Environmental education has become a central element of raising awareness among youth about the incumbent complications caused by climate change. It is easy to get overwhelmed by daily life and therefore pay less attention to how our behavior might influence the future of our planet. Every little action when compounded can have a palpable effect. With environmental education young individuals get a better grasp of the reality of climate change and of the behavioral change necessary in order to prevent further damage to our planet.
One can define environmental education as the learning action taken by the community to create awareness of reality on a universal level. In addition, it allows members of society to connect in the mutual fight for the preservation of nature. Its main goal is to create values and attitudes in individuals in order to transform reality.
The origins of Ecological Education date back many years ago, when man and the environment had an important relationship and were ready for it. But it was only when the term began to be used as such in the late 1960s and early 1970s that interest and concern for the unfortunate conditions in which the environment found itself began to grow.
A very important goal of environmental education is to achieve that both individuals and communities understand the complex nature of the environment, which is the result of the interaction of its various aspects, among which are: physical, biological, social, cultural, economic, among others. In this way, they acquire knowledge, values and practical skills for responsible and effective participation in the prevention and solution of environmental problems and in environmental quality management.
Among the characteristics of environmental education are:
- Continuing education.
- Global approach.
Therefore, environmental education, in addition to being limited to a particular aspect of the educational process, must be a solid foundation for developing a new way of life. It must be an educational practice open to the community so that members of society participate and raise awareness of the environment and human harm. But the education system itself is a human process which needs to adapt in order to achieve an ecological betterment. Often material used for education is itself harmful to the environment in its use – and by extent encourages behavior among youth which might be considered wasteful, such as excessive use of paper. In addition, digital tools have shown to be invaluable in improving the education process by making lessons more interactive and by filling a gap in communication among peers.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), based on international conferences held on environmental education (EE) in 1975 and 1977, put forth objectives on achieving a better application in informing about environmental issues. Among these objectives four aim at aiding both social groups and individuals to gain:
- Awareness of the problems at stake and of their sensitive nature
- Attitude in terms of values and feelings of concern for our planet (which would lead to an intrinsic motivation to actively participate in being part of the solution)
- Skills to enable individuals to recognize and solve environmental issues
- Participation—a chance to be a part of the struggle for the safety of our planet at all levels
A study made by Fauville, G., Lantz-Andersson, A., & Säljö, R.. (2014) explores the effectiveness of a variety of ICT tools available in better developing the field of environmental education. It suggests a variety of tools which aid at better achieving to goals set by the UNESCO conference which can be applied inside and outside the classroom. The point of these tools is that they are highly customizable, and therefore serve well in sending the message to students in a way that makes it better understandable and more impactful in changing their future behavior.
Inside the classroom
Very often young students experience a drop in attention or interest in their in-class learning. More so when learning something as complex and intricate as environmental education. But what if digital tools can turn the classroom outside-in in a literal sense? Oftentimes it is difficult for learning institutions and staff to reach content and locations for young people to visit or experience. With digital platforms distance becomes a more abstract limitation, as well as financial possibilities. Some examples of such digital solutions are virtual museums, Google Earth, virtual field trip, etc. In the abovementioned study such tools were used to teach about marine biology, oil spills and soil degradation by making the effects of these disasters more palpable to young students.
And naturally, the aforementioned benefits of digital tools’ use in classrooms is a great way of leading by example by using less single-use material resources which contribute to the destruction of our planet through deforestation or drilling.
Outside the classroom
Likewise, the outside experience of on-the-field education can be enhanced by the use of portable devices such as computers and mobile phones. The two main benefits in regard to EE as seen by the study are the capacity to generate data for more scientific studies as well as to create simulations for environmental conditions in order to better investigate the environmental impact on the field (examples of tools used: Sense project, Timelab 2100 – meant for use in high school level education or above).
To conclude, the field of environmental education (EE) is still in its development phase although it is critical for encouraging the changes in behavior needed in this day and age. By incorporating these ever-changing and developing tools as they gradually develop and adapt to the needs of the education sector, we are presented with an opportunity to solve two problems with one solution – by making education more interactive and effective and by improving the way we raise awareness about the future of our planet.