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Circular Economy

What does primary and secondary education do?

In primary and secondary education, teaching about sustainability is seen as an important part of future oriented education. Primary schools do this by developing special lesson materials about sustainability. In secondary education sustainability is often integrated in the core curriculum, instead of projects separate from the regular curriculum.

Dutch Policy

In the Netherlands, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) is responsible for education policy. Teachers, school leaders and schools are currently working on a future-oriented curriculum for primary and secondary education. Between 2014 and 2017, the entire education sector has thought about this new curriculum. As a building block for this process, various organisations have submitted a white paper on Nature, Environment, Sustainability and Education. This curriculum review was approved by the Lower House of Parliament on 20 April 2017.

Against this background, approximately 150 teachers and school leaders work on the formulation of the curriculum in nine development teams. One of these development teams is Mens en Maatschappij. At the third consultation round, circularity was not yet explicitly included in this subject. Various civil society organisations have indicated that they would like to see this subject reflected in the curriculum (Leren voor Morgen, 2018).

On October 10, 2019, the development teams submitted their final recommendations to the Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, Arie Slob. In these recommendations, circularity is reflected in the learning areas People & Society and People & Nature (Curriculum.nu, 2020). In the aftermath of the Corona crisis, Minister Slob decided to first test the further tightening and implementation of the curriculum with a temporarily appointed scientific committee, in order to ease the workload and involvement of teachers (Rijksoverheid, 2020).


Our Education 2032

What has been laid down so far is the final advice ‘Our Education 2032’. It defines a number of essential characteristics of future-oriented education. For example, the third characteristic is: ‘The pupil learns to deal with freedom and responsibility and to look beyond boundaries’. This characteristic is described as follows:

“Education will encourage students to exercise personal responsibility in various aspects of their daily lives: health, finances or care for the environment, for example. It will introduce the international perspective, whereby students appreciate their role as ‘global citizens’ and are able to look beyond the boundaries of their own city or country.” (p. 23)

The report also contains a call for an interdisciplinary approach, where examples like climate change and the environment are mentioned.

GreenDeal Schools

In addition to offering sustainable education, schools are also encouraged to conduct business operations more sustainably. The GreenDeal Schools were previously established for this purpose. Here a subsidy could be obtained for green improvements to, for example, the school building. Think of sustainable lighting and heating, better air quality and insulation. Schools that combine business management, policy and education do so in a ‘whole school’ approach, for example under the international eco-schools label.

Primary education

Sustainability in primary education mainly focuses on raising children’s awareness about sustainability. Lesson material specifically about sustainability, but also about nature in general, stimulate students to develop their own vision about sustainability, and to look at their environment from a new perspective. The goal is to teach children that sustainability is easy, fun and obvious. Not only because it is about their own future, but also because it is important to share information about circular economy in these formative years. The idea is that that which inspires you at a young age will motivate you when you are older.

Many organsations develop extra lession materials for primary education. Because these lesson materials are mostly multi-disciplinary they can be used in many different places in primary education.

  • Example: Following ‘Education 2032’, the Sustainable PABO network has published a book with teaching materials about sustainability. The book ‘32 lessons for the future ‘is inspired by the core goals for education and the UN development goals. The lessons involve children in a practical and optimistic way in the national dialogue on sustainability.
  • Example: The two-year Afval op School program was started in 2017. In this program all knowledge and experience in the field of waste separation and prevention, behavioral change and education is bundled.
  • Example: De Groene Kapstok uses a whole-school approach and is a local initiative of schools in Haarlemmermeer. The organization encourages schools to integrate sustainability into the 4 C’s: Campus, Corporate, Curriculum and Community. In other words: opt for sustainable measures in and around the school, link lessons to them, and involve parents, local residents, companies and other relations.

Secondary education

Sustainability in secondary education is often integrated into the subjects in the curriculum. This means that lessons about sustainability are directly related to subjects such as geography, biology or social studies. This has advantages to project-based education, because students will be confronted with sustainability thinking throughout their education. On the other hand, the sectoral arrangement in different subjects can apprehend an integral approach to sustainability.

There are a few organisations actively stimulating and supporting sustainable education in secondary education. A few notable examples are listed below.

  • IK circuLEER aims to make pre-vocational secondary education (VMBO) more sustainability-oriented by offering teaching situations that match the student’s experiences and the exam requirements. They develop lesson materials, organise meetings sucha s guest lessons and teach-the-teacher workshops;
  • The Vereniging Natuur, Leven en Techniek (Association of Nature, Life and Technology) is engaged in the relatively new interdisciplinary course ‘Nature, Life and Technology. 80 modules have been developed for this, most of them deal with social issues. This is a good example of interdisciplinary education.

More lesson materials

  • Leren voor Morgen collects teaching materials and actions related to sustainability on their website for primary education;
  • Toekomstbestendig is the guide to sustainable education, from primary school to university;
  • The GroenGelinkt (Green Linked) archive contains a database with all kinds of teaching material for primary education, secondary education, MBO and even pre-primary education;
  • Greenpeace develops a lot of teaching materials, such as on non-toxic clothing and saving paper;
  • Energieeducatie.nl collects teaching programs about sustainability;
  • Docentenplein offers a number of teaching ideas;
  • The RVO also provides information for teachers about technical measures for, among other things, energy and sustainable buildings.