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Eco Education For Tomorrow

Education for Sustainability

Image source: www.educationforsustainability.com

For those in the know there is a growing field called Education for Sustainability (EfS).

This is now taking hold across the world (hailed by the United Nations) as a key strategy for raising awareness, knowledge and skills toward improved sustainability behaviours.

It is also considered by some writers to be more inclusive and effective than its predecessor, Environmental Education.

Whilst it could be argued that the differences between Environmental Education and Education for Sustainability (EfS) are negligible, differences exist.

These may be attached to the changing definitions of these terms (in particular, “environment”, “education”, and “sustainability”) in response to academic debate and the increasing urgency for widespread social change.

Environmental Education has moved through different periods that have informed its conceptualisation – from preservation and nature education to outdoor education and environmental management, from conservation education and environmental quality to what we now understand as the contemporary concept of environmental education (adapted from Stapp 1974, p. 42-49).

As it is known today, Environmental Education typically deals with environmental problems/issues caused by human activities and their impacts on the natural world. It accounts for biodiversity and natural systems health and strives to promote and facilitate a healthier environment. Its objectives are to shift people’s awareness, knowledge, attitudes, skills and participation toward lived principles (ie. actions) that embrace environmental ethics and support human responsibility for a healthy environment.  It has both a local and global context, yet over the years has had limited application across the whole-school curriculum and wider community.

EfS (or Education for Sustainability) extends on Environmental Education in a number of key ways. It considers the holistic relationship (underpinned by different values) between environmental issues and diverse biological /ecological, political, social, historical, cultural and economic influences. As such, it offers relevance for the individual by increasing their understanding of themselves and the world around them. From poverty to globalisation to climate change, EfS positions environmental learning within the context of diverse local and world issues that are relevant to the learner and stimulate values-based self-reflection. In doing so, EfS “prepares students for contemporary reality” (Tilbury, 1995, p.199) and contributes to the education of the “whole person”.

Importantly, like Environmental Education, EfS seeks to generate environmental action and active learning. Education for Sustainability pushes deeper, however, into education that stimulates socially critical skills and political literacy. A complex field of endeavour, EfS adopts a tri-fold approach to environmental education – about / in / for the environment – and incorporates a futures perspective that stimulates an “examination of probable futures as a result of existing environmental relationships and of possible alternative environmental futures” (Tilbury, p.207).

As definitions of “sustainability” continue to be contested, and the merit of “sustainability” versus “environmental” education is similarly debated, further development (and definition) of these important fields is inevitable.

It’s interesting, however, to consider how our views of education for a healthy and prosperous future affect the ways in which we inspire learning amongst the people our education systems aim to serve.

Education for Sustainability

Image source: www.celfeducation.org

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