One visionary institution makes significant strides in social justice and sustainability, while the vast majority of programs have their work cut out for them
Today, the most important test we are asking our educators to prepare our youth for is ironically one society hasn’t yet passed. How do we overcome our differences to heal our planet and maintain social justice? As future generations face this mammoth task, their role models must be people who manage to bring issues of sustainability and justice to life. Our teachers must be compassionate and dedicated. If our teachers can educate our children to be more just, more cooperative and more resourceful than we ever were, they will not only lead the charge toward a sustainable world but also teach us a thing or two about it. How we train our teachers to do so is critical.
When it comes to sustainability and teaching, there is a clear front-runner in the 2011 ranking. The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto excels in every part of the ranking survey, scoring a promising 91.3 per cent and placing it more than 20 per cent above all other institutions. So what is its secret to success?
First, the teacher education program at OISE is based on seven principles, including “equity, diversity, and social Justice”, which are strongly reflected institutionally. All students in the program are required to take the School and Society course, which addresses key themes like student diversity and difference and democracy, conflict, and resistance in schools. OISE is also the only school to offer an environmental and sustainability education course, as well as a myriad of other specialized classes on everything from aboriginal perspectives on education to gender and diversity of sexualities in schooling.
The breadth and diversity of courses is surely a reflection of the strong faculty and research base that OISE has developed. With free public lectures series and institutes like the Centre for Urban Schooling, OISE rises above its peers.
And what about the rest?
Similar to the disciplines of business and law, most teacher education programs analyzed in the ranking have at least some inclusion of ethics training, and courses on diversity and inclusive education for children with special needs are encouragingly common. But this appears to be where most institutions draw the line, as all other sustainability-oriented courses (if offered) are electives. And, unlike other disciplines, student-led initiatives in teacher education appear to be lacking. However, the survey looks only at those initiatives directly associated with the education program; initiatives taken during placements in schools may be more significant.
It is interesting to question whether teacher education programs will evolve to incorporate concepts of social justice, environment and sustainability as OISE has done. One could hope this might become the future norm of teacher education.