Ontario liberals unveil green education program

by Jered Stuffco THE KINGSTON WHIG-STANDARD Ontario, Canada 

Saturday, June 23, 2007

National/World - Students across the province will see their lessons infused with an environmentally conscious curriculum starting next January, (Ontario) Education Minister Kathleen Wynne announced yesterday.

Along with increasing outdoor education time and creating a new optional Grade 11 course, green thinking will be "woven" into the existing curriculum for Ontario's 2.1 million students, Wynne said.

"We want to inspire students and parents and teachers across the province," she said at a news conference held in the library of a Catholic school.

The initiative has a $4-million price tag and is the latest in a string of environmentally focused Liberal policies. yesterday's announcement coincided with the release of a new report calling for an increase in environment education content in Ontario's classrooms.

"I consider this report as a blueprint for action," Wynne said.

The report, authored by a working group chaired by Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar, makes 32 recommendations, including standardizing environmental lessons across the province and engaging parents.

"We are poised to take action on every single one of the recommendations," Wynne said.

Elise Houghton, a representative from Environmental Education Ontario, applauded the announcement.

She said Canada, however, is already lagging behind the rest of the world in environmental education.

Houghton also warned that if the ministry fails to keep specialized staff in place and doesn't ensure that funds and resources are available for teachers, environmental education will continue to "be an add-on that teachers don't have time for."

To ensure the new standards are met, Wynne said government staff are drafting an official policy document which will be ready this fall.

And to help implement the new lessons, ministry staff will examine ways in which green topics can be woven into the existing curriculum. Those findings will be passed on to teachers in the form of resource guides and other tools, Wynne said.

Environmental education was put into the Ontario curriculum in 1990, but was removed by the Conservative government in 1998, she said.

Bondar, who also attended yesterday's news conference, said "environmental literacy" is vital for many students who are relatively uninformed about green issues.

"That's why we can't model climate change as well as we could," she said.

"We need to understand these things."

Part of the impetus for the new initiative came from universities and colleges, who complained that students coming out of high school had remedial environmental knowledge, said Brian Kelly, director of York University's sustainable business school.

"Many leading businesses are very supportive of getting environmental sustainability education into the formal school system, because they know the decision makers of the next generation are being educated today," he said.

Environment Minister Laurel Broten said the plan reflects the government's long-term commitment to changing to a greener mindset.