Since the 2005 United Nations World Summit, it has become commonplace to refer to the “interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars” of sustainable development as social and cultural sustainability, economic sustainability, and environmental sustainability. The challenge for early childhood educators has been to develop appropriate educational systems, curriculum and pedagogic practices that provide an appropriate early introduction to each of these areas of concern, and genuine experience of applying them together in sustainable practice. It is important to understand that these three pillars are mutually dependent and must act together, and that any practices and policies developed without taking each into account are likely to fail.
From the perspective of sustainable development, the most efficient or effective environmental, economic or social strategy may not be the most sustainable. Interdisciplinary decision making is crucial. Many authorities see good governance as another vital component that should be considered an additional ‘pillar’ for sustainable development. From an early childhood education perspective, these democratic concerns may be realised through the encouragement of more participation by the local community, by families and especially by the children themselves, in co-constructing the sustainability curriculum. It is for this reason, and in recognition of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which suggests that all children should have a voice in all matters that effect their lives, that we refer throughout these pages to Education for Sustainable Citizenship.
Sustainable Citizenship Award
The OMEP UK Early Childhood Education for Sustainable Citizenship Award is an initiative that was developed following work reviewing provisions for Early Childhood Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) applying the OMEP Environmental Rating Scale for Sustainable Development in Early Childhood (ERS-SDEC). This work was carried out by OMEP in ten countries: Chile, China, Kenya, Korea, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey, the UK, and the USA between 2010 and 2014. This work was published in 2016 and further details (including copies of the research instrument) are available for download HERE. The rating scale has been operationalised for the award scheme as a progressive series of self audit tools. The criteria applied audit and accreditation at the Bronze level are summarised HERE.
The OMEP Early Childhood Sustainable Citizenship Award has been developed to support a wide range of early childhood providers including childminders, preschools, and nurseries who are working with parents in supporting the objectives of Education for sustainable development in early childhood.
The scheme is organised around an ‘ESC Passport’ that is provided for each child. This document summarises the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), and defines Sustainable citizenship as a life-long emergent capability.
The passport also provides discounted entry to wildlife conservation parks and other related community resources and services. (Note: Currently Suspended due to Pandemic)
Each child is able to collect up to 15 award stickers for entry into their passport, and these show their ESC achievements at Bronze, Silver and Gold level. To be awarded each sticker, parents and preschool practitioners work together to support the child in completing educational activities that range from the identification and naming of three wild birds, the identification of wildlife habitats, to the recycling of waste materials, and the recognition of cultural and linguistic diversity.
The activities are set at an appropriate level for the age group, they are based upon commonly available environmental resources, and provide the foundations of an education for sustainable citizenship that addresses all aspects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
OMEP & GECCO Partnership
Tops Day Nurseries and Aspire Training team hosted our OMEP Conference on 29 January 2023.
Planning for this event started back in August 2022, when Dr John Siraj-Blatchford was invited to present to the Tops leadership at their office in Southbourne. According to Tops Day Nurseries, becoming OMEP day nurseries had been part of their long term plan – to provide sustainable education for the children attending Tops Day nurseries since SchemaPlay was introduced back in 2021. Now that SchemaPlay is embedded across the 32 day nurseries in the South Coast region, Tops is ready to rollout OMEP.
There are 2 distinct phases to becoming OMEP nurseries after training the assessors: the first is to complete an audit of all three pillars of sustainability at each nursery, and the second is to start to engage with the pre-school parents until at least 60% of the pre-school children and their parents are working on their knowledge and skills. Silver and gold awards come later. OMEP qualifications had been entirely paper driven before meeting with Tops, but Tops moved to e-communications some time ago with parents, and did not want to go back to paper nor to have plastic stickers in the logbooks, so a project to investigate how this could be done was started, whilst retaining that option for parents without access to computers or smart phones. To cut a long story short, the regular Tops e-providers “EyLog” were not able to support the move at that point, but they found a better option in “Thinkific” and “GoAudit”, and these were used to pilot OMEP awards within the team.
The first audits started after the January conference in February 2023, with a plan to do all 32 in 3 months. As soon as nurseries had received their audit they would begin to formulate an action plan to improve any areas that were not good already, in order to achieve their Bronze Awards, and to go on from there. In a stressed world of scarcity of money, time and staff, concerns were raised that it was hard enough to operate without an additional burden of a new award, but because the award is integral to sustainability, Tops felt that the advantages to those staff, children and parents afforded by engaging would be massively compensated for their time, and could indeed support those striving to provide outstanding nursery education and care. Once the nurseries achieve all goods, or Bronze for their environments and policies in all 3 areas, colleagues would begin to engage with parents and children – and Tops would let you know how that goes! Eylog are now looking again at enabling Tops to have OMEP and SchemaPlay on their platform, and Tops is also investigating whether Family’s free “Creating a curriculum in the EYFS” might work as well, because although OMEP is being piloted at Tops, the plan is to make it widely available throughout the sector once the wrinkles have been worked out in the software, and the funding of the project becomes available.
Participating preschool settings are provided with a range of resources that offer an optimistic, and pro-active approach to the subject that celebrates sustainable achievements and innovations and encourages the children to feel themselves involved in the creation of a more sustainable future.
There are fifteen ‘I-care…’ booklets in the complete set. These comprise Bronze, Silver and Gold awards in the following ESC educational areas that broadly address the UN Sustainable Development Goals:
– Social-Cultural education
– Economics education
– Environmental education
– Literacy education
– Numeracy education
Each of the booklets also has recommendations for related picture story books or activities. Once the child has completed their ‘I-care…’ book, their key person, will issue a sticker for their ESC passport.