Sustainability education expert on international stage

Issue: Volume 98, Number 20

Posted: 21 November 2019
Reference #: 1HA30v

A New Zealand academic and early childhood educator will be speaking alongside experts from NASA, the Smithsonian Institute and the US Air Force at the world’s largest Earth and space science conference in December.

New Zealand early childhood educator Dr Darius Singh will present a paper at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, which connects a 62,000-strong community of Earth and space scientists from 144 countries to collaboratively advance science for the benefit of humanity. 

Darius will speak on the introduction of scientific principles at a preschool level and how his team engages young children in Earth and space science concepts from an early age. 

A former professor of engineering and technology management, Darius says the topic has become increasingly important in recent years as the need for sustainability, connectivity and wellbeing becomes more apparent. 

“We need to urgently address our children’s education in Earth sciences and foster an affinity and appreciation of the world around them. We want to ensure we leave the planet in safer hands than ours and recent generations before us,” he says. 

Gaia Earth education philosophy

Darius’s AGU presentation will look at how Gaia Earth education philosophy complements early childhood education principles and values. 

Gaia principles were first introduced in the 1960s by NASA scientist Dr James Lovelock, who was tasked with investigating if there was life on Mars. He applied the same definitions of life to Earth and proposed the Gaia hypothesis, which suggested that Earth metabolises and responds to changes in its environment to survive, functioning as its own self-regulating system.

Darius says the Gaia Earth education philosophy sits beautifully with New Zealand’s Curriculum, Te Whāriki.  For example, the Gaia values of being adaptable, respectful, showing compassion and embracing the diversity of life aligns with the Belonging/Mana whenua strand and learning outcomes. Over time and with guidance, children are increasingly capable of making connections between people, places and things in the world, showing respect and taking care of this place. 

“The principles of Te Whāriki are a synthesis of traditional Māori thinking and sociocultural theorising,” says Darius.  

“Specifically, the principle of Relationships/Ngā Hononga: curriculum and pedagogy recognise that children learn through responsive and reciprocal relationships with people, places and things.

“We might show children how a bee and a flower can get along – two different species that have come together to solve their problems – and we talk about communication; how a bee can communicate to its hive, where to go to collect nectar from the flower that needs pollination, while the other bees actively listen and observe and get it right the first time, also a vital part of communication,” he says.

Childcare centre inspiration

Darius says the invitation to the AGU conference came following international publicity around the leaf-shaped design of his and his wife’s Gaia-inspired childcare centre in Manurewa due to open next year.

Gaia-inspired buildings are solar powered and harvest rainwater from the roof to supply outdoor play streams, gardening needs and all bathroom and laundry water systems and have heated floors sourced from 100m underground.

Te Whāriki is underpinned by a vision of children as competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society. 

For more information, find the Te Whāriki(external link) page on the TKI site.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 2:00 pm, 21 November 2019

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