Once upon a time, exemplary education involved an “expert” imparting words of wisdom upon the passive student who simply listened to, and processed new information and ideas.
Dissemination was the key to learning, and learning happened by default. Thankfully, the world of education has changed…at least in principle.
Today, amid increased awareness of the importance of education in social change for sustainability, learners are now viewed as active participants in their own development (and the development of their local communities).
Today, educators need to be facilitators more-so than the traditional “sage on stage”.
Within environmental education for sustainability, the focus has moved from a teaching to a learning process – the pursuit of development that not only enhances a person’s awareness, knowledge and skills, but also their participation and decision-making in social change. In so doing, the goal is to shift people’s attitudes and behaviours toward increased environmental and community responsibility through enhanced experiential learning (and not merely the sharing of information).
When an environmental education project within a local community is viewed from a community development perspective, the success of the project is contingent on a number of social factors. A critical factor is the educator’s ability to operate as a strong facilitator. As Les Robinson & Andreas Glanznig allude to in Enabling Eco-Action (2003), an effective facilitator mediates social difference. They bring people together in a spirit of unity. They create experiences that motivate people to question, discover and learn. An effective facilitator inspires people to act.
In their role as facilitator, an environmental educator is therefore an “enabler” or “animateur”. They do not merely spout words of wisdom in the hope that people will absorb information that magically transforms their behaviour. Instead, the educator / facilitator “animates” (or activates) learning, they “enable” (or make possible) opportunities for the expression of collective wisdom and self-directed action. In this sense, the environmental educator (as a facilitator) applies exemplary people skills as well as ecological knowledge.
Putting people in the picture is essential to effective environmental and sustainability education. Raising awareness about environmental issues and technical solutions is not enough to effect social change. The word “social” is the key. “Social” change demands that educators recognise and support human beings as social animals. It demands that communities marshal their collective wisdom and action. This action becomes meaningful and increasingly sustainable when people – facilitators and community members alike – collaborate toward a shared goal. Whilst the word “empowerment” proliferates personal development books, within the context of social change “empowerment” is seldom particular to individuals. It derives from people working in unison to achieve a mutually beneficial vision.
Educators who specialise in environmental sustainability play a vital role in empowering, enabling, and animating local communities toward social change. To this end, it’s critical that educators operate as facilitators. We do more than share valuable information; we create and share experiences that engage people in a whole new way of seeing and being in the world.
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