The process of students taking action in education for sustainability develops action competence. Experts tell us that action competence is students having the ability and willingness to take action on issues that interest them. In practice, action competence is learning about environmental issues so that students can plan, and take informed action on those issues.
Action competence supports the development of the key competencies of the NZC through the process of taking action.
In education for sustainability six aspects that support the development of student action competence have been identified through research in New Zealand schools. These are:
- visions for a sustainable future
- action-taking for sustainability
Although they are in a list, it is best to think about them working together. For example, reflection supports knowledge being developed through experience, and taking action needs knowledge, a vision for the future, and being able connect things together.
Framework for students developing action competence:
How a teacher can support their students to develop action competence:
Aspects that support the development of students’ action competence in education for sustainability
The above framework for understanding and developing action competence was produced by a New Zealand research team, including teachers, through a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative project. This framework suggests how learners and teachers can work together to develop action competence, and by doing so, also develop key competencies. A brief explanation of the aspects that develop student’s action competence is given below.
Experience in developing action competence
Students require a range of learning experiences to understand, and develop, attitudes and values towards the environment and sustainability issues. Teachers need to provide experiences that include learning in the environment and about the environment in ways that motivate and stimulate passion for further investigations and action. Giving students time to reflect is a key task that establishes connections to prior learning and engagement in next steps learning.
Reflection in developing action competence
Students need to reflect on their experiences and actions. Teachers need to facilitate critical reflection practices to help students understand what and how they learn, and to develop strategies for future experiences and actions. Reflection is essential to make the connections between thinking, feeling, and acting.
Knowledge in developing action competence
Students need to develop knowledge and understanding of sustainability issues, so that actions taken are well-informed. Taking action for sustainability requires an understanding of the underlying causes of the issue to be addressed. Therefore, teachers need to think about using integrated approaches that include: finding and analysing factual and scientific information; social, cultural, and historical views; and exploring alternative ways of doing things from these perspectives.
Having a vision for a sustainable future in developing action competence
Students need to develop and be given opportunities to explore and create a vision for the future. Teachers need to support students to examine the social, environmental, economic, and cultural influences through past and present actions. This can support students to envision how they would like things to be, what they might look like, and how to tackle their concerns and fears about the future.
Action taking for sustainability in developing action competence
Students need to be able to decide on, plan, and take effective action on sustainability issues that concern and motivate them. The action needs to be aimed at addressing the cause of the sustainability issue, and teachers need to connect students’ experiences and growing understanding of the issue to achievable things they can do that will make a difference for a more sustainable future. The action can have a direct impact on the natural environment to mitigate, remediate, resolve, or prevent harm to natural resources and ecosystems. Action may also be about seeking to influence others to make decisions and choices that will result in people living and acting more sustainably.
Connectedness in developing action competence
Students need to be supported to make connections in their sustainability learning. Teachers can help students develop those connections by providing coherent pathways for learning that integrate knowledge from different learning areas but also by helping students to acknowledge their attitudes and values, and how they are linked to their behaviour. It includes understanding the interdependence of environmental and societal aspects such as culture and social needs. It also includes the connectedness within the learner’s own aspects of action competence, and the learner’s connectedness to other people and the environment.