Sustainability curriculum framework a guide for curriculum developers and policy makers

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ISBN 978-1-921733-11-6 

© Commonwealth of Australia 2010.

This work is copyright. You may download, display, print and reproduce this material in unaltered form only (retaining this notice) for your personal, non-commercial use or use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, all other rights are reserved. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to Commonwealth Copyright Administration, Attorney General’s Department, Robert Garran Offices, National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600 or posted at


The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts would like to thank Mr Kevin Butler, Mr Mark Caddey, Ms Lyndall Foster and Mr Robert Staples of the Curriculum K-12 Directorate of the NSW Department of Education and Training for their work in the development of this document.

The Department also acknowledges these experts in school education and education for sustainability across Australia who were consulted in the development of the sustainability curriculum framework:

  • National Education for Sustainability Network

  • Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative Working Group

  • Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

  • Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority

  • Academics specialising in education or sustainability, including

  • Dr Julie M. Davis (Queensland University of Technology)

  • Professor John Fien (RMIT University)

  • Professor Marilyn Fleer (Monash University)

  • Associate Professor James Ladwig (University of Newcastle)

  • Dr Nicole Mockler (University of Newcastle)

  • Professor Peter Newman (Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute)

  • Mr Syd Smith (consultant in education for sustainability)

  • Curriculum developers and teachers with expertise in education for sustainability and related areas.

The supporting conceptual publication Earth Citizenship: background paper for learning for sustainability (2009)1 has been influential in guiding the content of the sustainability curriculum framework. Earth Citizenship, developed through extensive reviews of literature and research into school-based sustainability practices, identifies the knowledge and practices required for citizens to create more sustainable futures. A copy of the publication is available at:


There can be few more pressing and critical goals for the future of humankind than to ensure steady improvement in the quality of life for this and future generations, in a way that respects our common heritage – the planet we live on… Education for sustainable development…challenges individuals, institutions and societies to view tomorrow as a day that belongs to all of us, or it will not belong to anyone.

This document is intended for curriculum developers and policy makers at national, state and territory levels (and, indirectly, all who use curricula in learning environments). It provides information and guidance on how education for sustainability may be structured to support a progression of learning from Kindergarten to Year 10.

It has been developed through national consultation with experts in education and in education for sustainability, primarily through state and territory government agencies and academics with expertise in these areas.

The importance of education for sustainability

Put simply, sustainability is about reducing our ecological footprint2 while simultaneously improving the quality of life that we value—the ‘liveability’ of our society.3

Education for sustainability is both present- and future-oriented. It’s about learning to design and implement actions for the present, in the knowledge that the impact of these actions will be experienced in the future. In this way it leads to students developing an overall capacity to contribute toa more sustainable future in terms of environmental integrity, economic viability, and a just society for present and future generations”.4

In an era marked by concerns about the future of the planet, education for sustainability can be empowering, and an antidote to a sense of helplessness. It equips students to act, individually and collectively, in ways that can contribute to sustainability. It provides the opportunity for students to explore and evaluate contested and emerging issues, gather evidence, and create solutions for a sustainable future. Education for sustainability can enable students to become effective citizens and active change agents by helping them to deal with complexity and uncertainty. It can also help them to understand that there is rarely a single solution because new knowledge is continuously generated, and diverse viewpoints exist in society.

In summary, education for sustainability means that students will be able to assess competing viewpoints, values and interests; manage uncertainty and risk; make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, ideas and outcomes; and test evidence and propose creative solutions that lead to improved sustainability.

Sustainability education in Australia

Education for sustainability in Australia builds on approaches used by environmental education over the past 30 years or more. Its scope is more far-reaching; it includes the built environment and social and economic considerations as well as the natural environment.

There has been an emerging body of effective practice and exemplary efforts by teachers to incorporate sustainability into learning. At the same time, the state and territory education and environment agencies have been working on education for sustainability.

These activities, along with the advent of the first Australian Curriculum which includes sustainability as a cross-curriculum dimension, have provided an impetus for this document. Together, these initiatives support actions under the Australian Government’s second National Action Plan for Education for Sustainability, Living Sustainably.5

The broad coverage of disciplines required to effectively teach education for sustainability has made it difficult to develop a systematic and cohesive progression of learning from Kindergarten to Year 10. The cross-disciplinary nature of education for sustainability is challenging to those who seek to develop it, as it represents ways of conceiving of content that are neither traditional nor mainstream, and demands new ways of thinking about curriculum. This framework is a major step towards meeting those challenges.

Purpose of the document

The purpose of this document is to provide information and guidance to curriculum developers and policy makers on how education for sustainability may be effectively incorporated into curriculum. It achieves this through a framework that describes what students may need to learn to live sustainably, and considers the most appropriate times and environments in which these learnings should occur.

The framework has been structured into three broad year groupings (K-2, 3-6 and 7-10) to give curriculum developers flexibility to align the framework’s content across learning areas and enable in-depth focused teaching in particular years.

The document is not intended to specify how education for sustainability will be taught across the curriculum.

The following sections are, firstly, a summary of principles, specific purposes, and structural logic of the framework and secondly, the framework itself presented in sequential order: K­–2, 3–6 and 7–10.

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