Environment Australia, July 2000
ISBN 0 642 546 665
Principles of Environmental Education
- Environmental Education must involve everyone.
- Environmental Education must be lifelong.
- 3Environmental Education must be holistic and about connections.
- Environmental Education must be practical.
- Environmental Education must be in harmony with social and economic goals and accorded equal priority.
Because of its very nature and importance, environmental education cannot be confined to any one group in our society. It is a responsibility for everyone - government, industry, the media, educational institutions, community groups - as well as individuals.
Information about environmental problems is always improving, as we learn from our past experiences and mistakes. As we develop and apply better environmental technologies, the
ability of society and individuals to respond effectively also improves.
In order to move closer to achieving ecologically sustainable development as a nation, all Australians need to continually refresh the knowledge and skills which they apply to the environmental challenges we face.
Just as workplace learning and retraining are essential to continued productivity, the same is true of education for sustainability, whether in formal or non-formal settings.
In order to address environmental challenges, people need to think broadly and understand systems, connections, patterns and causes. The challenges themselves frequently have social, scientific, cultural, economic and ethical aspects, all of which must be considered for their effective management. Specialist discipline-based knowledge, while contributing critically, is no longer adequate by itself - an holistic appreciation of the context of environmental problems is essential.
Meeting this need presents a dilemma to the formal education systems over whether environmental education should be taught as a separate subject or incorporated into one or more particular subject areas. The right answer may vary from situation to situation, depending on what is most practical - suffice to say, a much stronger re-orientation of all relevant areas of formal education towards issues of sustainability is required.
Equally important is the need to establish better communicative links between those people working on, or learning about, similar or related environmental issues, but who come from different professional or disciplinary backgrounds. Better grounds for communication and partnerships are also required between formal and non-formal education settings, and between various groups with competing interests on environmental issues.
In Australia the quality of our environmental education is enhanced by the opportunity to appreciate and learn from our indigenous peoples' experience, particularly their affinity with the environment in which they lived and continue to live.
One of the most fundamental defining characteristics of effective environmental education is that it must lead to actions which result in better environmental outcomes, not simply the accumulation of inert knowledge or impractical skills.
This is ultimately the yardstick by which the effectiveness of our efforts in environmental education is measured.
Effective environmental education must also encourage the pursuit of environmental goals in a way that acknowledges other powerful and legitimate social and economic goals - it should not be taught in a vacuum, or simply equip people to pursue an agenda on the margins of society.
Environmental education needs to incorporate this reality by providing people with the knowledge, understanding and capacity to influence mainstream society in a way which progresses environmental objectives along with other legitimate social and economic objectives.
Similarly, one of the objectives of environmental education is to develop a fundamental acceptance in the community that the nation's environmental objectives should be accorded the same priority as its social and economic objectives.