The town as a classroom

Raising sustainability awareness among vocational students

Launched in February 2014, an initiative called “Sustainable cooperation – the town as a classroom” is aiming to blaze new trails in education for sustainable development through a partnership between four schools and one non-school partner. The project was initiated by the Steinbeis Innovation Center for Logistics and Sustainability in Sinsheim, Germany, and is funded by the Baden- Wurttemberg Ministry of Environment, Climate and Energy using lottery revenues. The lead partner of the project is the LUBW State Institute for Environment, Measurements and Nature Conservation Baden-Wuerttemberg.

The term “sustainability” has been subject to a certain amount of inflation. Examined more closely, it becomes apparent that many sustainability activities are limited to a specific project and can therefore only achieve limited results. In the field of training and professional development in particular, it is essential to look beyond initiating and carrying out innovative projects – long-term structures must also be created. In this way, a foundation can be laid for education for sustainable development. The current state of affairs has been discussed at venues such as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20). At that event, held in June 2012, a resolution was formed to foster sustainability education and to more actively integrate sustainable development in educational systems over the coming years, in part through the UN Decade for Education for Sustainable Development. Vocational schools in particular offer numerous contexts and opportunities for integrating sustainable development approaches.

The “Sustainable cooperation – the town as a classroom” initiative has embraced this approach and has even gone a step further. The participating schools will be charged with raising awareness for sustainable practices and anchoring them in the curriculum. Methodologies such as group work and materials such as educational puzzles are used, tailored to the needs of the participating classes. The municipal administration of Sinsheim, a major district town in Germany’s Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region, serves as a non-classroom center for learning.

The administration runs a variety of municipal projects and activities which relate directly to sustainability issues. They are included in the initiative as examples of specific focal areas.

In the first step of the interactive process, the students identify how sustainability has been integrated into the planning and implementation of municipal projects up until now, what value is generally placed on a sustainability mindset, and the practices followed by the municipal employees in their daily work. Different practice-based focal areas form the basis for the activities carried out by the vocational school and the municipality. Ongoing dialogue with the employees in the municipal administration creates a network between the participants. In addition, this approach ensures that knowledge is not only transferred from the schools into actual practice, but that direct feedback also flows in the other direction at the same time. Both the students and the professionals benefit.

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