What is environmental education?
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What is environmental education?

It has become increasingly fashionable to laud the wonders of environmental education as a tool in our quest towards sustainable development. Politicians, managers, developers, environmentalists, educators, and others continue to sing its praises. They make lofty recommendations and claim that therein lies the key to solving the extremely critical environmental problems facing Trinidad and Tobago today.

But what exactly is environmental education and what does it entail?

ET programmes

Environment TOBAGO ran several environmental education programmes this year, including the Keep a Clean School Programme (for primary and secondary schools), modules for CXC Principles of Business and Chemistry (for secondary schools), and a module on Biodiversity Conservation. The latter was piloted recently with a teacher’s workshop for Standard 4 and 5 teachers at Scarborough RC Primary School on "What is Biodiversity". Classes at Bon Accord/Black Rock Secondary Centre also followed full-day programmes on coral reefs, tropical forests, wetlands, biodiversity, and sea turtles (run by the Save Our Sea Turtles (SOS)).

ET’s programmes follow the goals and objectives of EE that emphasise taking learners all the way from developing awareness and knowledge of the issues, to forming a personal ethical relationship with the environment that leads to feelings of personal commitment to take action for sustainable development.

These programmes embrace action as the ultimate goal of environmental education, but this is a new paradigm that took several decades to evolve and even now has not been fully recognised or understood.

Origin of EE

The roots of environmental education go back to the earliest history of mankind when humans were living in an intimate relationship with nature, and saw both how they depended upon and had the power to change their natural environment. More contemporary roots are found in:
    Nature study's search to understand environs;
    Conservation education's concern for the wise use of resources;
    The experiential philosophy of outdoor education;
    Ecology's study of interrelationships;
    Citizenship education's appreciation of action;
    Consumer education's recognition of the shortcomings and excesses of the economic system;
    Population education's recognition of the problems of limitless growth and over-consumption;
    Resource management ecology's examination of people-land relationships; and
    The ethical and esthetic dimensions from religious and philosophical schools.

The heightened concern about environmental degradation drew upon elements of all these and environmental education emerged as a new discipline in the late 1960s.

The 1971 debut of the Alliance for Environmental Education and 1969 emergence of the quarterly Journal of Environmental Education cemented the status of this new discipline.
Several international fora were catalysts in the evolution of environmental education, with international conferences and workshops specifically on environmental education held in 1970 in the USA, 1975 in Yugoslavia, 1977 and again in 1987 in Russia, 1993 and again in 1995 in England. Here definitions, goals, objectives, principles, policies, philosophies, methods, and priorities were discussed and debated. Along with these international initiatives, there were numerous regional, national and local programmes being run.

Goal of EE

Today environmental education is understood to be:
Education about the environment (building awareness, understanding and skills necessary to obtain this understanding);
Education in (or from) the environment (where learning occurs in nature, outside of the classroom); and
Education for the environment (the ultimate goal being conservation and sustainable development).

Early international consensus regarding the goal of environmental education for the environment was expressed in the 1975 Belgrade Charter adopted by the International Workshop on Environmental Education.
      "The goal of environmental education is to develop a world population that is aware of, and concerned about, the environment and its associated problems, and which has the knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivations, and commitment to work individually and collectively towards solutions of current problems and the prevention of new ones."

Four main elements

Critical objectives for environmental education pivot on four main elements:

1. Awareness: Raising awareness of the need for environmental conservation is the first step in any programme.
2. Knowledge: Developing a deeper understanding of the principles and complex issues involved.
3. Values and ethics: Building personal and societal commitment to conservation.
4. Action: Facilitating changes in behaviour and action that promote sustainable development as a new mode of living.

Unfortunately, many environmental education programmes are incomplete in that they only focus on developing awareness and knowledge, and do not take the learner through to the ultimate objectives of building that personal commitment to act form sustainable development. - Nicole Leotaud - Education Coordinator - Environment TOBAGO - December 4th, 2000
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