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Impacts of school environmental education programs beyond the school gates

The challenge: Assessing the impact and future direction for a popular program

Partner: Sustainability Victoria 

Year: 2013

The Victorian Government’s ResourceSmart Schools (RSS) program is an award-winning program that supports schools in embedding sustainability into everything they do; their energy and water use, waste management, enhanced biodiversity and staff and student participation.

Managed by Sustainability Victoria (SV) and delivered in partnership with government and non-government organisations, the program has reached over 1,300 Victorian schools and 96 early learning services since 2008. This has saved participants over $20 million through energy, waste and water savings and avoided over 60,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases.

What did we do?

We initally conducted a literature review of ‘beyond the school gate’ impacts of sustainability education programs worldwide.

With SV’s Education Team and leading leading researchers from Monash University’s Faculty of Education, we also assessed the program’s underlying assumptions and impact as well as ways to facilitate organisational change within schools. 

We also engaged the key stakeholders in mapping future directions for the RSS; all of which provided insights to support program delivery.

What did we find?

1. Assumptions, such as “sustainable schools make the rest of us ‘greener’” – is only anecdotal. RSS has now  strengthened its focus on impacting the community beyond the school gate.

2. RSS program staff, practitioners and school staff got so engaged with research questions they became researchers in their own right. The result? Provocative and rich conversations about “where to next?” for the program.

3. Clarity around the intentions behind the research. Is it to provide answers, prove a point or raise more questions? 

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4. Research can both open a program up and help target it. Comparing RSS with similar programs around the world was daunting, but it actually instilled confidence in the program. It also identified what needs strengthening and key behaviours and audiences to target. 

5. We can all learn from each other.  

Discussion

The collaboration between RSS and BWA not only reinforced the importance of RSS (and helped to strengthen the program’s emphasis on curriculum and community), it also highlighted the research partnership as a result in itself.

It’s a relationship that benefits all parties and over time adds to a broader body of knowledge in a field while enhancing on the ground practice.

Presentation here.