The third National Environmental Skills Summit (NESS) took place on 3-5 March 2015 in Midrand at the Vulindlela Academy of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA). Hosting the Summit was: the Department of Environmental Affairs; Department of Science and Technology; GreenMatter and SANBI; and the GreenFund at the DBSA. A special invitation was extended to the Fundisa for Change (Fundisa) partners. Fundisa was allocated a day (5th March 2015) in the NESS programme.
Prof Chris Reddy from Stellenbosch University delivered a keynote address that led into the Fundisa Symposium, on the ways in which environmental knowledge feature in the school curriculum, and the implications for teacher education. He noted that this is not just about factual knowledge, but also involves practical skills in a new knowledge area, which requires learners and educators to engage differently with content knowledge that is often contested and has a strong ethical dimension. His presentation was followed by an NRF supported symposium in which Fundisa partners presented case examples of how they work with a range of new environmental knowledge areas in their teacher education practice. Presenters included teacher educators and researchers from Fort Hare, Rhodes, Wits, UKZN, UCT, UNISA and North West Universities. Questions explored included how environmental knowledge gets re-packaged – from scientists to official documents to officials in the Department of Basic Education (DBE), from the DBE to teacher training and textbooks, and from teachers to classrooms? Curriculum disciplines have been masquerading as neutral, un-located, disembodied and universal – where does indigenous knowledge system fit in such a system? The outcomes of the Fundisa session were:
• Research questions for further development and investigation: Such as, what do we consider as new knowledge? How are the Fundisa courses taught and how does these influence capabilities? What are the conversion factors that enable teachers to make the best use of the training? How do research findings get back to the role players? In what way is our work contributing to the lives of children in the classrooms and their communities?
• Practical challenges and opportunities for the Fundisa programme were identified, some of which are also useful research questions. This includes a greater focus on assessment, participation in the department’s forthcoming subject committees, a database to keep track of Fundisa related research; how to use professional learning communities to support teachers post-course and work towards SACE accreditation and CPTD points; finding provincial partners; and funding the programme as a whole once start-up funding is no longer available.
• Undertakings to promote and strengthen the work are: to look for opportunities to fund students to do the research outlined above; publish in the 2016 special edition of the Southern African Journal of Environmental Education; present at conferences such as the 2015 Swaziland conference of the Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa (EEASA); network at international conferences as a representative of the Fundisa community; bring Fundisa teachers to and present at the 2016 EEASA conference in Gauteng; set up an email contact list or some other way of communicating.