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Friday, November 7, 2008

Environmental education

Environmental education ("EE") refers to organized efforts to teach about how natural environments function and, particularly, how human beings can manage their behavior and ecosystems in order to live sustainably. The term is often used to imply education within the school system, from primary to post-secondary. However, it is sometimes used more broadly to include all efforts to educate the public and other audiences, including print materials, websites, media campaigns, etc. Related disciplines include outdoor education and experiential education.


The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) created three major declarations that have guided the course of environmental education.

Stockholm Declaration

June 5th-16th 1972-The Declaration of the United Nations Conference on Human Environment. The document was made up of 7 proclamations and 26 principles "to inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human environment."

The Belgrade Charter

October 13th-22nd 1975-The Belgrade Charter was the outcome of the International Workshop on Environmental Education held in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The Belgrade Charter was built upon the Stockholm Declaration and adds goals, objectives, and guiding principles of environmental education programs. It defines an audience for environmental education, which includes the general public.

The Tbilisi Declaration

October 14th-26th 1977-The Tbilisi Declaration "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 Tbilisi Declaration updated and clarified The Stockholm Declaration and The Belgrade Charter by including new goals, objectives, characteristics, and guiding principles of environmental education.


Some of the antecedents of Environmental Education were Nature Studies, Conservation Education and School Camping. Nature studies integrated academic approach with outdoor exploration (Roth, 1978). Conservation Education brought awareness to the misuse of natural resources. George Perkins Marsh discoursed on humanity’s integral part of the natural world. The governmental agencies like the Forestry Service and the EPA were also pushing a conservation agenda. Conservation ideals still guide environmental education today. School Camping was exposure to the environment and use of resources outside of the classroom for educational purposes. The legacies of these antecedents are still present in the evolving arena of environmental education.


Environmental education has been considered an additional or elective subject in much of traditional K-12 curriculum. At the elementary school level, environmental education can take the form of science enrichment curriculum, natural history field trips, community service projects, and participation in outdoor science schools. In secondary school, environmental curriculum can be a focused subject within the sciences or is a part of student interest groups or clubs. At the undergraduate and graduate level, it can be considered its own field within education, environmental studies, environmental science and policy, ecology, or human/cultural ecology programs.

The North American Association for Environmental Education has established the following "Guidelines for Excellence" for environmental education:

1. Fairness and accuracy: EE materials should be fair and accurate in describing environmental problems, issues, and conditions, and in reflecting the diversity of perspectives on them. 1.1 Factual accuracy. 1.2 Balanced presentation of differing viewpoints and theories. 1.3 Openness to inquiry. 1.4 Reflection of diversity.

2. Depth: EE materials should foster an awareness of the natural and built environment, an understanding of environmental concepts, conditions, and issues, and an awareness of the feelings, values, attitudes, and perceptions at the heart of environmental issues, as appropriate for different developmental levels. 2.1 Awareness. 2.2 Focus on concepts. 2.3 Concepts in context. 2.4 Attention to different scales.

3. Emphasis on skills building: EE materials should build lifelong skills that enable learners to address environmental issues. 3.1 Critical and creative thinking. 3.2 Applying skills to issues. 3.3 Action skills.

4. Action orientation: EE materials should promote civic responsibility, encouraging learners to use their knowledge, personal skills, and assessments of environmental issues as a basis for environmental problem solving and action. 4.1 Sense of personal stake and responsibility. 4.2 Self-efficacy.

5. Instructional soundness: EE materials should rely on instructional techniques that create an effective learning environment. 5.1 Learner-centered instruction. 5.2 Different ways of learning. 5.3 Connection to learners’ everyday lives. 5.4 Expanded learning environment. 5.5 Interdisciplinary. 5.6 Goals and objectives. 5.7 Appropriateness for specific learning settings. 5.8 Assessment.

6. Usability: EE materials should be well designed and easy to use. 6.1 Clarity and logic. 6.2 Easy to use. 6.3 Long lived. 6.4 Adaptable. 6.5 Accompanied by instruction and support. 6.6 Make substantiated claims. 6.7 Fit with national, state, or local requirements.

Related Disciplines

Environmental education has crossover with the disciplines of outdoor education and experiential education. Both disciplines compliment environmental education yet have unique philosophies.

* "Outdoor education means learning "in" and "for" the outdoors. It is a means of curriculum extension and enrichment through outdoor experiences." (Hammerman, 1980, p. 33) Environmental education is often times taught or enhanced through outdoor experiences. The out of doors experience while not strictly environmental in nature often contain elements of teaching about the environment.
* "Experiential education is a process through which a learner constructs knowledge, skill, and value from direct experiences" (AEE, 2002, p. 5) Experiential education can be viewed as both a process and method to deliver the ideas and skills associated with environmental education.

While each of these disciplines have their own objectives, there are points where both disciplines overlap with the intentions and philosophy of environmental education.


One of the current trends within environmental education seeks to move from an approach of ideology and activism to one that allows students to make informed decisions and take action based on experience as well as data. Within this process, environmental curricula have progressively been integrated into governmental education standards. Some environmental educators find this movement distressing and a move away from the original political and activist approach to environmental education while others find this approach more valid and accessible.


Overall there is a movement that has progressed since the relatively recent founding (1960s) of the idea of environmental education in industrial societies, which has transported the participant from nature appreciation and awareness to education for an ecologically sustainable future. This trend may be viewed as a microcosm of how many environmental education programs seek to first engage with participants through developing a sense of nature appreciation which is then translated into actions that affect conservation and sustainability.

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