Education and communication are different!

I was a judge for the Education category of the Banksia Awards for a year or two, a few years ago. I had a growing sense of disquiet about the shoe-horning I felt was being applied in directing me to where I didn’t think I should go. I wrote down my concerns which are below and I ceased being a judge.. 

Banksia Awards

Category – Education for Sustainability

The Banksia Awards are a particularly high-profile an annual award program for contributions to environmental protection and improvement. They are given in a range of categories to organisations and individuals that operate over a range of scales, from well-resourced public and private sector agencies to small scale yet highly influential projects localised to specific places and communities.

Decisions as to which or who should be winners requires judgement against criteria that seek to cover the breadth of environmental endeavour. These decisions are most likely to be supported when judges agree on the appropriateness of the category in which an entry is judged, when there is an alignment in interpretation of the criteria to be applied I the judging and agreement about what is outstanding and so worthy of an award and what is merely ‘business as usual’, however competently delivered.


While the following principles should apply in judging all categories, there will be a priority order in which they are held as to the purpose of the awards. The principles include:

     1. Recognition and celebration of the best in education for sustainability (EfS)
     2. Encouragement to great examples of EfS so they will continue their success
     3. Models of exemplary programs in EfS for others to emulate
     4. Drawing others into EfS through affirmation by the high-profile Banksia Foundation


The category of Education for Sustainability (EfS) in 2015 attracted a disparate set of entries. Applying a single set of criteria was therefore highly problematic. A good start for applying these criteria is for the judges to agree on interpretations of them.

While some people might regard the following terms as synonyms, I argue a distinction between information, education and communication. That all three can bring about successful environment results does not mean that this distinction doesn’t matter.

Information I define as a one-way transmission of knowledge/facts/data from the holder to the receiver, using a range of media. Communication is the process itself of the transmission. Education involves developing in a learner an understanding of ideas, principles and theories such that the learner can apply them in a new context and, for themselves, develop an appropriate response. This necessarily involves a two-way flow of information between the facilitator and the learner such that ideas can be internalised, clarified, tested in new contexts and hypotheses can be developed and assessed in the light of observations. A successful education program puts the learner in a position of agency when the context changes and a new response is called for. An information or communication program doesn’t have this transformative component.


There are exemplary programs in education and in communication currently lumped together in the category of Education for Sustainability This results in attempting to not just distinguish between apples and oranges but apples and roof-tops or compost bins. A large well- resourced government program that is achieving strong results with a clear model of learning that includes curriculum materials, professional development, engagement of students and an incentives and awards program is pitted against a community- based school program that is doing great things in keeping school relevant to students at risk of dropping out. A third entry is based around a TV program that aims at business improvement through involvement in sustainability while yet another entry is based upon a council’s effective waste management program that is a statutory responsibility of local government.

These could well be separated into different categories and even then, within an ‘Education’ category, there will still be overlap, but at least it will be of the apples and oranges variety. A ‘Communications’ category would still require distinction between text and visual communication, but criteria such as innovation, reach and evidence of change are applied differently to an education program.

What constitutes success?

A number of considerations enter when determining a successful entry. Innovation, quirkiness and the ‘wow’ factor and sheer brilliance of execution meets Purpose 1 above in purposes. Someone implementing a magnificent program, well above and beyond what their job might entail, should recognised and encouraged to keeping doing the job they are doing as we are all better off for their work. This meets Purpose 2 above. While there will often be tension between ‘mile wide and inch deep’ and ‘inch wide and mile deep’, thinking of Purpose 3 above might assist with a deep program being widened. If, in thinking of Purpose 4, attaching the Banksia Foundation brand is likely to keep a great project going, this might be an over-riding criterion for the Foundation to confer success.

My approach

In judging the awards to look for the most meritorious Education among the entries,  I look for a comprehensive program that:
 –     has a model of learning embedded within it,
 –     seeks to promote in the learner an intellectual engagement with the subject matter such that
       they understand and are empowered to make their own contribution to sustainability,
 –     is above and beyond business as usual,
 –     while it might have been created and delivered by a charismatic individual, is not reliant on that
       individual (unless it’s an individual who is the entry) for its ongoing existence, and
 –     makes a substantial response to a real issue.

I’d be very pleased to discuss these issues further with those interested.