The relationships between education and the environment are not new, however, the novelty that environmental education contributes is that the environment, in addition to being an educational medium, content to study or didactic resource, appears with sufficient entity to become a purpose and object of Education.
The environmental crisis
The human species has always interacted with the environment and has modified it, environmental problems are not new. However, what makes the current situation particularly worrying is the acceleration of these changes, their massive nature and the universality of their consequences.
Environmental problems no longer appear independent of each other, but rather constitute elements that are related to each other, configuring a reality different from the simple accumulation of all of them. Therefore, today we can talk about more than just environmental problems, we are facing a real environmental crisis and the severity of the crisis is manifested in its global nature.
Environmental Education: a response to the environmental crisis
Since the sixties, when the established growth model was questioned and the impact it produced on the environment was denounced, the diagnoses made on the environmental crisis have been numerous. Little by little, the human being begins to make a new reading of the environment in which he is immersed and a new worldview, a new perception of the human-society-environment relationship, is making its way.
In not a few of the reports and manifestos that have appeared throughout these years, the need to adopt educational measures (among others) to stop the growing deterioration of the planet is stated.
The relationships between education and the environment are not new, however, the novelty that environmental education brings is that the environment, in addition to being an educational medium, content to study or didactic resource, appears with sufficient entity to become a purpose and object of Education.
Thus, although its roots are ancient, environmental education, as we understand it today, is a relatively new concept that comes to the fore in the late 1960s.
These approaches quickly achieve institutional recognition. Thus, for example, in the international arena, the United Nations, through its agencies (mainly UNESCO and UNEP), has been the main promoter of studies and programs related to environmental education. However, we cannot reduce this development process to its institutional aspect. It is necessary to recognize the efforts of countless entities, non-governmental organizations and educators who have contributed, sometimes anonymously, not only to the conceptualization of environmental education but, above all, to its implementation.
Functions of Environmental Education
A fundamental purpose of environmental education is to ensure that both individuals and communities understand the complex nature of the environment (resulting from the interaction of its different aspects: physical, biological, social, cultural, economic, etc.) and acquire knowledge , values and practical skills to participate responsibly and effectively in the prevention and solution of environmental problems and in the management of environmental quality.
Environmental education is key to understanding the relationships between natural and social systems, as well as to achieving a clearer perception of the importance of socio-cultural factors in the genesis of environmental problems. Along these lines, it must promote the acquisition of awareness, values and behaviors that favor the effective participation of the population in the decision-making process. Environmental education understood in this way can and should be a strategic factor that affects the established development model to reorient it towards sustainability and equity.
Therefore, environmental education, rather than being limited to a specific aspect of the educational process, must become a privileged basis for developing a new lifestyle. It must be an educational practice open to social life so that the members of society participate, according to their possibilities, in the complex and supportive task of improving relations between humanity and its environment.
Objectives of environmental education
- Awareness: Help people and social groups to become more sensitive and aware of the environment in general and related problems.
- Knowledge: Helping individuals and social groups acquire a basic understanding of the environment as a whole, its related problems, and the presence and role of humanity in it, which entails critical responsibility.
- Attitudes: Help people and social groups to acquire social values and a deep interest in the environment that encourages them to actively participate in its protection and improvement.
- Aptitudes: Help people and social groups to acquire the necessary skills to solve environmental problems.
- Evaluation capacity:Help people and social groups to evaluate environmental education measures and programs based on ecological, political, economic, social, aesthetic and educational factors.
- Participation: Help people and social groups to develop their sense of responsibility and to become aware of the urgent need to pay attention to environmental problems, to ensure that adequate measures are taken in this regard.
Defined at the International Seminar on Environmental Education in Belgrade. 1975
Education and environmental management
The strategic nature of environmental education in the process towards sustainable development has previously been raised. However, it is clear that educational action, by itself, is not enough to respond to the environmental challenge. "To effectively contribute to improving the environment, the action of education must be linked to legislation, policies, control measures and decisions that governments adopt in relation to the human environment." (UNESCO).
Education is, at the same time, a social product and an instrument of transformation of the society where it is inserted. Therefore, educational systems are at the same time agent and result of the processes of social change. However, if the rest of the social agents do not act in the direction of change, it is very unlikely that the educational system will transform the complex framework in which the socioeconomic structures, the relations of production and exchange, the patterns of consumption and , in short, the established development model.
This implies the need to include environmental education programs in planning and general policies, drawn up through effective social participation. Too many times one falls into the temptation to carry out attractive actions, with a showy staging and large mass movements, which do not compromise too much or question the management that is carried out. Environmental education must be integrated with management ("the best education is good management") and not be used as justification for possible deficiencies in management.
The challenge we have today is to favor the “transition” towards sustainability and equity, being aware that this transition requires profound economic, technological, social, political, as well as educational changes. Thus, even recognizing the enormous potential of Environmental Education, we cannot turn it into a false lifeline.