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Education technology must be sustainable, here’s what that looks like

Teachers are increasingly on the frontline of the climate crisis, and edtech plays a crucial part in preparing tomorrow’s leaders and decision-makers for the fight to save our planet. 

woman reading book

In the rapidly evolving landscape of education technology, where innovation is key to shaping the future of learning, a crucial consideration is increasingly garnering attention: sustainability.

The Department of Education’s (DfE) sustainability and climate change strategy, updated last year, stated: ‘The UK requires the education sector to play its role in positively responding to climate change and inspiring action on an international stage.’

With the UK working towards its net zero goals and industries across the country taking on more environmental responsibility, it’s vital that the edtech industry plays its part too.

The Department of Education is already investing in net zero builds for new schools and provides a comprehensive output specification for those constructing or updating school facilities. Nevertheless, this will take time.

In the meantime, schools and edtech providers need to support sustainability initiatives by ensuring sustainability when it comes to the technology they build and use, controlling energy and waste outputs as much as possible, and continuing to invest in new ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

books on shelvesPreparing future generations

In its 2023 Generational Sustainability Survey, EY found that while both of the two younger generations (Gen Z and Gen Alpha) are better educated on sustainability and environmental issues than any generation before, they still yearn for more learning and volunteering opportunities.

What’s more, the survey also states that young people look to their schools to prioritise sustainability education and update curricula often enough to capture current trends. However, only 56% of Gen Alpha and 56% of Gen Z were found to be satisfied with the sustainability education they received in school.

These findings underscore the need for the education system to equip current students and future generations with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to support future meaningful progress in the face of climate change.

To achieve this goal, schools must prioritise adequate professional development and support for educators as well as access to appropriate technologies and resources in order to empower them to integrate sustainability into their teaching methods.

By incorporating activities and resources that enhance comprehension and foster a sense of responsibility among students when it comes to the environment, teachers can cultivate a proactive attitude toward positive change. Importantly, this approach should not burden teachers with additional time constraints. Instead, it should offer a valuable opportunity for student-led, problem-based learning.

When students take ownership and contribute creative ideas to address sustainability challenges, they become personally invested and engaged in the process, increasing the likelihood of continued sustainability efforts, even beyond their school years.

Strategic technology purchases

Fostering a learning environment that not only incorporates technology, but also educates students about it, is paramount for preparing them for the digital world we live in. While interactive displays, computers, laptops, and learning management systems are indispensable tools, it’s crucial to acknowledge that they can also contribute to a school’s carbon footprint and therefore purchases should be scrutinised beyond just the product’s uses.

When looking at the various technologies available, schools should approach their purchasing choices with a conscious mindset. Considerations should not only be limited to the technology’s functionality, but also the ecological impact of the product design, manufacturing processes and product itself. Opting for technology from companies with sustainability embedded in their core values also ensures a commitment to green practices throughout the supply chain.

With interactive boards being a key component in the modern classroom, utilising those that are designed to use less energy is important. Features that support this can include built-in sensors which allow the boards to wake up and sleep automatically depending on usage, as well as adjustable settings which allow users to reduce power consumption.

When looking for interactive boards, manufacturers that consider the environmental impacts from initial phase through to end of life will have a strong commitment to sustainability.  Things to look for includes certifications, recyclable & innovative packaging design, responsible end-of-life practices and innovative technology that not only supports lower power consumption, but quality products that are designed for longevity.

woman carrying white and green textbook

What else can be effective at school-level?

Beyond traditional classroom curriculum, schools have a unique opportunity to share a sustainable ethos by intentionally designing their environment to emphasise sustainability and environmental responsibility. This doesn’t need to be complicated. Implementing simple, straightforward practices can contribute significantly to this initiative.

Some key actions schools can take include:

Energy efficiency initiatives. Investing in energy efficient lighting, heating, and cooling systems, as well as leveraging grants and support from organisations like the DfE can go a long way in reducing energy bills and a school’s carbon footprint. Additionally, simple reminders around energy-saving habits such as turning off lights and equipment when not in use can make a substantial difference.

Waste reduction and recycling programs. Implementing recycling and composting programs as well as encouraging the use of reusable materials such as water bottles and lunch boxes, can minimise waste as well as instil responsible behaviours among students.

Opportunities to connect with nature. Encouraging outdoor activities such as sports or gardening projects will not only help to emphasise the importance of a harmonious relationship with the environment but also contribute to students’ mental well-being.

Data monitoring for accountability. Utilising their own energy consumption monitoring tools, environmental sensors integrated into interactive displays, or other data-gathering methods to track and analyse their environmental impact, can help schools to stay accountable when it comes to environmental responsibility.

Community collaboration. Although there’s plenty that schools can do to support their sustainability initiatives, they don’t have to do it all themselves. Collaborating with the local community, including businesses, environmental organisations, and local governments, to share resources and knowledge can help schools to promote sustainability.

There’s no one silver bullet when it comes to hitting sustainability goals and overall, there are a myriad of ways the edtech industry can contribute and improve its efforts towards sustainability and environmental responsibility.

A number of adjustments are required for schools in such a changing environment and ongoing discussion around the path to reducing carbon emissions will be important. From initiatives from the DfE, to taking small steps in the classroom and educating the future generations, sustainability will continue to be centre stage for this year and beyond.

More features: 

Empowering environmental action and activism through web intelligence

How weather sensors keep motorists safe

Climate negligence and economic decline define the UK, political reform is needed

Images: Eliott Reyna (top) /  Zaini Izzuddin (middle) / Javier Trueba (bottom)

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