Students become the carbon managers of the future Reply

by Natasha Egan 

A group of eight Year 10 and 11 students at St Peter’s College, Cranbourne, south-east of Melbourne, is taking on the role of carbon manager. They have already completed an investigation that resulted in an onsite collection box for the safe disposal of mercury. They’re now in the final stages of an inquiry to determine the most efficient household light globe. The students are doing these projects as part of their Certificate III in Carbon Management class.

This is the first group of high school students in Australia to do the course. Due to the highly technical content and the hours required in excess of class time, the students had to go through a rigorous interview process with the class teacher, Anthony Beutelschiess.

“It’s not a bludge subject and so we wanted to make sure the students were well aware of that beforehand,” Mr Beutelschiess says.

The program involves three 70-minute periods a week and Mr Beutelschiess aims to make at least one of those a practical session. Investigation topics have arisen naturally from class discussions and happenings at the school, he says.

The mercury project came up after a question about disposing of old lamps. He didn’t know the answer so he challenged the class. “I said okay, I’ve got some lamps and they contain mercury. Mercury is an incredibly toxic substance. We can’t just throw it in the bin. You tell me how to get rid of it.”

The students did the research and found a company in Victoria licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recycle mercury. They wrote a report to the principal, which asked for $115 for the company to deliver a container. “Once the box is full, the company will take the box back to their plant, vacuum suck the mercury out of it and recycle it all. All for one cost. The students did all that themselves,” Mr Beutelschiess says.

He and colleague Tracy Alles were among eight teachers in Victoria to complete the course training program in 2011. It was developed by Sandhurst Catholic Education Office (CEO), north of Melbourne, in partnership with the green skills training organisation Carbon Training International (CTI), and with financial support from the Catholic Education Commission Victoria (CECV).

Paul Dullard, education officer, sustainability, at Sandhurst CEO, is the facilitator of the Carbon Management Certificate III in schools. He says Sandhurst developed the course because it wanted to strengthen sustainability programs in its secondary schools and provide students with an opportunity to prepare for working in the green skills sector.

The course is a derivative of the industry-based Certificate III and IV in Carbon Management that Carbon Trading International (CTI) runs internationally. It’s been tailored to include the school electives “monitor and evaluate sustainable practices” and “conduct three projects”.

“It just fits so well with these kids being able to do something in Year 10 and 11 and be accredited for it,” Mr Dullard says.

Carbon Trading International is set on delivering these skills based on an understanding the world economy will soon be underpinned by carbon rather than oil. Glenn Davidson is one of six directors of CTI and one of four authors of the Certificate III in Carbon Management, which the organisation has been running since May 2010. Mr Davidson is the education specialist and says it was always his vision, along with Paul Dullard’s, to get the program into schools. The St Peter’s course is fundamentally the same as the industry course but more enriched because it includes extra tasks around international studies, public policy and governance, Mr Davidson says.

The course contains a high level of science, mathematics, management, communication and project management as well as hands-on practical activities in school infrastructure development.

While it was originally designed for adults, Mr Davidson says the program is well suited to the school setting. It’s applicable for young people stepping out into a job because industry is increasingly moving towards best practice in sustainability and environmental management, he says. Also schools are the perfect example of a small to medium enterprise model struggling with energy inputs and managing resources.

Having access to science teachers who understand the carbon cycle and carbon chemistry, plus access to IT and media teachers to use things like communication planning, mean it’s a much richer learning environment than a standard industry placement, Mr Davidson says. “Those kids at St Peters are great. They’re just so fired up. They’ve got real life stuff to chat about. It’s real-world politics. It’s real mathematics. It’s real physics.”

The program also has strong industry support. Peter Roberston, manager of education and professional standards at the Carbon Market Institute (CMI), commends Sandhurst CEO for its foresight in promoting this program into schools.

“It’s the acknowledgement that there is an industry need for professionals with these skills,” Mr Robertson says. “I think it will set the groundwork for other schools once this model has proven to be successful.”

The Carbon Market Institute is an international professional association which represents the supply and demand side of the carbon market. Whether the word preceding manager is carbon, sustainability, efficiency or environmental, the people at the institute are involved in an organisation’s cost reduction strategy and will be part of all smart companies of the future, Mr Robertson says.

“There is a demand now for these types of skills. Increasingly there will be a demand. When larger organisations mandate from their suppliers, carbon foot printing or carbon emissions, then there will be an explosion in the demand for these types of skills.”

Moreover, the carbon industry is an international market so the skills these students gain will be transferable, Mr Robertson says. Carbon Trading International’s Glenn Davidson agrees and says the Certificate III is an international language because of the Australian qualification plus it’s based on Kyoto standards to work globally in carbon management.

In addition to the job market, Mr Davidson says it prepares students for further academic and vocational study. He says a lot of their graduates would probably go on to study innovation, business or environmental management. If continuing on to the Certificate IV, they get about two-thirds credit and could also fast-track to a diploma, he says. Peter Robertson, Paul Dullard and Anthony Beutelschiess agree this course sets students up for a job as well as further study.

Catholic Education Commission Victoria and Sandhurst Catholic Education Office have committed to another round of teacher training this year for which nine teachers from five schools have already signed up. Six schools have committed to offering the program in 2013, including a department school in South Australia. The rest are Catholic schools in Victoria. Others who may not be ready to take on the Certificate III this year are doing a taster, he says.

Glenn Davidson says Carbon Trading International has licensed the program fairly cheaply to allow access to school students and negotiations are underway in other states. “We’re talking about it in Queensland and trying to get things off the ground in NSW and we’ve got a school starting in South Australia next year.”

While it may be about to take off in schools around the country, Mr Davidson says local interest is waning following large interest last year which saw the course delivered to over 600 students in NSW alone. “We’ve got more interest overseas than we do in Australia.”  Carbon Trading International reaches a number of international students through online delivery. And it also has a program at University of California, Los Angeles and is in the final stage of negotiations for similar courses at universities of Hong Kong and London.

Meanwhile at St Peter’s, the students are finalising projects that determine the most efficient household light globe. They have been given a range of globes and told to ignore the information on the box. Instead, they must find out themselves using research and equipment at school that measures how much electricity a product uses.

“They’re in the process of writing up the report now. I said there is no right or wrong answer. This is your opinion, I want to know what criteria you’ve decided is the most important for recommending what light globes to use,” Mr Beutelschiess says.

He says preparing and delivering the course has been a lot of work but made possible thanks to the support of colleague Tracy Alles. “We’ve got a curriculum written, the course is happening, it’s up and running, which is the main thing. The students are progressing through the course at the expected rate and the rest of the stuff you just make up as you go.”

He will take the current class through to completion and because they have two teachers trained, he says it’s likely that Ms Alles will take on a second class starting next year then each teacher with continue with a new class  every second year. Recruiting for future classes is always on their minds, he says. He finds himself looking around at the Year 9 cohort recognising suitable candidates. “I’ve already approached a few students and said you’d be awesome for this.”

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