The opinion-editorial below, ran in the Calgary Herald on October 14th.
On Monday, Albertans will elect a new set of leaders who will set the course for our children’s learning over the next four years. Here’s a few thoughts on how to choose these school trustees.
To get to that, we first need to think about the future that is racing towards us. The world our children will inhabit as adults will be vastly different from that which they inhabit today, and it WILL be powered differently. We are on the cusp of a global boom in wind and solar energy, as wind turbines get more efficient and the price of solar panels plummet. Analysts forecast a sharp uptick in the sale of things like electric cars, and a figurative Formula One race to get the best and cheapest onto the market first, while new terms like ‘geothermal’ and ‘smart grids’ appear on our screens and have begun to change our world. Today’s astute energy industry workers will tell you that in the future greenhouse gas emissions will remain a critical business factor, and that our competitive advantage will rely on things like innovation around carbon capture, methane management, and building efficiency. The job candidates of the future who understand how environmental protection and economic development go hand-in-hand will be those who get the big job offer.
The good news is that we are well positioned here: Alberta was built on natural resources and energy, and we already have a brain trust of talented resource professionals.
The bad news is that, when it comes to environmental concerns and energy futures, things are changing incredibly quickly. The K-12 curriculum has not been able to keep up, and even our most talented teachers – and we have thousands of them - struggle to stay abreast of the flood of new information and technologies on this front.
We have our fair share of school boards that strive to do our children proud in this area. One example lies within the Calgary Board of Education, Alberta’s largest school board, which followed the lead of Trustee Julie Hrdlicka recently and brought a resolution to the organization representing Alberta’s 61 school boards “that the Alberta School Boards Association supports sustainable development and believes subsidies and supports for renewable energy options must be provided. Additionally, all Alberta students must be provided access to an environmental education." Happily, that resolution passed: school boards who voted in support of the resolution represent over 80% of Alberta students.
How is this relevant for your behavior in the polling booth on Monday? All we know is that the Trustee who deserves our vote will think a lot about the Alberta of the future, for which we must prepare our children. They would support investing in clean energy technologies that reduce utility bills, environmental impact, and carbon levy payments, keeping those funds in the classroom – and then they would urge staff to find ways to weave together energy use and student learning, helping prepare students to become the energy analysts, managers, and innovators of the future. They would encourage and endorse outdoor education, to help our children connect to nature and remind them that we live on a rich and wonderful planet that deserves our stewardship, given that it provides us with such sundries as fresh air, clean water, and our food. Our preferred candidate would support teacher professional learning in environmental and energy education, to help build student competencies and compete successfully for the jobs of the future – and they would demand school programs that invite the community into the classroom, and vice versa, allowing students real world experiences in a way that deeply engages their imagination and harnesses their creativity.
Our preferred Trustee is one who gives top priority to our children’s needs. They look to the future and don’t try to cling to a past that is rapidly receding; they stay on top of current knowledge in education, business, and technology, and recognize that their role is to educate children for jobs that maybe don’t even yet exist.
Gareth Thomson is Executive Director of the Alberta Council for Environmental Education. Jeff Reading is Chair of the Greenlearning Canada Foundation.