Environmental Education is a multidisciplinary field that integrates subjects such as Biology, Ecology, Geography, Earth Science, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and others. It aims to teach how the natural ecosystem functions and how it can be managed effectively to create a sustainable environment for all to live in.
The Human impact on the earth’s ecosystem has led to the constant degradation of the environment which has resulted in a global climatic change. The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) states that in order to safeguard the future Global developments of societal Quality of life, a widespread environmental awareness has to be enhanced. Environmental Education can help to make the people aware of how their actions impact the environment and how it can be minimized.
Environmental Education is not just a part of the school curriculum that is taught to students, but it also includes generating public awareness by the use of print media, media campaigns, websites, and others. Many zoos, aquariums, parks, and observatories include information about the environment and their impacts on the life forms that is imparted to the visitors.
Environmental Education’s History
Environmental Education has been in existence since quite some time although its importance has been emphasized in the later years with the growing global climatic changes. The foundation for environmental education was laid in the 18th century by Jean- Jacques Rousseau the French Philosopher and Louis Agassiz a Swiss naturalist who stressed the importance of environmental awareness with education that focused on the “Study of nature, not books”.
In the late 19th and early 20th century environmental education was imparted using fables and moral lessons which aimed to help students realize the importance of the environment and appreciate its natural state. Anna Botsford Comstock from Cornell University wrote the Handbook for Nature Study in 1911 to educate children on cultural values using Nature. Many known personalities in the educational field like Comstock and Liberty Hyde Bailey generated tremendous support for Nature Study which led to a change in the science curriculum for children. During the 1920s and 1930s, Conservation Education emerged as a new field which was different from the earlier Nature Study as it focused primarily on a scientific approach to Nature rather than the study of its history and characteristics. Conservation Education developed into a modern approach to conserving nature using scientific management as a planning tool.
The modern environmental education stems from the conservation education and the nature study from the early 1900s. It gained significant recognition and importance in the 1960s and the 1970s. There was a growing awareness of the harm caused by pesticides and radiation and the rise in the air and water pollution. The concern about the health risks had risen which further led to the growing popularity of the subject. It was understood that the greater population is required to make a difference in the environment, and active participation of the common people was possible only when it was well informed.
In 1970 Earth day was celebrated on the 22nd of Apr for the first time. In 1972 Environment education was declared to be a must to address the growing global environmental issues by the UNESCO in the UN conference held in Stockholm, Sweden. This was also known as the Stockholm Declaration. It included 7 proclamations and 26 principles aimed “to inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human environment.” Based on the Stockholm Declaration the Belgrade Charter was chalked in the year 1975 which further added principles, objectives, and goals for environmental education aimed to educate the general public. This was followed by the Tbilisi Declaration in the year 1977 which “noted the unanimous accord in the important role of environmental education in the preservation and improvement of the world’s environment, as well as in the sound and balanced development of the world’s communities.” The same year the intergovernmental conference on Environmental Education laid out various goals, objectives and principles for the improvement of this essential subject.
In the year 2002 UNDESD (United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable development) was formed to further encourage the growing concern towards the environment.
In the year 2013, the seventh World Environmental education Congress was held in Morocco from 9th -14th June. During the conference, the 11 different areas of concern were discussed and incorporated by the 2400 members representing 150 different countries. The importance of environmental education was discussed and partnerships to promote the education were established.
What are the Components of Environmental Education?
Environmental education has been added to the school curriculum in many countries to encourage an in-depth understanding of the environment from a young age. Environmental Education policies extend assistance in organizing and developing education programs that are targeted not just at the school or college students but for all the citizens.
Environmental Education in the schools comprises of three main components- Curricula, Green Facilities and training. Below is the brief description of the three components.
1. Curricula: Environmental Education has been integrated to the school curricula which not only aim to provide classroom curricula but also provide outdoor learning to the students. It enhances the interaction which the younger generation has with nature and helps to understand the impact humans and the environment have on each other. The addition of environment education also known as “environment as an integrating context” for learning, help students understand how the human actions impact the environment and how it can be mitigated to reduce the pollution levels and sustain it in its natural state. The increase in outdoor activities introduced by environmental education helps to reduce “nature deficit disorder” in youngsters. Outdoor activities not only include trips to parks and fields but also experiential activities in the school yard with green projects and green clubs.
2. Green Facilities: Environmental education policies promote Green schools and green facilities. Green facilities are more energy efficient unlike the traditional schools and impact the environment negatively in the least possible way. Another aspect of a green school is the use of healthy food which focuses primarily in providing food to the students that are freshly prepared and are sourced from locally grown produce that is organic. Although the cost of green facilities is a little bit more than a traditional school, environmental education policies help with the initial start-up cost.
3. Training: This is the most important of all the components in environmental education as it not only educates the people to live in a sustainable environment but also train them with skills and knowledge that would help to build a strong relationship with nature. The environmental education policies include the training of the teachers and worker training initiatives as well to create a workforce that can sustain in a green economy. Through training, people are able to gain the required knowledge and utilize it in proper way.
The impact of the past accidents like the popular Bhopal and Chernobyl accidents had a major impact on the environment which has been felt for decades and it still resonates on the population in the areas that were affected. It is very important that the current generation be trained to not only avoid such accidents but also be taught the best measures that need to be taken in case such a scenario does arise. Environmental education has in the past few decades risen in the importance due to the increasing levels of pollution everywhere and the climatic impact that it has had in all the regions of the earth. The adverse effects of the use of chemicals in our daily lives has become very prominent. Environmental Education has been realized as a field of study that can help to mitigate future damage to the environment. It has since its initial stages received much political backup and most countries are actively promoting the inclusion of environmental education in school curricula. Environmental science which is a part of Environmental education is now an active field of study which that promotes higher studies and research to help understand the importance of environmental education and work to reduce the impact of human development on it.