Urgency of Environmental Education

Sandhya Prakash
CEO Beacon
sandhya@consultbeacon.com

Environmental sustainability and what it means for us all

Environmental sustainability is the ability to maintain the qualities that are valued in the physical environment. For example, most people want to sustain (maintain):

  • Human life.
  • The capabilities that the natural environment has to maintain the living conditions for people and other species (e.g. clean water and air, a suitable climate).
  • The aspects of the environment that produce renewable resources like water, timber, solar energy.
  • The functioning of society, despite non-renewable resource depletion.
  • The quality of life for all people, the livability and beauty of the environment.

Threats to these aspects of the environment mean that there is a risk that these things will not be maintained. For example, the large-scale extraction of non-renewable resources (such as minerals, coal and oil) or damage done to the natural environment can create threats of serious decline in quality or destruction or extinction.

Traditionally, when environmental problems arise environmental managers work out how to reduce the damage or wastage. But it is not always easy to work out exactly when and where threats will have their effects and often the impacts are hard to reverse.

So increasingly environmental managers adopt strategies aimed to prevent damage being done in the first place. A full sustainability program needs to include actions to prevent threats and impacts from arising, actions to protect the environment from threats and damage, and restoration to reverse damage already done.

The Role of Environmental Education

It is crucial to work with children from an early age to raise their awareness of environmental issues and help them to understand the responsibility we all have to use the resources we have wisely. We know that habits are formed early and by working with children we can also influence the decisions their families make about green issues.

Within a whole school community setting, working with pupils, parents and teachers to support their understanding of environmental issues through interactive workshops and activities, is a key element of success.

By focusing on awareness of proper waste management and energy/water conservation from an early age and within the context of a whole school/home community, significant progress will take place as a result of early understanding, a change of attitude and the subsequent improvements in the choices people make as well as the systems in place to support those choices.

By empowering children with the knowledge and understanding to reduce, reuse and recycle, changes will naturally happen at home and then cascade further within the workplaces of parents. As long as students of all ages understand why we need to change, and are part of the rethinking process, then we can develop future generations that genuinely care about the world around them.

Awareness for Kids and School Students

Schools have a major role in all these processes and it is encouraging to see a greater focus on environmental education and outdoor learning, which has helped to get children re-connected with their environment and develop empathy towards the natural world in which they live.

Speaking to Pete Milne who is an experienced teacher and now works as an Environmental Education Consultant/ Trainer on the gaps in curriculum, he said, “It would be fair to say, however, that there remains a large gap between schools when it comes to effective environmental education. Some curricula, such as the IB, lend themselves naturally to environmental awareness and understanding, through a themed, cross-curricular approach. Others tend to box EE into a specific subject or isolated topic, and some hardly touch on this area of education.

The proactive role of senior management is essential in developing a school ethos that not only promotes good environmental practice but ‘walks the talk’ as well. It is also important to bring in staff training that looks at the school as a whole and helps to motivate and encourage teachers to look for cross-curricular opportunities and be leaders in good practice, both in the physical classroom through energy conservation, as well as out of the classroom through field trips.

Producing Environmentally Aware Generations

I asked a schoolteacher, why the urgency? Anjum Hasan, Environmental Coordinator for the school in UAE - DPS Sharjah says, "It is the need of the hour. To incorporate Sustainable Practices and create citizens that will respect the Mother Earth in true sense and not just talk about it. Classroom is the first learning ground. Students tend to practice what has been taught in school and take away green values, before it is too late."

Sustainability issues arise wherever there is a risk of difficult or irreversible loss of the things or qualities of the environment that people value. And whenever there are such risks there is a degree of urgency to take action.

Environmental sustainability programs include actions to reduce the use of physical resources, the adoption of a ‘recycle everything/buy recycled’ approach, the use of renewable rather than depletable resources, the redesign of production processes and products to eliminate the production of toxic materials, and the protection and restoration of natural habitats and environments valued for their livability or beauty.

These sustainability programs need to operate on an adequate scale and need to continue operating reliably for as long as the threats continue. Some of the issues that pose major environmental sustainability problems include:

  • Destruction of the living environments (habitats) of native species
  • Discharge of polluting chemicals and other materials into the environment.
  • Emission of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere than can cause climate change
  • Depletion of low cost oil and other fossil fuels.

There are a lot of awareness activities being conducted in the UAE schools. Are they beneficial to the students?

DPS Sharjah – Environment Coordinator told me that "a lot has been learnt and benefitted the students from the various projects. They gained social values like team work, subjective values like analyzing graphs and psychologies along with care and protection towards our environment, and hard work, perseverance, striving towards excellence."

At the personal or household level, there are a many actions that people can take to contribute to environmental sustainability at home, when travelling or accessing services or goods, at work, or when acting as a community member or citizen or as an investor of personal funds. Buying products made of recycled materials will generally save materials and energy, cut greenhouse gases and toxic pollution, and reduce impactson living things in the wild. Installing a water tank and low flow shower can save water. Building or renovating a house using environmental sound design and lower impact materials and 5+ star appliances can make a big impact on all environmental issues. Using food in season or from local sources and organically grown can cut impacts from chemcals, save energy and reduce greenhouse gases.

Involvement in or donations to community environmental groups can help with practical projects like re-vegetation or by building support for effective government policies and investing savings in ethical investments can help accelerate the creation of an environmentally-sustainable economy.

Analyzing the extent of the various Environmental issue students are today ambassadors of the Environment and representing school in Summits globally. DPS students Arushi Madan and Shreya Gupta won the Sharjah Environment Awareness Award on 5th June 2014 for their outstanding contribution towards the Environment and have represented the school in the Korea Summit and won various accolades.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the most effective and long-lasting approach to good environmental education comes from whole school community engagement; environmentally aware and motivated staff; a crosscurricular approach, bringing real life learning into key concepts; students who are empowered, from a young age, to create solutions to the environmental issues we face. Finally, schools that see the value in investing in better solutions to reduce water, energy and waste, and by creating specialist roles within the school to oversee the physical and mind-set changes needed to operate in a more sustainable way.

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