Status of Environmental Education in Ontario Schools – 2007 Update

Report of the Working Group on Environmental Education: Shaping Our Schools, Shaping Our Future

On June 22, 2007 the Ontario provincial government, through Education Minister Kathleen Wynne and Environment Minister Laurel Broten, pledged its intent to accept and implement all 32 recommendations made by the Working Group on Environmental Education.

The recommendations were the work of a team of six environmental education experts and program directors including Dr. Eleanor Dudar (Toronto District School Board), Dr. Alan Foster (former director of the Kortright Centre for Conservation), Catherine Mahler (Ontario EcoSchools), Dr. Michael Fox (Trent University), Marlène Walsh (Canadian Ecology Centre) and Pam Schwartzberg (Learning for a Sustainable Future). Astronaut and scientist Dr. Roberta Bondar was chosen to lead the EE Working Group in this first-ever official review of how the environment and conservation are taught in Ontario schools. Its goal was to provide recommendations on ways to better support the teaching of environmental education to the newly created Curriculum Council. The “Bondar Report” recommendations were published in a report entitled Shaping Our Schools, Shaping Our Future. It can be accessed at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/curriculumcouncil/shapingschools.pdf

Three main aspects of the report will be summarized/commented on here:

1. The proposed definition of environmental education. Environmental education is education about the environment, for the environment, and in the environment that promotes an understanding of, rich and active experience in, and an appreciation for the dynamic interactions of the Earth’s physical and biological systems, the dependency of our social and economic systems on these natural systems, the scientific and human dimensions of environmental issues, and the positive and negative consequences, both intended and unintended, of  the interactions between human-created and natural systems.

2. The 32 recommendations in Shaping Our Schools, Shaping Our Future. These recommendations are interspersed with explanatory text throughout the document. The scope of the recommendations is comprehensive. The recommendations include policy, standards, research and consultation, accountability, assessment, responsibility for implementation, sound practice guidelines, guidelines for parent engagement, capacity-building and monitoring, cross-curricular focus, scope & sequence, study of environmental topics in each grade, substantial EE content in Gr. 9 Geography, 9/10 Science, and 10 Civics, environmental action projects, an additional environmental focus course, interdisciplinary links, specialist high skills majors program, co-op placements, professional development, workshops/summer institutes on cross-curricular EE, additional qualification courses, EE resource development, EE teaching guide, resource access, pre-service EE as a teachable subject, and funding outdoor education.

3. EEON believes that the concept of sustainability is something that must be explicitly addressed. Sustainability as the goal of environmental education needs to be explicitly and clearly stated within educational policy, resources and supports. None of the 32 recommendations in Shaping Our Schools, Shaping Our Future mention sustainability. In response to this concern, Education Minister Kathleen Wynne wrote (August 29, 2007): “We are committed to the development of an environmental education policy for Ontario schools, the establishment of standards to ensure that the quality and importance of environmental education is sustained throughout our curriculum policy documents, and the provision of opportunities in every grade throughout elementary and secondary schools for all students to learn about concepts and issues related to the environment, including sustainability.