafts”, mention sustainability, but it is not a central focus in neither of these subjects. Both the old and the new curricula provide relatively little emphasis on environmental and developmental issues the first seven years, but such issues gain more attention at the secondary level.
RORG, a coalition of Norwegian NGOs, argues that KL07 is a step down when it comes to the education for a sustainable future. Overall it is the environmental aspect of sustainable development that receives attention in the curriculum. The NGOs claim that the curriculum is missing a global development focus with attention to issues such as inequality and poverty in an international perspective. Furthermore, the Norwegian authorities’ focus on sustainable development and international cooperation seems to be largely absent in the curriculum. Another critic of the new curriculum, educational researcher Camilla Schreiner, criticises the lack of systematic inclusion of sustainable development in the new plan and argues that the natural sciences are presented as detached from the social and environmental reality.
Sweden: from environmental education to education for sustainable development
Considering that Sweden has a long tradition of environmental education, the Swedish research field is relatively new. Since the beginning of the 20th century outdoor education has had a strong position in the Swedish curriculum, and care for nature and environmental concern have been recurring themes in these activities. In the late 1960s, the outdoor education tradition fused with the new wave of environmentalism that arose during these years to form the basis for Swedish environmental education. This combination is evident in the Swedish national curriculum of 1969 (Lgr 69), in which environmental education intentions appear for the first time.
Important inspiration for the Swedish environmental education movement came in 1972, when the Swedish government initiated the first major global environmental meeting known as the Stockholm Conference (the UN Conference on the Human Environment). At this conference education was emphasised as a key issue in environmental protection. Detailed guidelines for environmental education were further developed at the world’s first intergovernmental conference on environmental education organised by UNESCO in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1977. The Tbilisi Declaration had a strong impact on the national curriculum of 1980 (Lgr 80), in which environmental perspectives were integrated foremost in science education. The importance of education in the strivings for a sound relationship with the environment, and later for a sustainable development, have been emphasised in a number of UN policy declarations and reports: Our Common Future, 1987; Agenda 21, 1992; and the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, 2002. In order to further underline the importance of education in addressing global challenges, in 2002 the UN General Assembly declared 2005–2014 as the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). The DESD declaration signifies one of the most obvious changes in environmental education policy and practice in recent years, namely the conceptual change from “environment” to “sustainable development”.
In Sweden “sustainable development” has been less controversial than in the rest of the world. While there may be several reasons for this, the fact that there has been strong political consensus about the concept and the fact that many regard it as a necessary qualitative improvement of the welfare state have probably contributed. This can of course been seen as a rather naïve attitude that hides the ideological tensions and embedded contradictions within the concept. However, ESD does not necessarily have to be restricted to the UNESCO version, but can be interpreted and negotiated in many different ways. The interesting thing is therefore to reflect on what kind of changes these interpretations and negotiations bring about in educational practice.
One way of capturing these changes is to study “selective traditions” within sustainability and environmental education. Such studies have shown a gradual transition from a fact-based tradition characterised by a focus on the transference of scientific knowledge, via a normative tradition with a focus on teaching students the necessary environmentally friendly values and attitudes, to a pluralistic tradition that endeavours to mirror the variety of opinions and perspectives informing contemporary debate. Another way of describing this shift is in terms of a movement from behavioural modification to a participatory approach involving diverse interest groups towards supporting independent opinion-making, action competence and critical thinking.
Changes in environmental and sustainability education are not only evident in the approach and the teaching methods, however. The content is also shifting. In particular, the sustainability perspective has significantly broadened the scope for this kind of education. There is a clear trend towards giving political and moral perspectives greater importance in environmental and sustainability education and that increasing attention is paid to the interrelations between economic development, environmental protection and social justice, both on a local and global scale. Not least, climate change and its increasingly obvious consequences have made it necessary to capture the complexity of sustainability issues in educational practice. As a consequence, the broadening of environmental education is no longer the sole responsibility of science education. In fact, in many secondary and upper secondary schools, social science teachers seem to be taking a leading role in the development of these teaching perspectives. Today, environmental and sustainability education issues are central concerns in many subjects in the Swedish educational system as a whole – from preschool to higher education.
Photo credits: Livia Minca