Imparting environmental education

What is the best approach to instil in the minds of students a lifelong respect for the environment?

By Therse Almeida
Published: Sunday 15 January 1995

-- (Credit: Rustam  Vania)RECENT promptings from the Union ministry of human resource development and the focus on environmental deterioration has led to the initiation of environmental education schemes at state level and an effort to find means to develop environment oriented curriculums. Although environment education has been around since 1972 and several organisations have produced a wealth of ideas and educational materials, curriculum development that includes environment concepts is non-existent. The poor showing in general environmental literacy and in sound environmental practice must lead us to question the methods and approaches we have used so far.

It was believed that Science and the Social Science held the keys that would open the doors to environmental literacy. Later, it was felt that this approach was too 'content' oriented and neglected the aesthetic and emotional aspects found in language, arts and crafts and value education.

Rather than being confined to the narrow corridors of textbook and examination, education has to be more concerned with the 'affective' areas that are achieved through participation and attitudinal development. These aim to empower the student to develop skills that will assist in life-long learning. This has significant implications not only for developing cross-curricular approaches to environmental education but for the use of environmental studies as a catalyst for bringing in much needed reform in the education system.

The present approaches to environment education differ and are described in the objectives different teachers may have. Here are some goal statements schools and teachers might make:

I want my students to understand the role of air, water and soil in the environment.

Biodiversity and conservation are necessary topics in any modern course of studies.

Alternatively, goal statements may be more specific:

Pollution detecting and monitoring will make students aware.

Energy solutions are being studied and we are going to develop projects in solar energy.

Yet other teachers and schools may prefer such statements:

I would develop opportunities for students to interact with the environment and with each other.

Environmental issues provide experience in problem solving and decision making.

There are 3 basic models described in the goal statements and each of these models develops to a particular pattern and logic of its own.

The first group of goal statements works at the information level and calls for the gathering, selecting and dissemination of information by the teacher. The opportunities for participatory learning are few and decision making and problem solving are not built into this approach. Another disadvantage is that this approach to environmental education allows little scope for the different levels and skills of the students thus reducing the success rate to a small percentage of learners.

The next set of goal statements are far more specific and concern the practice of environmental skills. These skills hold significant concepts and involve students in fulfilling activities. But because of the specialisation involved and the dependence on personal capability in a particular field, the approach is restrictive. The latitude for exercising judgement and taking decisions is also limited as are the resources needed.
Environmental experience The third set of statements has goals that are more student centred than environment centred. They focus on what students will do to develop skills. This approach involves students in local environmental experience and reinforces the learning in any curriculum area. At the same time it gives students opportunities in personal and social development. The advantage is that all study includes the students experience, therefore it has meaning and provides direction for further learning. The limitations of this approach do not lie in the model but in the way schools and teachers work at present within a restrictive system of controls. They need the support of the school authorities and the cooperation of the staff so that time and space use become enriching and flexible. A fresh system of evaluation is also needed. Most present evaluation ignores the teachers role in learning achievement and is reduced to a pen and paper exercise. The focus on personal growth shows the way to a creative attitude in environmental values and a possibility for life-long interaction and initiatives on behalf of the environment.

Briefly, for students and teachers to promote and practice environmental literacy a change has to occur not just in the syllabus but in the priorities of the schooling system. The departments of education will have to promote independence and flexibility to replace control and compliance. They must provide incentives, supportive policies and institutions to help students become skilled and creative individuals willing to make choices and make a commitment for the health of the earth.

---Therese Almeida is the founder director of ???-based Manovikas School and has been involved in environment education since 1977.

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