The Sustainable Backpack
The Sustainable Backpack is a national initiative for Norwegian primary and secondary education, aimed at integrating education for sustainable development (ESD) into mainstream education. The goals of the Sustainable Backpack are to influence attitudes toward and improve proficiency in issues related to sustainable development among teachers and students. Education for sustainable development is supported by enabling networking between teachers, schools and teacher education experts, organizing teacher professional development (TPD) courses and by providing economic support to school projects. About 600 primary and secondary schools in Norway have participated in the program since the start in 2009. Annually some 150 schools participate.
The aim of the program is to promote students' understanding and awareness of sustainable development and global environmental challenges and to give them competencies, which can help them find solutions to current and future environmental problems both locally and globally through increased understanding of the impact of local actions. The program also develops teachers' awareness, understanding and competence in sustainable development education for primary and secondary schools. Schools can apply to the Sustainable Backpack program for support (financial support and teacher training) to develop and implement sustainable development projects or programs. By taking part in the program, the teachers become part of a professional learning community for ESD. In the network, teachers meet other teachers and their supervisors three times a year. The first annual meeting is a national conference for all teachers in the beginning of the school year in September, followed up by two regional network meetings, one in the autumn and one in the the spring. At these network meetings, the teachers get relevant scientific and pedagogical content training in addition to supervision on the ESD projects or programs they develop and conduct at their school. The requirements for ESD projects or programs that can be supported by the Sustainable Backpack are that the teaching is inquiry-based and inter- or multi-disciplinary, and that part of the teaching is carried out at alternative learning arenas outside classrooms. The schools are also encouraged to collaborate with external partners like the local community, NGOs, museums or businesses in their local community. Teachers participating in the Sustainable Backpack program are required to participate in the national conference and the two network meetings. In addition, they are obliged to describe their project/program so that it can be communicated to others. The school (school-leader/headmaster) is obliged to facilitate the teachers meetings and the inter- or multidisciplinary work at the school and to make a plan for permanent establishment of the project/program at the school. Success factors Essential for the success of the concept is building commitment in school leaders. The leaders should ideally gain a clear vision and ideas on how to integrate sustainable development in ordinary teaching. Building teacher competence is also important to be able support integrate the concept into the curriculum and ordinary teaching. It is also key to create local relevance. Sustainability Impacts 600 primary and secondary schools in Norway have participated in the program. The program has enhanced teachers' engagement and understanding of sustainable development as well as increased teachers' use of the local environment for education related to sustainable development. The program has also increased the use of practical, varied, multidisciplinary and exploratory teaching in new learning contexts. The collaboration with external actors has increased the teachers' competencies and has had a positive impact on the motivation of both teachers and students. The program has resulted in more environmentally conscious students. Cost-effectiveness An external evaluation made in 2014 concluded that the funds have so far been sufficient and have been used efficiently. Challenges, lessons learned and potential for development Important for the success of the implementation at a school is a committed school-leader with a clear vision and ideas on how to integrate sustainable development in ordinary teaching. Competent teachers who support and implement this shared vision into their curriculum and teaching are also required. It is also essential to create local relevance. The courses and conferences are the most important part of the program in terms of capacity building. Evaluation skills could be improved, e.g. for evaluating the projects. The concept could easily be adapted to other countries. The program will continue through 2015 and beyond. The future development vision includes increased integration with standard teacher education and the vision is that all teachers should be able to participate in the sustainable development courses. A prerequisite for this would be increasing the funding for the schools to enable increased teacher participation. Contact person for more information: Eldri Scheie, Associate Professor at the Norwegian Centre for Science Education firstname.lastname@example.org
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