Healthy children, healthy planet: the case for transformative sustainability education in schools

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Blashki, G, Cooke, S, Davis, J & Best, A 2011, 'Healthy children, healthy planet: the case for transformative sustainability education in schools', International Public Health Journal, invited paper for special issue Climate Change and Rural Child Health, vol. 2, no.4, pp. 561-570.

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Climate change is an urgent global public health issue with substantial predicted impacts in the coming decades. Concurrently, global burden of disease studies highlight problems such as obesity, mental health problems and a range of other chronic diseases, many of which have origins in childhood. There is a unique opportunity to engage children in both health promotion and education for sustainability during their school years to help ameliorate both environmental and health issues. Evidence exists for the most effective ways to do this, through education that is empowering, action orientated and relevant to children’s day to day interests and concerns, and by tailoring such education to different educational sectors. The aim of this discussion paper is to argue the case for sustainability education in schools that links with health promotion and that adopts a practical approach to engaging children in these important public health and environmental issues. We describe two internationally implemented whole-school reform movements, Health Promoting Schools (HPS) and Sustainable Schools (SS) which seek to operationalise transformative educational processes. Drawing on international evidence and Australian case examples, we contend that children’s active involvement in such processes is not only educationally engaging and rewarding, it also contributes to human and environmental resilience and health. Further, school settings can play an important ecological public health role, incubating and amplifying the socially transformative changes urgently required to create pathways to healthy, just and sustainable human futures, on a viable planet.

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