Studies indicate that it is necessary to apply perspectives from various disciplines in order to solve environmental problems.
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Since all human beings depend on the environment for sustenance, then it makes sense to equip them with the skills needed to make the environment sustainable.
Education unites technology, nature and society in a way that leads to development of society.
Definition of terms
A sustainable society is one in which people can satisfy their present needs without impeding the ability of future generations to do the same. Humanity can achieve this objective by using renewable resources and stabilising the world population.
Man can also use energy efficiently so as to leave the biosphere unharmed. The use of technology in environmental management is also a tenable solution. Besides these, stakeholders ought to know how to conserve the biological diversity of their environment.
Sustainability encompasses all the political, economic and social pressures that can either hinder or help individuals to care for their environment.
This phenomenon attempts to promote stewardship as well as custodial responsibilities over the environment.
Environmental education for sustainability refers to a form of education where members of society take up responsibility for producing a sustainable future.
This is an interdisciplinary effort in which people develop an environmental ethic. It also recognises the importance of incorporating different needs in society.
In this school of thought, a person’s worldview cannot be delinked from the way they relate to their environment. It should be noted that this is a holistic view of the environment.
Stakeholders realised a while back that when striving for sustainability, it is not sufficient to focus on the natural environment alone.
People must inculcate political, social and economic issues in matters of the environment that will ensure a holistic approach.
History of environmental education for sustainable development
Ideas about interdisciplinary education for a sustainable future started as far back as 1972. Attendants of a United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm asserted that education could foster a sustainable future.
These individuals signed a declaration that called for environmental education from lower school levels to adulthood (UNESCO 2004). They believed that such a move would change people’s opinions about the environment, and hence their ability to protect or improve it.
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Five years later, stakeholders signed an international declaration at Tbilisi. They committed themselves to promotion of teaching, training and research on the environment. Vocational and technical education would also be part of this effort (UNESCO 1998).
In the 1990s, a Rio Summit for environmental development led to the expansion of what environmental education means.
Attendants felt that environmental education for sustainability should encompass environmental equity, international development and cultural diversity.
Many stakeholders associate the Rio Earth Summit with Agenda 21. In the conference, attendants decided that education has the potential to unite decision making capabilities in order to foster ecological development.
By bringing together information from governments, businesses, institutions, companies as well as individuals, Agenda 21 would ensure that social, economic and security decisions encompass environmental issues.
Therefore, education for sustainable development involves teaching people about the economic, social and ecological issues affecting them through interdisciplinary structures.
In the agenda, stakeholders suggested a number of strategies that countries could use to achieve sustainable development.
First, countries ought to broaden the scope of education that they teach in order to bring about sustainable development. Governments have the mandate to unite developmental and environmental goals at all levels of education, including primary, secondary and tertiary.
Countries need to foster partnerships amongst independent business persons or members of the private sector so as to foster cross-disciplinary work. The same degree of cooperation ought to be extended across a country’s borders to regional partners.
It is only through strong networks that governments can create a common approach to matters of ecological sustainability. A number of years after the Rio Summit, some international organisations felt that higher education offers a unique platform for teaching environmental education; one such organisation is UNESCO.
During the World Conference on Higher Education held in 1998, nations declared that education would be the fundamental pillar for sustainable development.
Participants of higher education have the moral duty to ensure that sustainable development occurs (Michelsen 2000).
Australia has also made a serious commitment to the goal of environmental education over the past decades. In 1999, the Education Minister, through the Adelaide Declaration, stated that students should have a concern for and an understanding of the natural environment when they leave school.
He also stated that this knowledge would foster sustainable development. The Adelaide Declaration also stated that schooling should teach children skills on how to solve and analyse environmental problems (Department of Education, Science and Training 2004).
Further, education should sensitise students about social justice, ethics and morality in their world. This information should enable them to make rational decisions about their lives and their actions.
Why environmental education is indispensable
Mankind has used the earth’s resources for an extended period of time. The development of technology has accelerated consumption rates and altered the availability of these resources in the future. Despite all this, man’s livelihood still depends on a flourishing environment.
Therefore, societies around the world should gain knowledge about how to keep the environment in a healthy state so as to meet their present and future needs. The human species has degraded waterways and land wherever it inhabits it.
Furthermore, population growth leads to several environmental issues that stem from high water, energy and land use (University Leaders for a Sustainable Future 1990). Man has polluted many natural water sources, including coastal waters, rivers and lakes.
He has also dilapidated energy resources and harmed the biodiversity of a number of areas. Human beings ruin habitats and ecosystems by clearing land, fragmenting habitats and introducing invasive species into various locations.
As a consequence, these environmentally irresponsible activities have contributed to a marked increase in greenhouse gases. Pressures of global warming are a reality for several nations around the earth.
Man’s ecological footprint is not sustainable unless he can find a solution for reducing his global footprint. As a matter of fact, studies indicate that the biggest problem is in developed nations. In the early 2000s, An African or Asian’s average ecological footprint was 1.4 hectares per person.
An average Australian’s ecological footprint was 7.1 hectares while the average American’s ecological footprint was 9.6 hectares. On average, the world consumer had an ecological footprint of about 2.3 hectares, yet the earth’s capacity is 1.9 hectares (Talbot 2000).
Currently, mankind has exceeded the planet’s resource capacity. Therefore, he must look for ways of minimising these ecological effects. Failure to do so will lead to the incapacity of future generations to meet their needs.
One of the ways in which man can reduce his effect on the earth is through an awareness of his actions. This can be facilitated through environmental education.
The above explanation focuses on a utilitarian perspective in which man’s main incentive to conserve the environment is to meet his needs and that of future generations.
However, such a viewpoint would only incorporate the needs of one species. Other species also exist on the earth and man must ensure that the natural environment is capable of meeting the needs of other species.
Therefore, humans must act as caretakers on behalf of other organisms that cannot do what he can (Tilbury 2005).
If environmental education is taken seriously by the various stakeholders in the curriculum, it is likely that it will teach students to understand the relationship and the interdependence of ecological, cultural, social and economic issues in local as well as global levels.
They will know about the impact of their actions on the planet and how this affects various stakeholders. Such an approach would also cause them to know the limits of knowledge; participants would realise that knowledge has its limits, and one must be cautious about one’s association with it.
Environmental education would also cause recipients to think about how the interrelationship of all levels affects families or communities so that they can make the right decisions.
Environmental education would lead to the development of skills and attitudes that are crucial to a sustainable future (United Nations 2002). For instance, people would know how to record information about the environment.
Furthermore, it would be possible to assess and identify environmental issues. When conflicts about the environment arise, it would be possible to solve them if people were educated about it. These individuals would also know the value of the environment as something sacred.
They would conserve their cultural heritage because of their full understanding of it. Environmental education would cause people to develop an ethic of stewardship towards the environment. Individuals can also learn about how to participate fully in the creation of a sustainable future.
This means caring for all life in order to preserve biodiversity. Resources would be managed and conserved appropriately for current and future generations.
How institutions can incorporate sustainable development into their agenda
Academic institutions are uniquely endowed with the ability to teach environmental education because they have the resources and responsibility of furthering education among members of society.
Therefore, the general requirements of their institutions can reflect sustainability issues (Buckley 2002). In certain ways, they can include topics about sustainability in their subjects or courses.
The curriculum can teach students about sustainable consumption and production. Members of academic institutions can also learn about globalisation and its relation to sustainable development.
Individuals should also acquire knowledge about social justice and how this relates to urban ecology. Additionally, because population growth affects the use of ecological resources, then members of learning institutions should know about populations and their relation to development.
Students should also understand how ecosystems within their institutions work. For instance, they ought to know where their institutions get food and water. They should be aware of the energy needs of their school as well as sites for waste disposal.
This would teach them to be aware of their own ecological footprint or how they can contribute to the well being of their environment.
If the learning institution specialises in tertiary education, then it can urge students to carry out research on sustainability topics such as environmental justice, renewable energy and sustainability in building design.
Institutions can also cultivate a sense of environmental ownership among staff members by reorienting rewards to reflect environmental issues. Operations within such schools would reflect the need to minimise one’s ecological footprint.
Members would see examples of how to purchase, paper, food and other supplies sustainability (Fie 2001). They would also learn what it means to reduce one’s carbon dioxide emissions, among other things.
Lastly, an academic institution can foster ecological sustainability through education by creating administrative posts that capture this objective. For instance, the organisation could have an Environmental Director or Task force for sustainability.
Schools have the prerogative to take a holistic approach to environmental education. They can do so by changing the way they organise and operate. They can also alter the design of the school, especially with regard to its structures.
A holistic approach also encompasses how the school manages and develops its grounds. Alternation of the curriculum to include sustainability issues should also be taken into account.
Additionally, issues revolving around the protection of heritage sites within school premises must also be considered (Brown 1998).
When teaching students about environmental sustainability, schools need to adhere to certain principles. They need to clearly outline the issues they are teaching.
Schools should have curricula that relate to students’ experiences as well as the skills and attitudes that they possess; materials should remain relevant to their surrounding.
It should also be flexible in a manner that incorporates developments in the rest of the world. A good system ought to have an evaluation system and should progress from basic levels to complex ones (Orr 1992).
Environmental education in Australia
The government of Australia takes environmental education seriously as outlined earlier in the history section. Stakeholders already realise that environmental education for sustainability should not merely encompass the school environment.
Several other non-formal settings have become a platform for teaching students environmental management. Several national organisations have promoted environmental education, such as the Natural Heritage Trust.
Development of local solutions to environmental issues is crucial in ensuring sustainable development. Many schools also acknowledge the significance of environmental education especially to their members.
These efforts have also been backed by legislations such as the Biodiversity Conservation Act as well the Environment Protect Act. It is also laudable how educators are willing to learn from indigenous communities about how to promote harmony within the environment.
This indicates that school representatives know the limitations of classroom knowledge and are willing to stretch themselves (Yencken et al. 2000).
Despite the progress that has been made in this area, a number of issues are still missing from the country’s environmental education plan. First, activities intended at educating the masses on the environment are poorly coordinated.
This implies that best practice models do not exist in the marketplace. Furthermore, it is difficult to improve on environmental education when every teacher is doing his or her own thing. Another major problem with environmental education in Australia is its focus on awareness-raising.
There is little to show for the serious skills or knowledge needed to handle sustainability issues. Additionally, although most institutions recognise the importance of environmental education, they are yet to give it the same priority as other economic and social issues (Wright 2002).
While school resources an important part of these efforts, other community-level organisations do not have adequate resources to carry out environmental education effectively.
The country is in need of better coordination efforts among environmental education participants; this should be done as soon as possible. Additionally, the profile of environmental education should be raised so as to give it equal prominence to other economic and social issues (Wals 2000).
The country needs a national framework on environmental education in addition to a national action plan. Participants should be given quality materials so as to foster efficient learning. Teachers dealing with this area ought to have access to more opportunities for professional advancement.
There is also a need to integrate educational principles with conventional education. It is necessary to fund community organisations that deal with environmental education more effectively.
If these recommendations are adopted then Australia could become a model for effective environmental education in all institutions.
Environmental education is imperative in fostering sustainability because it teaches individuals how to integrate environmental issues with their economic, social and cultural lives.
It can equip recipients with the knowledge, attitudes and skills needed to act as stewards in the environment.
Furthermore, man has exceeded his global ecological footprint and unless something dramatic is done to minimise these excessive consumption rates, then current and future generations will be unable to meet their needs.
Education is the platform for fostering this much-needed change. It can be done through academic institutions as well as through community organisations.
Currently, Australia recognises the importance of environmental education. However, it still needs to focus on long term education, empower environmental educators and strengthen community resources to achieve the gaol of sustainability.
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