Teaching sustainability in Australian schools: who’s missing out?

Teaching Australian school children about sustainability appears to be a case of hit and miss despite a decade-long push to make it a priority across the national curriculum.

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A survey of Queensland teachers found that many were unaware of a 2008 directive by federal and state education ministers to incorporate sustainability across all subjects, while others said they did not have any spare room in a curriculum that they said was inflexible.

But schools in Victoria, NSW and ACT appear to be ahead in sustainability programs, where schoolyards are being turned into veggie patches and children are encouraged in water saving and other eco-friendly measures.

Victoria and NSW were a part of the successful pilot trial of Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI), a federal government initiative implemented in 2005 in partnership with state and territory education and environment agencies. The scheme has since been axed.

Senior lecturer in education policy at the University of Melbourne, Dr Glenn Savage, says there is no way to ascertain whether sustainability – one of three subjects that are the focus of the Cross Curriculum Priorities (CCP) initiative – is being taught in all classrooms across Australia.

As a cross-curriculum subject, it must be incorporated within all subjects for students from Prep to Year 10. (The other CCP issues are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, and Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia.)

“But the question is, are the teachers aware how to embed a CCP subject in their teaching?” Dr Savage said.

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The president of Australian Association of Environment Education, Mark Caddey, says that there are Australia-wide inconsistencies in sustainability education.

“Since the Commonwealth Government stepped away from AuSSI standards have slipped,” he said. 

Both the federal Department of Education and the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) have put the onus of teaching sustainability on the state governments.

Mr Caddey said: “ACARA draws a line where it will not mandate to pedagogy or implementation of sustainability education.

“And because the implementation of a CCP subject is left to the states, there is a lack of consistent policy on sustainability education, depriving the new teachers of education on integration of climate education in the curriculum.”

Research by Jennifer Nicholls at James Cook University revealed that primary and secondary school teachers in Queensland did not feel supported by curriculum materials that included climate change and sustainability. Consequently, many did not include the issue in their lesson plans, relying instead on incidental conversations and discussions with students.

The survey of 300 teachers found that those who did tackle the issue did so through personal investigation and self-learning.

But Queensland’s department of education says its “Curriculum into the Classroom (C2C)”, which is a variant of the Australian curriculum, allows specific opportunities for sustainability education.

RECYCLING E-WASTE

Dr Savage says that while variations of curriculum across Australia might allow flexibility for a state to adapt a subject such as sustainability to its own requirement, it makes implementation inconsistent.

“Are the states really using that flexibility to their advantage?” he said.

Whether education on climate and sustainability extends beyond the classroom is often dependent on individual principals.

“Some schools have a broader commitment towards sustainability than others,” Dr Savage said. “The whole school is geared around it. In most cases it is up to the principal’s interest.”

Victoria’s Banyule Primary school in Melbourne’s north-east is a standout.

It was named school of the year by Resource Smart, an initiative of Sustainability Victoria, and is one of more than 1000 schools in Victoria that have committed to putting sustainability front and centre of their programs.

Principal Sharon Marmo joined Banyule at a time when there were empty garden beds and little drive in the staff to be green.

“I felt that I had to do something for the environment,” she said. “I don’t want us to get to a day when there are no birds waking you up at five in the morning.”

The school’s effort is led by 10 teachers and 24 student leaders, who ensure every student participates and learns about sustainability. The school community comes together four times a year to participate in environment-friendly activities.

Banyule Primary School Prep teacher Courtney Deacon in the school’s veggie patch and kitchen garden.Supplied

Rainwater tanks, solar panels, a greenhouse, a veggie patch, a chicken coop made from recycled bed frames, a gardening club and a wicking pot have mad a “huge difference” in the children’s awareness, says prep teacher Courtney Deacon.

She says that kids from Prep to Year 6 willingly join the gardening club during lunch time to help water garden beds and feed the chooks.

Resource Smart’s Michael Birt says it’s not about the money that the schools put in.

“It could be a simple thing such as having litter guards during lunch time,” he said.

“This school has shown leadership specifically across biodiversity, water and energy savings, waste reduction, student and wider community engagement – this is no small task for a school of 579 students.”

A school in Tasmania also put their small country town of Huonville on the map, winning $133,000 in an international competition by incorporating a range of sustainable solutions, including retro-fitting a school building to improve its energy rating from half a star to six stars.

But these success stories are sporadic. Dr Savage says there is a significant disparity in the way in which sustainability concepts are incorporated in the curriculum and teachers do not receive enough professional development to help them embed CCP subjects in their teaching.

The Australian Sustainable Schools initiative ended in 2011. Though there are multiple organisations offering resources on sustainability education, academics say that the government is failing to provide adequate support at a national level.

Australia does not rank highly in UNESCO’s report on nations that are leading in climate change education.

Mr Caddey says Australia has a long road to travel in sustainability education in comparison to Scandinavian countries, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and North America where sustainability education is far more explicit and has a strong and ongoing emphasis on nature education.

Hillary Whitehouse, Deputy Dean of the Graduate Research School at James Cook University, describes the situation as “disgraceful”.

“State governments and the national government are in complete denial about the need for systematic climate change education,” she said. “It is not funded and this absence is putting communities and populations at severe risk.”

Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie says that when she goes out to schools to talk, most children seem to be aware of climate change and global warming.

“Young people just get the issue, that it needs to be addressed,” she said. “But what they ask is what do we do about it, what next?”

Ms McKenzie, who is the co-founder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, says more needs to be done to educate young people about how to make changes in the community.

“I think there is a piece missing which is about civic duty,” she said. “There isn’t enough knowledge on community engagement.”

The latest survey of Global Environment Change shows that one-in-five Australians do not believe in climate change – the highest percentage in the world of climate sceptics.

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Women ’emboldened’ by burqa ban: Lambie

Crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie insists her move to ban the burqa from public places has emboldened oppressed Muslim women previously afraid to speak out.

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The upper house on Thursday is debating the senator’s private bill banning full-face coverings in commonwealth jurisdictions such as airports, as well as the ACT and Northern Territory.

It also makes it an offence to force another person or child to wear a full face covering, punishable by imprisonment.

Senator Lambie insists full face coverings make Australians fearful and the right to feel safe must outweigh the right for expression of religious freedom.

She says people hide their identity when they commit crimes.

She’s been told Muslim women have been emboldened by her proposed ban, and her public comments on Islam.

Thousands of women in Australia were oppressed and fearful, with lives full of abuse and control by men, Senator Lambie told parliament.

“They are told what to wear and how to dress in public,” she said.

“They can’t speak out. They are voiceless.”

The ban is linked to the national terrorism threat level, kicking in when the terror threat reaches `probable’.

Given the threat level is already at `probable’, it would start immediately.

Liberal frontbencher Concetta Fierravanti-Wells says while the burqa was “confronting at times”, she’s rarely seen women wearing them in Australia.

“I have very rarely seen women whose faces are fully covered,” she said.

The most common head covering she has seen is the hijab, which leaves most of the face uncovered.

“Women have told me that they do so because it’s their choice,” she said.

“It’s what they feel they would like to wear as a demonstration of their beliefs.”

Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm rejected the idea that banning the burqa would improve security.

“I can scarcely think of anything you could do to put security on higher alert than wearing a burqa, other than carrying a neon sign with an arrow pointing at you that says ‘potential terrorist’,” he told parliament.

Anyone considering a terrorist attack would not be inconvenienced by a burqa ban.

“It’s just as easy to hide a bomb under a loose gown as under a burqa,” he said.

“And if you are planning to blow yourself up, you won’t be worried if a surveillance camera captures an image of your face before it gets blown to bits.”

It was more important to ensure immigrants were compatible with Australian values, he said.

Fossils show quick rebound of life

Fossils including sharks, sea reptiles and squid-like creatures dug up in Idaho reveal a marine ecosystem thriving relatively soon after Earth’s worst mass extinction, contradicting the long-held notion life was slow to recover from the calamity.

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Scientists on Wednesday described the surprising fossil discovery showing creatures flourishing in the aftermath of the worldwide die-off at the end of the Permian Period about 252 million years ago that erased roughly 90 per cent of species.

Even the asteroid-induced mass extinction 66 million years ago that doomed the dinosaurs did not push life to the brink of annihilation like the Permian one.

The fossils of about 30 different species unearthed in Bear Lake County near the Idaho city of Paris showed a quick and dynamic rebound in a marine ecosystem, illustrating the remarkable resiliency of life.

“Our discovery was totally unexpected,” said paleontologist Arnaud Brayard of the University of Burgundy-Franche-Comte in France, with a highly diversified and complex assemblage of animals.

The ecosystem from this pivotal time included predators such as sharks up to about two metres, marine reptiles and bony fish, squid-like creatures including some with long conical shells and others with coiled shells, a scavenging crustacean with large eyes and strangely thin claws, starfish relatives, sponges and other animals.

The Permian die-off occurred 251.9 million years ago. The Idaho ecosystem flourished 1.3 million years later, “quite rapid on a geological scale,” according to Brayard.

The mass extinction’s cause is a matter of debate.

But many scientists attribute it to colossal volcanic eruptions in northern Siberia that unleashed large amounts of greenhouse and toxic gases, triggering severe global warming and big fluctuations in oceanic chemistry including acidification and oxygen deficiency.

The Idaho ecosystem, in the earliest stages of the Triassic Period that later produced the first dinosaurs, included some unexpected creatures. There was a type of sponge previously believed to have gone extinct 200 million years earlier, and a squid-like group previously thought not to have originated until 50 million years later.

The researchers found bones from what could be the earliest-known ichthyosaur, a dolphin-like marine reptile group that prospered for 160 million years, or a direct ancestor.

“The Early Triassic is a complex and highly disturbed epoch, but certainly not a devastated one as commonly assumed, and this epoch has not yet yielded up all its secrets,” Brayard said.

Marcs, David Lawrence: 13 stores to close

Thirteen David Lawrence and Marcs fashion stores will close and 20 staff will lose their jobs as administrators attempt to strike a deal with a buyer to save the famous fashion labels.

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The job cuts and store closures come a fortnight after the troubled businesses were placed in voluntary administration.

Nine David Lawrence stores and four Marcs outlets will close by February 21 and 10 full-time staff and another 10 part-time staff will be made redundant.

Another 50 staff will be offered jobs in other stores and have the option of taking redundancy payouts.

Geoff Reidy, a director of administrators Rodgers Reidy, says the stores identified for closure had already been earmarked to close before his firm was appointed to see if David Lawrence and Marcs could be saved from collapse.

More than 40 individuals and companies have so far expressed interest in possibly buying the fashion labels.

“We’ve been buoyed by that,” Mr Reidy told AAP on Thursday.

“The majority are local players but there are some overseas interests as well.”

Potential buyers for the businesses have until February 22 to lodge their interest, with the administrators hopeful of finalising a sale soon.

The fashion retailers, which are two of Australia’s best-known labels, employ about 1130 staff in Australia and another 42 in New Zealand across their 52 stores, 11 outlets and 140 concessions.

Staff learned about the store closures and job losses on Wednesday during meetings with the administrators and local area managers.

When the businesses were placed in administration earlier this month, the sole director of the companies behind the labels, Malcolm Webster, blamed deteriorating sales, poor cash flow and market conditions.

David Lawrence and Marcs are among a string of retailers hit by tough times in the Australian retail market.

Rhodes and Beckett, and Herringbone were placed in voluntary administration last week, leaving the futures of about 140 workers in doubt.

Payless Shoes and Howards Storage World appointed administrators two months ago, while children’s retailer Pumpkin Patch entered receivership last October.

DAVID LAWRENCE STORE CLOSURES

* Fashion Spree, NSW

* Indooroopilly, Qld

* Queens Plaza, Qld

* Carindale, Qld

* Highpoint, Vic

* Eastland, Vic

* Little Collins Street, Vic

* Bridge Road Richmond, Vic

* Perth Enex, WA

MARCS STORE CLOSURES

* Canberra, ACT

* Fashion Spree, NSW

* Pacific Fair, Qld

* Eastland, Vic

Trump’s iffy grasp of autism research

US President Donald Trump has weighed in on child autism, apparently without a complete grasp of the research.

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Trump in the past has promoted debunked theories linking vaccines to autism, and shortly before his inauguration was considering a commission on the matter.

Such comments have alarmed health professionals.

Just last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics and dozens of other health organisations signed a letter to Trump saying claims that vaccines aren’t safe “have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature,” and offering to meet with him to explain that science.

A look at his statement at a forum Tuesday and what is known about the prevalence of autism in children:

TRUMP: “Tremendous increases … really a horrible thing to watch the tremendous amount of increase.”

THE FACTS: About 1 in 68 school-aged children has autism or related disorders, a rate that has stayed about the same for two years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in March.

That’s far more than in 2000, when the CDC estimated that about 1 in 150 children had autism. That increase is explained in large part by more awareness of the developmental disorder and changes in practice that broadened the definition for an autism diagnosis.

WHY IT MATTERS: While Trump during one primary debate insisted he was “totally in favour of vaccines,” he has subscribed in the past to theories unsupported by scientific evidence linking vaccines to autism. He tweeted in 2012: “Autism rates through the roof–why doesn’t the Obama administration do something about doctor-inflicted autism. We lose nothing to try.” In 2014: “If I were President I would push for proper vaccinations but would not allow one time massive shots that a small child cannot take – AUTISM.”

A similar assertion in a 2015 presidential primary debate brought a rebuke from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which said it is “dangerous to public health” to suggest that vaccines are linked to autism.

Puzder withdraws, another blow to Trump

In a blow to President Donald Trump as he tries to assemble his administration, his nominee for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, has withdrawn his name from consideration amid concerns that he can’t garner enough Senate votes to be confirmed.

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Puzder’s decision to withdraw is yet another setback this week for a White House still grappling with fallout from Monday night’s abrupt resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, after less than a month in the job.

Puzder, the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc, which franchises fast-food chains including Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr, has been at the centre of a swirl of controversies, complaints and potential conflicts.

He admitted earlier this month that he and his wife had employed an undocumented person as a housekeeper.

He faced a flurry of complaints and legal cases brought in recent weeks and months by workers against his business and its franchises. Most recently, a decades-old Ophrah Winfrey tape raising allegations of domestic abuse by his ex-wife resurfaced, though those allegations had been withdrawn.

“After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor,” Puzder said in a statement on Wednesday.

Puzder’s withdrawal came one day before his scheduled confirmation hearing.

At least seven Republican senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, declined to publicly back Puzder in advance of the confirmation hearing.

For weeks now, Republican senators have been telling Senator John Cornyn, the second-highest ranking Republican, that they believed some of their colleagues would join Collins and Murkowski in opposing Puzder, according to a senior Senate Republican aide.

Democrats cheered over the news of Puzder’s withdrawal.

“From the start, it’s been clear that Puzder is uniquely unqualified to serve as secretary of labor,” said Patty Murray, the ranking member of the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Syrian woman to attend Oscars

Hala Kamil, the Syrian subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary short Watani: My Homeland, has obtained a travel visa and will attend the Academy Awards ceremony.

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Plans were up in the air for the mother of four whose resettlement in Germany, after ISIS kidnapped her husband in 2013 is the focus of Marcel Mettelsiefen’s short film.

The travel ban created through an executive order signed by President Trump three weeks ago restricted travel and immigration from citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including an indefinite ban on Syrians.

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Like several other foreign filmmakers nominated for Oscars this year, Kamil was unsure what the ban would mean for her ability to attend the ceremony.

After a US district judge stayed the ban two weeks ago, a federal appeals panel from the 9th Circuit ruled 3-0 to maintain the ruling, which Trump is expected to appeal again. The decision restricts execution of the executive order and has allowed travellers like Kamil to make the journey to the US.

“When I heard that I might have the opportunity of attending the Oscars to represent Watani: My Homeland’ I felt incredibly proud and happy but bittersweet,” Kamil said in a statement.

“To think that over three years after I last saw my husband, I’ll be travelling to that same ceremony we watched together, brings tears to my eye.”

For three years, Mettelsiefen filmed the family of refugees as they lived in and then fled the war-torn city of Aleppo. Abu Ali, Kamil’s husband, actively fought as a commander in the Free Syrian Army before being abducted by ISIS militants.

“I want to tell the world about a small country called Syria, a country that has been burnt alive, its people torn up from the soil they once thrived on,” Kamil’s statement went on.

Several other films nominated in the two documentary categories depict or were directed by individuals affected by the ban. Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian whose film The Salesman is up for the foreign language film category, denounced the ban and has stated he would abstain from attending even if accommodations were made.

Now that the ban is stayed, Farhadi could in theory attend but has stated he will instead host a screening of the film in London the night of the Oscars.

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Goffin glides into Rotterdam second round

Belgian David Goffin made a winning start at the Rotterdam World Tennis Tournament as he defeated Russian Andrey Kuznetsov 6-3 6-2 for a place in the second round.

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The third-seeded Goffin rebounded after losing the Sofia final to Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov on Sunday.

“I am feeling good. I’m playing really well and pleased with the victory, especially against Andrey – a good indoor player,” the winner said. “He can play fast, so it was not an easy first round.

“I served well when I needed to and I am happy to win my first match in Rotterdam. I had a great week in Sofia and I’ve come here with a lot of confidence.

“I remember the first time I played in Rotterdam and I didn’t win any games against Jarkko Nieminen [in the 2013 first round]. The tournament isn’t far from Belgium and I have support here.”

Dimitrov also advanced Wednesday as he stretched his season record to 15-1 with a 6-7 (4-7) 6-2 6-4 defeat of Mischa Zverev.

Dimitrov is the only man in 2017 with two ATP titles, having won in Brisbane last month before adding the home honours at the weekend.

Zverev, who knocked Andy Murray out of the Australian Open in the fourth round, is the elder brother of Alexander Zverev, whose title in Montpellier sent him inside the world top 20.

Dimitrov needed just under two hours to advance to the second round, setting up a match point with his 11th ace.

“I’m pleased with the win, Mischa did not make it easy for me with his game,” he said. “I had to fight to win.”

Dimitrov next takes on Denis Istomin, the Uzbek who eliminated Novak Djokovic in the second round of the Australian Open.

In the first round, Richard Gasquet beat Serb Viktor Troicki 6-4 6-2 claiming victory with a pair of untouchable backhand passing shots.

Defending champion Martin Klizan, meanwhile, reached the quarter-finals as he chases a repeat title, beating German Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-1.

Sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller in straight sets to ease into the second round.

Tsonga broke his opponent three times and did not face a single break point on his own serve as he wrapped up a 6-4 6-2 win in just over one hour.

Smith says Storm forwards key to hot start

While a number of spots in their backline remain up for grabs, Melbourne NRL captain Cameron Smith says the stability of their forward pack will allow the Storm to hit the ground running this season.

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Melbourne have lost just one member of their grand final pack with second-rower Kevin Proctor shifting to the Gold Coast.

Led by Kiwi Test captain Jesse Bromwich, the Storm forwards were integral in their charge to the title decider.

“They turned up every game we played last year,” Smith said.

“As the saying goes, forwards win matches and the backs determine by how much and we won a fair few games last year so that’s a positive for our team, it’s pretty much the same pack.”

The Australian skipper said Melbourne’s forwards had never previously being mentioned in conversations about which NRL team had the best pack but were finally getting the respect they deserved.

“The Storm pack have never been rated by anyone – not that we care that much – but last year people sat up and took notice of what our guys were doing,” Smith said.

Kenny Bromwich, the younger brother of Jesse, is the leading contender to take over the right-edge forward role covered by Proctor, although coach Craig Bellamy may be reluctant to take him away from his valuable interchange duties in the front row.

Felise Kaufusi and Joe Stimson are also in the running while former Storm under 20s player Dean Britt, the son of former Wests and Canterbury 200-game forward Darren Britt, is an outside chance to make his NRL debut.

Bromwich has been named at lock for their final NRL trial on Saturday against the Bulldogs in Hobart, with Kaufusi partnering Tohu Harris in the second row.

Leaving Cronulla made no sense: Holmes

Valentine Holmes has admitted how close he came to leaving Cronulla before realising how silly a move away from the NRL premiers would have looked.

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Despite working out in front of NFL scouts in December, Holmes a fortnight ago re-signed with Cronulla on a two-year deal, keeping him in the NRL until the end of 2019.

Holmes, who is in Sydney nursing a hamstring issue while the rest of the team is in England for the World Club Challenge, said a shock exit from the Shire was a genuine possibility.

“It was very difficult. It took about four months to get the pen to paper. I pretty much left it to my manager and let him organise it all,” Holmes said.

“I didn’t think much to it, (but) I wanted to take the best option for myself and my family.

“It was pretty close. I was off-contract, others clubs were able to talk to me. In the end, we won a grand final with the Sharks, it’d look silly leaving a team that we won with.”

The 21-year-old is primed for a breakout year for the defending premiers as he attempts to fill the void left by former Dally M medallist Ben Barba at fullback following his move to rugby.

And he hasn’t given up hope of turning out in their season-opener against Brisbane, despite straining his hamstring in a trial against the Broncos two weeks ago.

“I did my first training session (on Wednesday) and it felt pretty cool,” he said.

“I’m not going to push it, but hopefully I get back for round one. If it’s not feeling 110 per cent, I’m not going to push it. It’s a long season. There’s plenty of games in the year.”

Holmes blamed the increased workload involved in acclimatising to the custodian role in pre-season as a major factor in his fitness concerns.

His fitness base was also low after only rejoining his club teammates in early January.

“I only got about four weeks under me. I started on the 7th of January. That’s what got to my hammy. It was a lot of high speed running, I wasn’t used to that,” he said.

“I did a lot of that at training and twinged my hammy a bit going into the game – that’s how I done it. It is a lot of running, you’ve got to be pretty fit and in defence.

“You’ve got to be able to be dominant in defence and control your forwards.”