Uelzen Vocational Schools I - Vocational education and training meets sustainable living
Education for sustainable development (ESD) enables vocational students to act responsibly at work. Next to profound technical know-how, the students acquire future-oriented economic knowledge and skills. ESD raises awareness of 'green' production processes, technologies and working conditions that are indispensable for a transformation towards more sustainable societies. Thus, sustainability is the common theme running through the educational provision of Uelzen's vocational schools (BBS) I. By implementing ESD, the schools aim to serve as a model for other schools in the region and beyond.
by Nadine Thunecke, translated by Chris Baudy
For roughly 20 years, Uelzen's vocational schools I (BBS I) have been actively involved in environmental education. Already in 1997, they were awarded the title of "European-Eco School". Just as the world has changed over the past years, the education activities of these schools have changed, too – into future-oriented educational provision. To head teacher Stefan Nowatschin, this was a necessary step "to enable the learners (i) to take on an active role in meeting future challenges (on the job) and (ii) to participate in the shaping of the continually altering environment and professional tasks".
In 2016, the vocational schools were honoured for the extensive involvement in sustainability issues by the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) as well as for its high quality work on ESD by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the German Commission for UNESCO within the framework of the Global Action Programme on ESD.
School development following the German Sustainability Code
The structural integration of ESD necessitates a sustainable restructuring of BBS I school life. "Certainly, one factor of success is viewing ESD not simply as a concept but as a measure that embraces all areas of school life and that needs both clearly defined responsibilities and human resources. This is inevitably linked to the school principal's convictions about ESD and him or her setting an example", explains Nowatschin. Hence, at all school levels so-called ESD consultants have been appointed whose job is to promote sustainability, initiate ESD projects and initiatives and advise the school community on sustainability matters. There are, for instance, ESD department leaders as well as ESD representatives of parents, students and extracurricular partners who are doing just that. Especially students should play an active part in ESD projects, school design or in one of the various student companies that exist. Uelzen's vocational schools facilitate autonomous and project oriented work.
The BBS I have tasked a special evaluation team with developing ESD provision and improving its quality. With the help of regularly conducted student-teacher surveys, the team analyses and evaluates school activities, projects and lessons focusing on sustainability. The results are published in the annual sustainability report and provide a basis for the next ESD project.
Analogous to the German ESD platform, the school administration set up an ESD forum for BBS I in October 2015. Here, the school offers advice on the cooperation with institutions that are involved in vocational training. Thanks to the new school programme, sustainability became soon a structurally "important component of our educational provision", states Nowatschin.
Holistic educational approach
In classroom teaching, too, sustainability is gaining more ground and more and more curricula require ESD activities. For instance, economy teachers deal with sustainable production and sales areas as well as with life cycle assessments for businesses. During practical teaching, the students examine issues such as sustainable material procurement and future-fit production processes.
The BBS I also offer quite a few extracurricular projects and events that focus on sustainability. During the 2015/2016 school year, the first "food ambassadors" and "energy detectives" emerged. The latter ensure long-term energy efficiency at their schools. At the Multivision event "FairFuture II" the students calculated their individual ecological footprint by observing and reflecting their consumption patterns as well as their use of natural resources and energy. They also discussed their positions on the kind of future they would want.
Furthermore, Uelzen's vocational schools organised a "Green Day", a "Waste Avoidance Week" and a European event with numerous interactive sustainability projects for young people. The BBS I collaborate closely with regional companies, training enterprises as well as the Federal Employment Agency. In addition to that there are seven educational co-operation partners abroad, the most recent being a vocational training school located in Shenzhen (China).
Learning sustainable living – BBS I student companies
The many student companies are particularly suited to provide room for ESD. They offer holistic learning experiences: Students learn to collaborate and see immediately the social, ecological and economic impact of their doing. In those companies the students can apply their knowledge in an interdisciplinary fashion and test their ideas in a safe environment. Moreover, they take responsibility, acquire knowledge and skills and develop a sense of entrepreneurship – always with a perspective on sustainability. Depending on their individual training, the student companies vary in their business focuses.
"HoBaTec" (Wood, Construction, Technology) produces and repairs wooden constructions such as toll bars or benches. They are contracted mostly by regional businesses and institutions such as Uelzen's administration, local schools or sports clubs. Quite frequently, the students leave their usual learning environment, i.e. the school, and work directly with their local customers. Other good examples are environmental protection projects carried out in cooperation with the German Nature Conservation Association (NABU): Here, the students build wooden nesting boxes and insect hotels, amongst other things. The attending students are, for instance, 9th graders taking part in a "trilateral vocational orientation programme", participants of vocational preparation classes for woodworkers or future wood technicians. The production process creates almost no waste. For the sake of natural resource and climate protection, the wood chips are being briquetted and used as biomass fuel.
On the whole, head teacher Stefan Nowatschin regards the holistic implementation of ESD at the BBS I a promising enterprise. The incorporation of the German Sustainability Code has – sometimes perhaps subliminally – made all learning school members aware of the importance of ESD so that they increasingly accept the concept as a granted basis for school development and teaching approaches.
Additionally, concise internal and external communication of the sustainability goals helps convince even sceptical pedagogical and administrational staff as well as extracurricular partners and, ultimately, the entire school community of the benefits. It also supports and invites future-oriented thinking. As soon as everybody involved has developed a sense of "commitment, understanding and motivation" and also agrees that dealing with ESD topics is "beneficial and necessary", then this could result in good ESD practice following the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
"ESD is a never-ending story. It's an ongoing process because education is subject to continual change", says Nowatschin. Thus, BBS I will continue to integrate ESD into curricula and projects and will maintain the collaboration with extracurricular partners. Nowatschin is convinced that engaging both the school community and the dual vocational training partners is a particularly profitable approach. The interface between theory and practice is the best place where ideas on incorporating ESD into the students' work and living environments can be exchanged and put into practice.
• Establishing the concept of ESD as a granted basis for school development and teaching approaches
• Reaching sceptical pedagogical and administration staff as well as extracurricular partners
• Giving ESD in school curricula a more prominent shape and turning it into projects providing for all school types and including external partners
• Scaling the sustainability concept – at a regional, national and international level
Conditions for success
• Integrating the German Sustainability Code into the school's guiding principles and educational programme
• ESD covering all areas of learning and teaching and clearly defined responsibilities as well as human resources do exist
• The principal's setting an example and her or his convictions about ESD
• Inclusion of different school partners and particularly the school community and the dual vocational training partners