|Environmental Education in the Schools (Peace Corps, 1993)|
Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change
the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever
In 1988 in a crowded conference room in Washington, D.C., a group of environmental education experts from around the world met with Peace Corps staff. The purpose of the meeting was to begin the exciting process of developing a strategy for incorporating environmental education into all Peace Corps training. Since then, environmental education has surfaced as a major initiative for all Peace Corps programming in the '90s.
Why the focus on environmental education? At present, more than 5.3 billion people are using (and often knowingly or unknowingly abusing) the earth's natural resources. In every corner of the world people are cutting forests, extracting minerals and energy supplies, eroding topsoil, polluting the air and water, creating hazardous waste, and disrupting natural areas at a rate unprecedented in the history of life on earth. As the pressures from overpopulation and development increase, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to provide for their needs and wants. It is also becoming impossible to escape the consequence of severe environmental degradation: species extinction, spreading deserts, pesticide contamination, increasing public health problems, starvation, poverty, and loss of human life. Many experts fear that if the current rate of destruction continues, we will see the gradual breakdown of the very systems that support life on earth.
"Development that uses natural resources in an efficient way
and without destroying the basis of their productivity. Sustainable development
allows natural resources to regenerate. For example, many indigenous people have
practiced the sustainable slash-and-burn agriculture in tropical forests for
thousands of years."
Environmental education is a process aimed at improving the quality of life by empowering people with the tools they need to solve and prevent environmental problems. Environmental education can help people gain the knowledge, skills, motivation, values, and without destroying the commitment they'll need to manage the earth's resources sustainable and to take responsibility for maintaining environmental quality.
The Peace Corps, in recognizing the importance of environmental education and the necessity of providing comprehensive training and support, has taken the initiative to sponsor sound and effective environmental education programming around the world. Through workshops, materials development, and collaborative efforts with other agencies and organizations in the U.S. and abroad, Peace Corps is working to make environmental education an integral part of all of its programs-from small business to agriculture to health to forestry.
Our goal in writing this manual is to help Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and their counterparts working in schools develop strategies for creating effective environmental education programs. Whether you work with preschoolers or secondary students, rural or urban audiences, community-based education, or teacher training institutes, you can incorporate environmental education into your primary and secondary activities. And contrary to what many people think, environmental education is not tied solely to the science curriculum. It cuts across all subject areas, including business, economics, language arts, history, social studies, and the humanities. Although this manual focuses mainly on school-based environmental education, much of the information also applies to nonformal and community-based education programs.
Children are an important audience for environmental education because they are tomorrow's leaders and resource users. And in some cases children can influence parents and other community members. Volunteers and educators who work in or with schools and other educational institutions can have a tremendous impact, from increasing awareness and knowledge to helping form attitudes and facilitate action projects on behalf of the environment. It is also very important to recognize that women worldwide are the primary users of environmental resources, and that an effective environmental education program must be appropriate for female students and must have the support and buy-in from women in the community. And it's important to realize that there's no one right way to "do" environmental education.
As you can see from the table of contents, this manual focuses on a variety of topics relating to successful environmental education efforts, including teaching strategies, funding, evaluation, and activity development. But we don't tell you what to teach in this manual. Instead, we hope to provide you with information and ideas to help you develop the programs that are most appropriate to your community and to your own situation, abilities, and interests. We encourage you to use this book as a starting point to help you structure a program that works best for you, and to adapt the activities and strategies suggested Peace and survival of life on here to fit your needs. We'd also appreciate feedback from you. Please let us know how we can improve this manual and what successes (or setbacks) you've had in implementing environmental education programs.
We also encourage you to use two other manuals from the Peace natural resources results from Corps' Office of Information Collection and Exchange (ICE): "Conservation Education: A Planning Guide" and "Nonformal Education." The first is designed to assist PCVs and their counterparts in planning and implementing education programs that effectively address specific environmental problems. The latter is a creative and practical look at many aspects of nonformal education, including a guide to planning, evaluation, materials development, and adult learning.
Finally, we think it's important to mention the biases that we bring to this manual. We feel environmental problems are urgent and need to be addressed by the global community and that education needs to be an integral part of the solution. Conflicting opinions about the state of the environment, the consequences of environmental degradation, and the role of education make good subjects for discussion and debate. But we also feel that environmental education should not "brainwash" people into thinking a certain way: our hope is that it can help people learn how to think - including how to solve problems, make decisions, weigh options, and align values with personal actions.
As an educator, you possess the power to change lives and serve as role models for your colleagues and future Volunteers We wish you much success and look forward to hearing from you.
Peace and survival of life on Earth as we know it are
threatened by human activities that lack a commitment to humanitarian values.
Destruction of nature and natural resources results from ignorance, greed, and a
lack of respect for the Earth's living things... It is not difficult to forgive
destruction in the past, which resulted from ignorance. Today, however, we have
access to more information, and it is essential that we re-examine ethically
what we have inherited, what we are responsible for, and what we will pass on to
coming generations.. Clearly this is a pivotal generation... Our marvels of
science and technology are matched if not outweighed by many current tragedies,
including human starvation in some parts of the world, and extinction of other
life forms.... We have the capability and responsibility. We must act before it
is too late.
-Tenzin Gyatso the fourteenth Dalai Lama
Environmental education is hot in Honduras
In the late 1970s, Peace Corps Volunteers working as science teachers planted the "seeds of conservation" by teaching environmental education to teachers and conservation professionals at the National University and the National School of Forestry. Many of their former students now form the professional backbone of Honduras's environmental movement, both in the government and the private sector.
Today, Peace Corps Volunteers are continuing their environmental education activities by taking part in a variety of Ministry and NGO initiatives designed to improve environmental quality and manage resources sustainably. For example, Education and Environment Volunteers are working to institutionalize environmental education programs in 12 primary school Teacher Training Institutions. More than 6000 students graduate from these schools each year. In addition, Volunteers are helping to revise the natural science, social studies, and community development curricula and are helping to design a new environmental education curriculum.
Volunteers, working side-by-side with host country
counterparts, have also helped organize a variety of training workshops and
seminars at the national, regional, and local levels for host country officials,
leaders, teachers, and NGO staff They've also helped produce and distribute
environmental education materials and visual aids, including the Manual de
Education Ambiental produced by the Environmental Education Teachers' Group and
the Manual on Coral Reef Conservation produced by the Bay Islands Conservation
Association. In addition, Volunteers are using environmental education to
educate children, teens and community members living in buffer zones of 20
priority protected areas.