Integrating Education For Sustainability In A Private Language School Context by Erin Azhar

Giant tree grows from a tiny sprout.

A great tower rises from a basket of dirt.

Even the longest journey starts from beneath your feet.

-Lao Tzu (c.605 BCE-c. 535 BCE), Tao Te Ching, ch.64

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I was moved by a poem piece from Chinese philosopher and writer and writer Lao Tzu, as quoted above from Nolet’s (2015) book. As I tried to relate to my context, I realized that I am surrounded by tiny sprouts which soon going to be a giant tree. Metaphorically, my students are the tiny sprouts ho needs to be nourished and being given awareness of sustainability.

My context is a non-formal private language school. The school aim is only to provide English language classes for students. The school located in Bekasi, a city near to Indonesia capital, Jakarta.

Similarly to the infamous flood in Jakarta, Bekasi also suffers from the flood as severe as Jakarta. In fact, 400 people had to be evacuated and there were two casualties during the flood in February 2017.  (see: february-2017)

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Major cases of flooding which happen in the capital and surrounding cities is caused by terrible straining and drainage system, clogging waterway due to garbage and not to mention the high developing business area, shopping malls, and luxurious residential area which make open space in the capital and surrounding cities are scarce for water to absorb into the land. As a result, cities are crippled when the flood comes. The damages are severe, from socio-economical damage to health issue due to outbreak during the flood.

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Despite the fact that often on the rainy season the school suffers from flooding, the classes have to be canceled and yet there has not been any sustainability issue addressed formally or informally between teachers and students within the class or school environment. In addition, I have to be honest that the majority of the students in the school are coming from privileged family.  They are coming to the school by cars and live in high grounded areas which do not suffer from flooding.

Having a long and deep discussion with my lecturer from educating for sustainability course in The University of Manchester, Doctor Susan Brown, she inspired me that, despite the privileged condition, children need to be informed that they are not living in their comfortable bubble. There are people striving because of the acts we share.

Moreover, she added that it is usually from the privileged actions, the lesser people has to burden the cost. This is totally relatable to what I am facing in my city and the school context. From there, I became aware of the children in my school context, The little sprouts which hold potential to the future. They need to be given consent that there are issues surrounding them which they do not even aware of. The awareness I am giving them today might stay to their adulthood, they might become adults who have the power to bring changes and consider every aspect before taking any actions.

I was quite ambitious in the beginning to create major changes in my school context. However, I am faced with the reality that the teaching materials and units are heavily curriculum based and teachers are expected to fulfill the curriculum timeline within the given time.  I find this as an issue in my context, as informed by Nolet (2015) that first and foremost, education for sustainability has to be holistic which mean it cannot stand alone as one-off subject and has to be embedded within the curriculum, whereas in my context teachers are incapable of altering the existing curriculum.

Therefore, I decided to make the best of the existing program in the school, a life-club program. It is a monthly program which usually conducted outside the school environment. I feel that name of the current program is closely related to sustainability (Life). This program also coherent with three sustainability learning approaches by Nolet (2015) which are collaborative, experiential and placed-based learning approaches.

My aim is to take the children and teenagers to convey a direct interaction and engagement with the environment, by means also acquiring and developing the language and sustainable knowledge regarding

their city and the current problem. The importance of context will not be neglected as coherent to the place-based approach children and teenagers will be taken to the place where learning take place, they will also have a direct experience with the process. Not to mention, the children and teenagers will be put in a group for working together in accomplishing goals as coherent to collaborative learning. In collaborative situation children and teenagers are hoped to be able to scaffold and support each other (see: Gillies,2003) and beneficial for tolerance towards others in terms of racial, and ethnic minority (see: Gay,2002) which sometimes arise between Indonesian and Chinese descent children.

I hope this continuous monthly activity can also raise my students’ awareness of self as an agent who can bring an impact. This notion is aligned with Bandura’s (2000) term of human agency.

This refers to one’s ability to coordinate learning, motivation, and emotion to reach a goal. Goals of self to be a better person (personal agency) and goals to change others or certain condition (proxy agency). A similar notion was also addressed by Wangari Maathai, an inspiring figure, and an environmentalist who won the Nobel prize for sustainable development. Her story of the little hummingbird is very moving, it made me realize that you do not have to be big and powerful to make changes to the world.

In the near future, I hope my students will aware of their power as a person to bring changes to their closest and most related environment. Awareness of a single person can bring changes towards the community, to act correctly despite the small number of people against the larger groups.



Bandura, A. (2000). Exercise of human agency through collective efficacy. Current Dirrection in Psychological science,  9, 75-78.

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher education, 53, 106-116.

Gillies, R. M. (2003). The behaviours, interactions and perceptions of junior high school students during small-group learning. Journal of education Psychology, 95, 137-147.

Nolet,V. (2016). Educating for Sustainability: Principles and Practices for Teachers. New York:Routledge.

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