Environmental Education Is Far More Than Awareness Campaigns

The study of the environment is often considered ‘scientific’ but it is far more. It is actually the crossroads where science, politics, mathematics, economics architecture and societal norms meet

Environmental Education Is Far More Than Awareness Campaigns

The recent mandate by the Lahore High Court, requiring a dedicated weekly lesson on ‘environmental awareness’ to address the smog issue, raises questions about the government's commitment to tackling the problem effectively. As to when officials aim to tackle the issue head on still remains to be seen. 

Mere "awareness" isn't the root issue here; we are already well aware of the challenges we face. The crux of the matter lies in rampant capitalist greed, widespread apathy, and a noticeable lack of determination to change. Our society is steeped in hate, lack of empathy, lack of willingness to learn, to reflect and to be better individuals. What urgently needs addressing are the values ingrained within our education system. Critical thinking and creativity are seen as a threat, stifling new ideas and societal evolution.

Ironically, it was our very connection to nature, which nurtured our skills, fostered community structures, and developed our collective consciousness. This seems to have been forgotten in our pursuit of comfort and convenience.

Schools, the very playgrounds for learning and growth, churn out conformists, incapable of challenging the status quo. It's imperative that we transform this paradigm and cultivate a generation equipped to confront the pressing issues of our time.

Progressive education theories such as Environmental Education, Education for Sustainable Development and Outdoor Education, all imbibe the very skill sets individuals need to survive in a constantly changing world. It is paramount to indicate, that these teaching paradigms are more than creating ‘awareness’. By developing the necessary skills and expertise to address the challenges, these theories foster a change in attitude and commitment to make informed decisions. Through an interdisciplinary and holistic approach, the aim is to increase interconnectedness between humans and natural systems, both local and global. It aims to promote interdisciplinary thinking and problem-solving skills. At the same time fostering an environmental ethic, by bringing the students outside of the classroom to directly address real world challenges. 

Under-resourced schools will emphasise that they have no walls, no desks and stationery. Yet it is the classroom without walls that is the best teacher. Wonder is the sense greatest to a child. We must nourish it to root itself deeper in them, so that they may follow that intellectual pursuit to the world beyond. The natural world, that is in fact tangible and existing, the world children have access to. As Education Philosopher E.O Wilson put it, “Provoke the students, give them a new slant, challenge the assumptions and comfortable beliefs they brought with them, turn them into colleagues, propel them on intellectual and spiritual searches of their own”.

We must ask: what is wrong with our current form of pedagogy? It is where the teacher is the rambunctious leader, the authority on all knowledge, and the student an empty vase to be filled. The conservative stance towards education might have stemmed from the boom of industrialisation and the dawn of division of labour. To this day, the populace is convinced that they must ‘specialise’ in a skill set and must make this decision at a very young age. 

Students then miss out on an entire realm of literature and thought – death to enlightenment and thinking. There is an expansion of certain knowledge but a complete loss to all the other kinds of knowledge and limiting skill sets. This is so that proceeding generations are not a challenge to the present ‘working’ system. Ask yourselves, why do we not breed philosophers, scientists, poets and thinkers? Are we really so arrogant as to believe there is nothing more we can learn in this world? How was education different before? There must have been good education to grant the world with thinkers such as Allama Iqbal, Manto, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Marx, Galileo and the like. What is progressive education really? What are the goals? It is to make the newer generation leaders - leaders of change. 

Torn as it is with myriad issues, human health, poverty, security, human rights and education, the environment does not make it to the even top five most crucial problems for citizens. The lay man does not think about the effects he is having on his country’s resources, only that he has to make ends meet. 

Yet this is largely attributed to the ignorance incorporated by our education institutions. What people do not realise is the manner in which they are degrading their natural resources will not only affect where they live, but it will impact their own existence. The first to suffer from environmental injustices are our poorer segments of society many who died in floods, fierce heat waves, and water scarcity between 2014 and today. Yet these issues and the people affected remain ignored. 

The study of the environment is often considered ‘scientific’ (true as that may be), but it is far more. It is actually the crossroads where science, politics, mathematics, economics architecture and societal norms meet. 

The Tbilisi Declaration, adopted in 1977 during the Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental Education by UNESCO and UNEP, outlined the significance of integrating environmental education into formal and informal learning settings. It emphasised the critical role of education in fostering environmental awareness, promoting sustainable development, and empowering individuals to make informed decisions for the well-being of the planet. Environmental education plays a pivotal role in nurturing a sense of responsibility towards nature, fostering a deeper understanding of ecological systems, and equipping learners with the skills and knowledge needed to address pressing environmental challenges in today's world. It is more than “creating awareness”. 

Nearly 50 years since, we have only seen the progression of a complacent society worldwide. Environmental literacy makes use of cognitive, affective and behavioural attributes as recognised by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) and other studies. This is so that students understand a range of environmental concepts, then relate these to socio-political struggles that then effectually change their behaviour.

Schools in Pakistan, through no fault of their own, lack readiness to rise to the occasion. Rather than a compulsory weekly “environmental awareness” lesson, a comprehensive policy is required to not only introduce environmental education, but to equip teachers with the requisite skills. Without support to and of teachers, this LHC announcement only adds totheir already heavily burdened shoulders. 

Between what is communicated by media and by science, a lot of information and understanding is lost. Education institutions stand as the crucial bridge between that gap. Environmental education cannot be taught in silos. It integral to our existence, shaping our way of life. Therefore, integrating it into the national curriculum is vital, yet it requires a carefully thought-out plan.