STEM and Education for Sustainability: Finding common ground for a thriveable future

Year: 2016

Author: Smith, Caroline, Watson, Jane

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper explores the apparent discourse clash between Education for Sustainability (EfS) and the current drive to embed STEM in curriculum. The concern is that the promotion of K-12 STEM education is directed towards the neoliberal project of producing applied specialists to enhance economic growth and competitiveness through technological solutions explicitly tied to free markets (Carter, 2013). As such, STEM does not appear to recognise or promote an examination of its deeper values, or question how it is able to address sustainability. Rather, it appears to advocate a worldview that may exacerbate rather than mitigate the ecological crisis (Czech, 2016). Technology alone cannot deliver sustainability and in its current form, contributes towards further ecological decline (Daly, 2016). Conversely, EfS is directed to education for a sustainable society. As well as STEM subjects, EfS requires a focus on ecological literacy (Smith, 2007), and considers an end to consumptive growth within the development of a steady state or degrowth economy as necessary elements of a sustainable future (Washington & Twomey, 2016). This paper examines the values that underpin both STEM and EfS. It considers how they may be reconciled towards framing a future that is sustainable, thriveable and flourishing. Documents from Australia’s Chief Scientist (2016) and other government agencies are examined to explore if they can be interpreted to encourage collaboration between STEM and EfS, and consider a recasting of STEM as an advocate for sustainability by developing ecological literacy and focusing on appropriate technologies. As such, STEM can be a powerful ally in the movement towards sustainability and addressing the ecological crisis. Examples of how this might be addressed at the school level are provided.ReferencesAustralia’s Chief Scientist (2016). Report: Australia’s STEM Workforce, L. (2013). Science education in the market economy. Science Education, 97(3), 492-494.Czech, B. (2016). Setting things straight for the steady state. In H. Washington & P. Twomey (Eds.), A future beyond growth: Towards a steady state economy (pp. xxi-xxiv). London: EarthScan from Routledge.Daly, H.E. (2016). A population perspective on the steady state economy. In H. Washington & P. Twomey (Eds.), A future beyond growth: Towards a steady state economy (pp. 17-20). London: EarthScan from Routledge.Smith, C. (2007). Education and society: The case for ecoliteracy. Education and Society, 25(1), 25-37.Washington , H., & Twomey, P. (2016). (Eds.), A future beyond growth: Towards a steady state economy. London: EarthScan from Routledge.