Formal Environmental Education

Formal Environmental Education

Environmental education is increasingly a prominent part of primary, secondary and tertiary education in Asia and the Pacific. The formal education sector plays a vital role in environmental education and awareness by exposing the younger generation to the information, issues, analyses and interpretations on environment and development.

A number of factors have influenced the development of environmental education in the region. The two over-arching factors are national education policy and national environment and population policy. These policies are a reflection of national cultural values, priorities and socio-economic goals in most countries. The national environmental education policy is usually the result of decisions made in these broader fields for example, environmental education in Australia has seen two major shifts since 1970s. First, there has been a distinct move away from nature and science-based environmental education to a concern with the social, economic and political aspects of sustainable development. There has also been a major shift from schools to adult and community environmental education.

Primary and Secondary Levels

The diversity of approaches in primary and secondary education seen across the Asian and Pacific Region are based on each country’s major and threatened resources, and issues of concern. For example, in the Maldives, environmental educationand awareness programmes highlight issues of the marine environment emerging from the National Environment Action Plan of 1989 (IUCN 1998). Whereas in Nepal, the national goals of education are to teach thoughtful protection and wise use of the natural environment and national heritage. In Nepal, the general need of environmental protection from specific problems resulting from population pressure on natural resources, and the links between environment, population and natural resources, were addressed in the environmental education plan (IUCN 1998).

Tertiary Level

Tertiary level education has responded to the increasing demand for environmental managers and experts in the 1990s. Key trends have been observed across the region in relation to environmental education at tertiary level these include:

basic environmental concepts and elements added to existing courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, for all students irrespective of their courses; new environmental units or modules introduced into a large number of courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, thus increasing the depth and detail of environmental study; new non-degree programmes and courses (at foundation, certificate or diploma levels) introduced by tertiary education institutions to cater to the demand for in-service training and upgrading of knowledge and understanding on environmental issues and practices; an increase in the publication of relevant textbooks and audio visual material; greater emphasis on training the trainers, and in strengthening the tertiary education system and research capabilities; more research on environmental education policies and practices; a greater dialogue and information exchange between the users of environmental skills and talent, in government, private and NGO sectors etc., and the institutions of tertiary education, ensuring, education and training address prevailing practical needs; and increasing emphasis placed on adult and community education, using both formal and non-formal methods to raise the overall environmental literacy levels.

Materials and Study Aids

In line with the growing interest and activity in environmental education, awareness and training, the demand for educational materials and study aids has also increased. However, the limited availability of materials may not meet individual country requirements in terms of local language, and in coverage of the most relevant issues to the country.

Many government and non-government institutions have risen to this challenge. For example, in Malaysia, the Academy of Writers was enlisted to produce storybooks that will instill environmental values and attitudes amongst primary school children. A similar initiative has been made in the South Pacific subregion where there have been several efforts to produce locally relevant environmental education material at the primary and secondary school levels.

A widely felt constraint has been the lack of standardization in textbooks and other material on environmental issues and a failure to provide the full information base. While the subject of environment can be interpreted and presented in many ways, and it can be looked at through a scientific or cultural angle, there is a basic need to present facts accurately and discuss issues in a balanced manner. If this is lacking, the wider goals of environmental education cannot be met. An extensive review of environmental textbooks, supplementary readers and other material is required in many countries of the region as part of a process to improve their quality.

Issues and Constraints

There are many constraints and barriers to the widespread adoption and practice of environmental education in the region. In the formal education sector, class sizes are often large and teachers lack resources and experience in interactive pupil-centred teaching strategies. School curricula are also dominated by competitive academic curricula which prioritizes end–of-course examinations and discourages the development of locally and personally relevant intellectual skills. Outside the formal education sector, environmental education is often poorly organized and resourced.

Another common constraint is the lack of clear integration of environmental education objectives and programmes with national education and environmental policies. In some countries, the absence of national policies or guidelines for environmental education has resulted in a lack of coherent strategies and long term planning. Even in those countries which do have such policies, the educational systems are often insufficiently dynamic to accommodate the evolving social, economic, political and conservation aspects of sustainable development.

The important pre-requisites for the successful introduction of environmental education in schools include: the existence of clear and well communicated policies; the political will and availability of sufficient resources for implementation; curricula revision; proper preparation of teachers through in-service training; the availability of relevant materials in local languages; networks for exchange of expertise between teachers; and adequate assessment and incentives for teachers development. It is encouraging to note that in spite of many constraints, practitioners and promoters of environmental education have found innovative ways of teaching throughout the region.

SOURCE: Environmental Education in the Light of the Tbilisi

The author of this article is Asst. Professor, Pioneer Institute of Professional Studies, Indore


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