Fieldwork, sustainability and environmental education: the centrality of geographical inquiry

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    Common notions around the concept of sustainability tend to be framed within the values and principles that the world's natural environments need to be used and managed in such a way as to make them available for future generations. Consequently, pedagogical approaches in environmental education that follow this intellectual thread tend to adopt a standard scientific approach to inquiry-based learning. This article argues that the features of a geographical approach to inquiry, particularly in its wider conceptualisation of fieldwork, provides a much more effective means of developing an environmental education that is more cogniscent of the deeper aspects of sustainability. While the importance of the natural systems components of sustainability cannot be ignored, they tend to displace other inherent facets within the sustainability concept and, in particular, the reality that any discussion as to the sustainable use of natural environments must incorporate knowledge and understanding of the way people interact with these environments. We contend that sustainability, when taught in schools, has tended to be environmentally and scientifically based, diminishing the role of humans. In an example of how this deficit might be overcome, the Australian Curriculum incorporates sustainability as one of the three mandatory cross-curriculum priorities; that is, one of the avenues for encouraging complementary learning and teaching across different disciplines. Within this curriculum framework, the concept is expanded to not only include a consideration of the mutual interdependence of the environmental spheres (Systems), but also World View and Futures - thus including the human component. However, using the notion of the fieldwork imperative (Casinader & Kidman, 2017), which distinguishes between the reasons why we do fieldwork and the reasons why we should do fieldwork, we argue that sustainability education would be placed more effectively within the disciplinary domain of Geography, rather than as part of an integrated curriculum approach or in Science.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-17
    Number of pages17
    JournalAustralian Journal of Environmental Education
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


    • environmental education
    • fieldwork
    • geographical inquiry
    • inquiry learning
    • sustainability

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