Between the 19th and 23rd of July, I had the great privilege to be able to attend the WEEC Conference, held at the Brisbane Convention and Entertainment Centre. I was invited to participate in a workshop by RMIT University, who were part of the School Community Learning Partnerships for Sustainability research project which included Hawkesdale College and 17 other schools on Victoria and Queensland. Our school was one of the case studies, identified as a successful example of school-community partnerships that work towards education for sustainability.
The conference was inspiring, challenging and dynamic, with academic researchers, teachers, government representatives and other stakeholders in environmental education from all over the world. I met people who had attended the 4th WEEC in Durban when I was there four years ago and made some new connections with like-minded educators. One of the highlights was meeting a couple of ladies who work in conservation education in PNG, who explained that, instead of the usual two coffee seasons in a year, a warmer climate has resulted in three or four harvests per year. Which means more money for highland communities, but it also means that some children are taken out of school to help with the coffee picking and more money is spent on alcohol. In addition, mosquitoes are becoming more prevalent in the highlands, due to the changing climate, which has brought malaria into areas that previously were free of the disease.
Another story I found very moving was from a keynote speaker from the Carteract Islands, which are being inundated with seawater as the sea level rises. They have built levies, but the soil is salty and many of the farmers can no longer grow their subsistence crops. So most of the men on the islands have moved to the mainland to find work and left their families behind. In some cases, the only men that visit are from the fishing boats that pass by. Significant numbers of young women on the islands have become pregnant and been disowned from their families, giving birth alone in the city hospital. When a particular young girl was given some money to buy some clothes for her baby, she did not return, leaving the baby in the hospital, because she had no means to look after it. This was a harrowing story and just one example of the unexpected social costs of climate change.
The conference was a timely and informative opportunity to discuss the national curriculum “Earth and Environmental Course” with experts in Education for Sustainability from many different countries and levels of education. On Monday I have been invited to review of the second draft of this course, and I attend with the knowledge gained from the WEEC conference, including perspectives from around the world, and the confidence to put forward my opinions.
Last week we have also had meetings with representatives of the Moyne Shire and AGL Energy, regarding the Macarthur Wind Farm Project – the ‘largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere’ being constructed about 14km from the school. We are proposing a partnership that will provide opportunities for site visits, incursions by expert speakers, work experience, traineeships, apprenticeships and perhaps annual scholarships for students to complete tertiary studies in renewable energy technologies, environmental engineering or similar. There are several large projects planned for the Moyne Shire and surrounding areas, including the Origin Energy gas-fired power plant near Mortlake and another proposed for Tarrone, the Penshurst and Ryan’s Corner wind farms and “Hot Rocks Ltd” are exploring possibilities for geothermal energy in the Hawkesdale and Koroit areas. I am keen to explore opportunities for corporate links and believe that school community partnerships can enhance student engagement and learning outcomes.