The Decade of Environmental Education

The Decade of Environmental Education

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By Norberto I. Schinitman

The key to sustainable development is education, which reaches all members of society, through new modalities, in order to offer lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Ahead of the "United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014)"

"... The key to sustainable development is ... education ... which reaches all members of society, through new modalities, ... in order to
provide lifelong learning opportunities for all… We must be willing… to reshape education to promote attitudes and behaviors conducive to a culture of sustainability. "Federico Mayor, UNESCO Director-General, 1997

Part 1

1.1 News

Following a recommendation from the "Summit for Sustainable Development" (Johannesburg, 2002), the United Nations General Assembly implemented (by Resolution 57/254) the "United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, ( DDS) "(or United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development), which will begin on January 1, 2005. (The acronyms used are clarified in the final note).
Concurrently, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) was designated as the lead agency for its promotion. Consequently, according to recent information, one of the highest priorities of this prestigious organization will be the promotion of Sustainable or Sustainable Development (SD) and the reorientation of its own goals so that the importance of Sustainability or Sustainability is recognized (S ).

1.2 Presentation
When considering the specific United Nations designation for DSD, it undoubtedly refers to General Education (GA). From there it can be inferred that it is about promoting ESD as a great generic educational goal, not disciplinary. It also follows that the DSD aims to insert and integrate the DS theme in educational systems at all levels and to promote that education, in all its forms, serves as the basis for society to function in a much more sustainable way.
Obviously, DDS generates a perspective of extensive and beneficial reorientations, deepening, innovations, changes and improvements in GE, with a great contribution from Environmental Education (EA).
For this reason, at this time, before starting the DDS, I would like to offer educators, environmentalists, scholars and students an interdisciplinary didactic context, clarification and updating, which I consider very important and necessary as a starting point for the approach and preparation for the DDS.

1.3 Organization of this article
In part 1 some basic reflections are presented with a didactic approach. In part 2, with the purpose of forming an updated compact "state of the art", pedagogical reviews and elucidations of some selected central concepts and themes related to the environment, EG, Environmental Education (EA) and SD are exposed. Predictably, mastery of these issues will prove substantial, useful and applicable to fully address SDD and deepen Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The presentation of these topics and concepts is not ordered according to their importance.

1.4 Current environmental educational context
As is known, for a long time a reorientation or displacement of conventional AD has been observed, towards an AE deeply combined with DS, that is, ESD. Along the same lines, now, in time to get ready to undertake SDD, it is very important to pay attention to two relevant educational positions (UNESCO, 2001). One of them, which points out the insufficiency of conventional GA in relation to SD, states that
traditional education "... will not enable us to promote and update the commitment to sustainable development. New educational approaches are needed to stimulate the necessary changes in lifestyles, to help us successfully prevail over waste ... to develop a new vision ecological and to cultivate a sense of global solidarity. "
The second, which reaffirms the consistent link between EE and ESD, asserts that "The roots of education for sustainable development are firmly
planted in environmental education. While environmental education is not the only discipline with a strong role to play in the reorientation process… [towards education for sustainable development] it is an important ally. In its short 25-year history, environmental education has constantly strived towards goals and outcomes… comparable to those inherent in the concept of sustainability. "

The quotation that serves as the epigraph to this work, as well as one of the expressions of the "Declaration of Thessaloniki" (UNESCO, 1997) could also be considered as antecedents for the DSD, reaffirming that "It is essential ... to recognize that education and awareness Appropriations from the public constitute one of the pillars of action in favor of sustainability, together with legislation, economics and technology ... environmental education, as it has been defined in the framework of the Tbilisi recommendations and as it has evolved ... , addressing the whole range of global issues raised in Agenda 21 and throughout the major United Nations conferences, it has also been treated from the angle of education for sustainability ... "

1.5 Environmental problems and the urgency of a culture of sustainability
Since the almost late appearance of man on Earth in ancient times, our ancestors had to make enormous efforts to survive in an environment that is sometimes hostile and very little or not at all permissive. Only from the 19th century on, humanity believed that it began to "dominate" nature and "rule" the planet.

Unfortunately, only very recently did we begin to understand that, instead of defending ourselves against nature, we should protect it from our actions and endeavors; and also that safeguarding the environment meant at the same time our salvation as a species. From these ideas, concern for the environment and environmental movements grew stronger.
Nor can we fail to recognize that countless actions of our society, instead of promoting efficient interaction with the environment and a moderate and intelligent use of our heritage of natural resources, are plundering, predating and polluting them. All this without thinking about the future, only to satisfy debatable current interests.

So why is humanity involved in the current critical situation, which leads us towards an uncertain future, of very high risk, whose disastrous consequences are already evident? Simply because, although we currently have significant scientific and technological knowledge about ecosystems, their functioning and the possible limits of their performance, globally, as an organized society, we pay little attention to them. Unfortunately, society has undergone profound changes that resulted in its demands and requirements having increased notably and it tries to satisfy them in a selfish and voracious way.

In relation to scientific advances and their possible influences on the environment, let us note that: "During the 20th century…, scientific research has greatly increased our understanding of… the evolution of life on Earth… and much more. At the same time , progress ... [has] provided us with a power never seen before, which enables us to change our lives, our future and our world. The great benefits offered by science should not make us forget that such power can have negative consequences. It is one of the factors that have contributed to damaging the ... Earth's natural environment ... reminding us that with power comes responsibility to use it wisely (Hoyningen-Huene et al., 1999)

It is undeniable that, driven mainly by political interests, society acts thoughtlessly. Instead of taking, in a way that is friendly to nature, only what is necessary for a reasonable and moderate subsistence, large social sectors privilege in an excessive way the reduction of physical effort, comfort, luxury and the accumulation of material goods. For this reason, they have adopted a style of massive, exaggerated and wasteful consumption, without worrying about others or about the pressures on the ecosystems that sustain life. This brings with it unfortunate situations of waste, excessive demands on the global ecosystem and the generation of huge masses of waste and pollutants that accumulate in the environment and that, in many cases, we still do not know how to treat or where to store.

Let us prudently admit that, presently, "... planet Earth is found in a balance between two conflicting tendencies. An invasive and wasteful consumer society, coupled with continued population growth, is threatening to destroy the resources on which it stands. bases human life. At the same time, society is caught in an effort against time, to reverse these trends and introduce sustainable practices, which will ensure the well-being of future generations. " (UNEP, 1999)

But is the situation really that worrisome? Unfortunately if. Not long ago, the United Nations General Assembly (2000), stressed that it was "... deeply concerned about ... that ... despite the many initiatives that the international community has consistently and successfully implemented since the Stockholm ... Conference of 1972, and despite some progress, the environment and natural resource base that support life on Earth continue to deteriorate at an alarming rate ... "

Part 2

2.1 Current exercise of environmental education
Next, we will see some guidelines whose follow-up can increase the quality and efficiency of EA and which are currently widely appreciated as good practices for its exercise. The list is not ordered hierarchically.
-When considering environmental conditions, current and near future prospects must be taken into account.
-Focus on the mutual interactions between the quality of the biological, physical and chemical environment and the social and economic environment.
-Take into account the interdisciplinarity of environmental issues and their possibilities of being taught and enriching all the subjects of the curriculum.
-Develop skills to identify alternative solutions for the environmental situation.
-Emphasize the importance of personal participation in the prevention and solution of environmental problems, beyond a mere accumulation of environmental information.
-Featuring learning towards the local and regional environment.
-Focus on the environment globally, in its ecological, natural, technological, and sociological aspects.
-Try to respond to the challenge of seeking an ecologically and socially sustainable world.
-Recognize the value of knowledge, practices and perceptions to increase sustainability.
-Getting motivation and commitment for people to act in an informed and realistic way on the environment and sustainability.

2.2 Sustainable or sustainable development
In principle, it is appropriate to clarify that today the concept or notion of SD is not fixed and invariable, since SD can be understood as a process conducive to deep reflection, revision and substantial change in the interrelationships and interactions between systems and social, economic and natural processes. The current state of these relationships presents us, for our survival, the challenge of harmonizing and balancing the demands of economic and social progress with the safeguarding and conservation of the world's ecosystems that support life. Given the many definitions and descriptions of SD, some of them very complex, to help consolidate its conceptualization, different allusive notions are reviewed below:
-Although SD is related to the natural and economic sciences, it is mainly a cultural issue. It is related to the values ​​of people and interpersonal relationships.
-The SD must help us respond to the need to give a new approach to the relationships between people and our habitat, source and support of human existence.
-Relating environmental, social and economic aspects is essential for SD. This association requires a new educational approach, which promotes innovation, creativity and dialogue.
-It should be noted that SD is not a new theory about human existence, but rather a requirement of an integral way of thinking that responds to the complexity of daily life interactions.

As a complement, let us examine a renewed definition of SD and also an overall assessment of its achievement, which, unfortunately, is not encouraging.
"Sustainable development pursues two fundamental objectives: to satisfy the needs ... of the current generation without compromising the capacity of the
future generations to meet their own needs as well, and at the same time protect the environment. Unfortunately, we are very far from achieving those goals. "(United Nations, 2000)

2.3 ISO standards and their contribution to sustainable development
When studying aspects related to ESD, due to its relevant contribution to sustainability, an educational look at the International Standards of the ISO 14000 Series and, in particular, ISO 14001 cannot be missed. Said Standard, which is of voluntary adoption and applicable to all types of companies and organizations, it has had a great international adhesion.
ISO 14001 foresees the adoption of certain management methodologies (direction or administration) with a view to achieving environmental objectives of significant relevance for society in general, and consumers in particular. Those objectives focus on "keeping pollution prevention and environmental protection in balance with socio-economic needs."

Let us also remember that ISO 14001 is currently the main tool available to improve the environmental performance of all kinds of organizations, to the point that some governments are considering using it as the basis for a new approach to general environmental regulation.
There is no doubt that the adoption of environmental management standards like this one encourages us to constantly bear in mind that "Sustainable lifestyles and ways of working are central to overcoming poverty and protecting the natural resource base ... Production methods are needed sustainable for agriculture, forestry, fishing and industrial manufacturing. The use of resources must be minimized and pollution and waste reduced. " (UNESCO, 2004)

2.4 School investigation of the natural world
During EGB, students should learn, among many other concepts, procedures and attitudes, some procedures that bring them closer to the "know-how" of the natural sciences, which is also of great importance for EE and ESD because "... is an undeniable fact that the future of humanity will be increasingly dependent on science and technology and their applications. Scientific and technological education is thus at the true heart of progress - and eventually survival - of human society. " (UNESCO, 2002)

Procedures for "investigating" the natural world that can be used in "school-level science" attempt to maintain a certain relationship and take as reference those used by scientists, only within the possibilities of students, both individually and in the environment. the one who act.
Along the same lines, the EGB does not seek to train "little scientists", but only to make available to students - so that they achieve a certain familiarity with them and consolidate a "scientific attitude" - some procedures that enable them to build knowledge in an increasingly successful, rigorous and creative way. Upon completion of the EGB, it is wise to expect that students will be able to:
-Asking questions about the natural world and formulating congruent answers, with the possibility of being put to the test through research.
-Recognize some research designs and decide on the suitability of them to address various problems.
-Design and independently carry out exploratory and experimental inquiries to solve problems.
-Use measuring instruments.
-Use techniques to organize, analyze and communicate information clearly. In other words, summarizing, that students acquire a way of generating knowledge that includes in a certain proportion the rigor and creativity present in the way in which problems are approached and investigated at the professional scientific level.

2.5 Holistic and global approaches to the environment
UNESCO, at its 27th General Conference (1994) adopted, among other resolutions, as one of its main priorities, of extreme educational and formative importance for society, the need to establish "... an integrated approach to development, environmentally efficient and designed to unleash the creative potential of people ...

In EE, it is understood that this integrated approach involves, among other aspects, tending to achieve a holistic and global, interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues and problems. Regarding the holistic approach and its application in EE, the following explanation is appropriate: "The… holistic approach is… a… methodology that allows gathering and organizing dispersed knowledge as a way to increase the effectiveness of action… Unlike the approach analytical or reductionist ... encompasses and integrates ... all the components of the system studied, [and] considers and emphasizes the web of interactions and interdependencies that ... are established between them ... ". (Capurro Soto, 1987)

In line with the holistic approach, more recently references to the global approach have emerged, which can be considered as very roughly equivalent to the holistic, as it is directed at "... social, cultural, scientific and humanistic issues incorporating an orientation to the world as a single system interactive". (Heimlich, Daudi and Cummons, 1999)

So, if we try to conceptually associate both approaches for the study of the environment, this could be considered as a very complex system, where reciprocal dependencies and influences are exerted, of a large number of biological, cultural, economic, physical, geographical, geological variables political, chemical, psychological and social that make up and compose an integrated whole. On the other hand, the interdisciplinary organization of the themes or issues can help to "... satisfy ... the desire for unity that ultimately leads to the possession of culture or wisdom as a permanent substrate after the loss of ... concrete knowledge susceptible to oblivion. The interdisciplinary treatment of the contents places ... the man on the way to achieve the total vision of reality ... "(Rosales López, 1984, p. 76)

Likewise, it is unquestionable that "Sustainable development requires a holistic approach: education for sustainable development has links with other programs and concerns in education ... It is not a new program but rather a reorientation process ... so that ... [education] performs its role in building the capacities of all members of society to work together and build a sustainable future. " (UNESCO, 2004)

2.6 Transversality
Transversality refers to the diversity of approaches or conceptual approaches with which the same topic or matter of great general interest and particular environmental, social relevance, etc. can be treated. Likewise, it involves overcoming the limits between different fields of study or disciplines, which can contribute to the development of new concepts and realities.

In general, transversal contents are considered to be those topics, questions or procedures that, due to their nature, relevance, current status and social repercussion, such as those related to the environment, cannot be included or dealt with only within the scope of a certain discipline or subject. Because they are linked or have affinity or contact areas with other various subjects or subjects, it is necessary that these contents or themes be undertaken together from various disciplines or areas, exceeding conventional disciplinary limits. Coincidentally, for EE in particular, it is quite correct to admit that "One of the highest ideals of environmental education and environmentalism ... involves the notion of interdisciplinarity, ... environmental objectives can only be achieved by addressing issues across all areas and forming new associations ". (Springuer, 2002)

It is clear that the approach to cross-cutting issues must be carried out with the appropriate levels of complexity and strategies, taking into account the previously acquired knowledge, the interests and possibilities of the students. Furthermore, their teaching-learning must be accepted as a responsibility shared by the members of the educational community.

On the other hand, adherence and action based on values ​​-particularly in the field of EE- should be promoted based on the treatment of transversal contents of all relevant curricular areas, which can contribute knowledge and experiences that contribute to the acquisition of these values ​​in all moments of school life. This knowledge includes, from the different areas that correspond, the assessment of various relevant problems and their possible solutions. Thus, it is possible to establish "... a transversality between ... various areas of knowledge, integrating them, although not in their entirety, at least in a much more encompassing way, enabling unimaginable connections ...". (Gallo, 1999)

On the other hand, transversality cannot fail to be seen also as a new way of understanding the organization, the school curriculum and training, where the contents will configure the dynamic organizing axis of objectives and activities.

2.7 Meaningful learning
According to Ausubel's theory, meaningful learning or quality learning, not purely rote or mechanical, is characterized by implying that the student understands and not only memorizes, concepts, procedures, attitudes and values; then "... there is significant learning if the learning task can be related, in a non-arbitrary and substantial way (not literally), with what the student already knows and if the student adopts the corresponding learning attitude to do so." (Ausubel and others, 1983, p. 37)

With meaningful learning, new knowledge is incorporated into the cognitive structure in a non-rote or mechanical way. This is achieved through a voluntary effort of the learner, to relate them with other previously existing ones within their cognitive structure and link them with facts, experiences or objects. We can reasonably assume that the learner necessarily has certain knowledge, concepts, ideas and schemes. These are accumulated during previous experiences, although they are very simple, and serve as "even ideas", referents or guides to interpret, associate and make sense of the new knowledge that is acquired. Otherwise, you are unlikely to get your understanding.

More specifically, "The initial idea to promote meaningful learning would be ... to take into account the factual and conceptual knowledge that the student already possesses -as well as their attitudes and procedures- and how they will interact with the new information provided by the learning materials ". (Well, 1995, p. 36)

Furthermore, for meaningful learning to occur, there must be affective implications, that is, certain content or novel issues can be learned voluntarily, only when they are considered interesting or valuable. As regards EE and therefore ESD, many specialists have long recommended emphasizing meaningful learning. This calls for important changes both in the training and in the professional performance of educators, because "... the ... EA ... needs a new profile of teachers ... trained to address environmental problems, to assume new concepts, procedures and attitudes ...; a teacher capable of reflecting on their own practice, to transform it and become a facilitator of meaningful learning ... "(González Muñoz, 1998)

2.8 Attitudes and values ​​towards the environment driven by EE
As we discussed earlier, the relationships and interactions of our civilization with the environment are becoming increasingly intricate and difficult. In certain cases, despite the obvious, deep and indisputable environmental problems, society's concern for the environment in general is still almost non-existent or very scarce. For this reason, it is of interest that education adopts the appropriate approaches and methodology, in order to help all people internalize among their permanent attitudes and values ​​the predisposition to adhere and support the processes related to aspects
essential such as, among others, moderate and reasonable consumption, the reuse and recycling of materials and the consequent reduction in the generation of waste. How to help people, and particularly the youngest, to internalize these values? Simply, by giving everyone an efficient education. Regarding the possibility of teaching attitudes and values, which is of central importance for ESD, let's see that "... throughout the life cycle the individual occupies different roles, interacts with different people ... and… it is subjected to social… mobility.… these factors… pressure the subjects to modify their attitudes and values ​​and… adjust their behaviors to new situations… "(Sarabia, 1995, p. 171)

Regarding the values ​​that are transmitted in the field of education, and particularly in EE, these can be understood as "... ethical principles with which people feel a strong emotional commitment and which they use to judge behaviors" . (Sarabia, 1995, p. 140)

On the other hand, an attitude that can be taught, specifically, in the field of EE, consists of "... a relatively stable predisposition of behavior in relation to an object or sector of reality". (Saravia, 1995, p. 135)

To differentiate attitudes from values, let us admit that the latter "... are ... more central and stable than attitudes." Sarabia, (1995, p. 135)

2.9. Educators update in the field of environmental education
Faced with the increasingly frequent changes and innovations in all areas of knowledge, which include all professions and specialties and teaching at all levels and, very particularly, in lines such as the environment, science and technology, it is imperative to bear in mind that
"Much of what we know today will be obsolete in a short time." (Bill [William] Gates 2001)

Likewise, we must reflect carefully when we are warned that "... forgetting the old and the useless is just as important as learning the new and the important." (Asimov, 1981, p. 143)

Manifestly, the preceding positions highlight the need and importance of constant updating, which also involves professional appreciation. In some countries, the validity of the accreditations and licenses for professional practice depends on this update and revaluation, since:
"... every few years it is necessary to review the academic accreditations ... a person who has not studied what has been produced in recent years is no longer qualified to carry out his profession. Any professional who wants to keep up to date on ... his discipline knows the hours he must devote to study and updating ". (Adell, 1997)

Particularly in relation to the area of ​​EE and ESD, the need is reaffirmed, now more than ever, for educators, with due and convenient support, to carry out, according to their possibilities, a constant self-updating, revision and enrichment of the approach , the objectives, the contents and other aspects, curricular and extracurricular, related to the teaching-learning processes that they are usually in charge of.

2.10 Future expectations. EDS for all, throughout life
In a broad sense, on the basis of lucid utopias conceived about four centuries ago, we can consider that education consists primarily in the transmission of accumulated wisdom and certain concomitant values, which together make up an immense and admirable heritage of humanity .
Coincidentally, it is essential that the knowledge, values ​​and attitudes that EE disseminates, cause favorable and beneficial progress in people and in society, since "It would be a contradiction ... to say that a man has been educated, but that he has not changed to improve ... "(Peters, 1966, p. 25)

Likewise, we wish to propose that, to the relevant transmission of wisdom through education, something as remarkable as the transfer of stimuli be added to constantly enrich and expand knowledge. Another aspect to pay attention to is the non-formal branch or line of EA, which goes
mucho más allá de los límites y los tiempos del sistema educativo convencional y debería alcanzar a todas las personas, de todas las edades y sectores sociales. Por ello, se debería adoptar como criterio general amplio que "… la educación ambiental debe ser un proceso permanente… [que] debe extenderse a todas las edades… " (González Bravo, 1995, p. 16)

Concurrentemente, conviene destacar como uno de los propósitos o lineamientos curriculares de interés para la educación general básica (EGB), la "… formación… de ciudadanos responsables, preocupados por el ambiente, capaces de conducirse de manera inteligente, lógica y saludable en la vida cotidiana…"
(Schinitman y otros, 1994)

En esta línea, los esfuerzos educativo-ambientales deben orientarse especialmente a alertar y sensibilizar a la comunidad y a despertar una generalizada conciencia popular ecológica y social, como así también a incentivar el sentido de compromiso y la responsabilidad individual.
Esta postura incluye, por supuesto, una formación de personas con actitudes y aptitudes para contribuir a resolver los problemas del hábitat. Asimismo, las soluciones o paliativos para los diversos problemas ambientales deben prever, por una parte, que no vuelvan a repetirse los inconvenientes ya ocurridos y, por la otra, que otros problemas nuevos o potenciales puedan ser avizorados y resueltos o paliados con suficiente antelación.

Así, todos podríamos aportar de modo serio, educado y reflexivo a la toma de decisiones por los ciudadanos sobre los grandes problemas del ambiente.

En los apartados anteriores se ha intentado conformar un conciso "estado del arte" sobre la temática abordada, que se espera resulte de utilidad e interés para el aprestamiento básico para la EDS.
Sobre esa base, al recapitular las tendencias recientes de la EA, se desprende que ésta puede ser entendida como un modo importantísimo de enfocar y orientar la educación, que debe alcanzarnos a todos, durante toda su vida, para que nos consustanciemos, comprometamos e impulsemos una cultura de la sostenibilidad. En ese escenario, con el aporte y el esfuerzo de la sociedad organizada, podremos coadyuvar al logro de una elevación racional de la calidad de vida y a la supervivencia de la humanidad en nuestro maravilloso e insustituible hábitat ancestral.
Acrónimos empleados, en orden alfabético: DDS=Década de la Educación para el Desarrollo Sustentable de las Naciones Unidas. DS=Desarrollo Sustentable o Sostenible). EA=Educación Ambiental. EG=Educación General. EDS=Educación para el DS. S=Sustentabilidad o Sostenibilidad.

* Master en Educación Ambiental,
Auditor Ambiental, Bioquímico

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Revisión ortográfica y gramatical: Colaboración de Tania Fernández para EcoPortal

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