Towards Effective Environmental Education

green-hope-uaeChildren are the "Future Generation" and their engagement in environmental conservation is an absolute must. Education is the key to fostering this engagement and hence , all efforts must be made in this regard. One of the main reasons for the current state of environmental degradation is the general apathy of civil society and the only way to address this issue is through intrinsic involvement of all stakeholders, in particular, children,  since it is their future that is at stake.

Involvement of children in environmental conservation initiatives will also ensure that the movement becomes "bottom-up" rather than something that is mandated by legislation — this "bottom-up" approach has always been seen to be more effective in terms of implementation.

Towards Effective Environmental Education

In order to be effective, environmental education needs to be both formally and informally imparted. Otherwise it ceases to be attractive and loses its effect. It becomes just another textbook one has to read and answer questions on. Children are inherently creative and the environmental education curriculum must try to build on this creativity. Rather than prescribing solutions, it must seek to obtain the answers from the children. After all, it is their future that is being decided upon.

Once this fundamental truth is understood, children will come forward with their views and actions to mitigate the environmental challenges. To be effective, environmental education needs to be imparted outside the four walls of the classroom. However, the weather in the Middle East, for most part of the year, is hardly conducive to outdoor activities and this should to be taken into account.

A beach cleanup campaign by Green Hope

A beach cleanup campaign by Green Hope

Green Hope – A Shining Example

My youth organisation, Green Hope, engages and educates young people through our "Environment Academies" which are tailor-made workshops on environmental issues. Till date, we have interacted with several hundred school and university students following all curriculum — our attendees are from all nationalities including native students. I have found them to be immensely concerned and motivated on environmental issues. Being from the region, they also have a lot of traditional knowledge about adapting to the natural environment which is a learning for those who have recently moved here. 

Education for Sustainable Development: Key Challenges

education-for-sustainable-developmentThe basic aim of 'Education for Sustainable Development' is to nurture an individual who is capable to solve environmental challenges facing the world and to promote the formation of a sustainable society. The first challenge is to have an ethos in schools that openly and enthusiastically supports the development of ESD (Education for Sustainable Development). This is partly down to the curriculum the school follows, but is mainly as a result of the interest and effort shown by senior management in promoting integration and whole school engagement; a critical element being teacher training. It is also down to the expectations that are put upon schools by education authorities when it comes to ESD.

With trained and motivated teachers, it is far easier to inspire and motivate students. Teachers can often use the environment as a vehicle for teaching certain concepts in their own specific subject. Once teachers have decided that this is something they feel is worthwhile, they will increasingly find ways to do so.

Using environmental issues in student learning shows students the bigger picture, which can significantly improve motivation. By letting pupils know why the work they are completing is important, and showing them where it fits in on a local and global scale, you’re enabling them to see its value.

Another challenge is being able to bridge the gap between what happens at home and what is taught in schools. For example, if a child is learning about recycling at school, but parents are not open to supporting their learning by adopting recycling practices at home, then the child, especially at a young age, receives very conflicting messages.

Schools are busy places and there are increasing pressures on teachers within the workplace. These can create additional challenges such as gaps between awareness and understanding; motivation to and knowledge of how to become more sustainable; individual to collective empowerment; finding time; budget restraints; linking infrastructure change to mind set change and whole community engagement.

However, with a more directed focus and commitment towards ESD in schools, children generally need very little motivation to care for their environment. You just have to give them a voice and they are away! The problem often comes from adults not understanding the bigger picture about caring for the long term future of the planet.

Strategy for GCC Countries

When it comes to educating locals and expats in the GCC, it can be categorized into three parts:

The physical change: looking at how schools, households and businesses can reduce their waste, water and energy and focus on more sustainable resources in general.

The mind set change: this is all about raising environmental understanding, awareness and action programmes throughout the school and business communities through workshops, cross-curricular activities and presentations, so that everybody is on the 'same page', as well as giving students and employees a voice. This leads to a fundamental change in attitudes and the choices people make.

Learning to respect others and appreciate the environment, as well as giving back to society: this is focused around the opportunities to learn beyond the workplace and home, and connect back to nature, as well as help communities in need. In a nutshell, it about being more caring.

Partnerships and action orientated behaviour within all 3 parts are crucially important to their success. Environmental awareness in itself is not enough, simply because awareness without leading to meaningful action and behaviour change goes nowhere.

Using environmental issues in student learning shows children the bigger picture

Using environmental issues in student learning shows children the bigger picture

This approach can be illustrated in the Beyond COP21 Symposium series that I am currently running globally with the support of Eco-Schools. The event consists of themed high impact presentations from, and discussions with, guest speakers on the SDGs Agenda 2030 and climate negotiations in and beyond Paris; individual & community action; pledge- making and practical activities/workshops.

Local sustainable companies and organisations are invited to showcase their initiatives and engage with students from a variety of schools, both local and expat, in each city or region. Successfully run in Dubai twice and with an upcoming event in Jordan, the Middle East region has certainly embraced the partnership approach when it comes to supporting environmental education initiatives that benefit all those involved.

Role of Technology and Social Media

The greatest role it can play is through the spread of information and ideas, as well as the sharing of good practice within the GCC. Sometimes the hardest thing is to know where to start and how to become motivated, and certainly both can help. Also technology can help to source important resources for teachers. Bee’ah’s School of Environment, which I have been recently developing new online resources for, is a very good example of how well this can work.

Please visit my website http://www.target4green.com for more information about my organization and its activities.

The Concept of Environmental Education

Unlike traditional forms of education, Environmental Education is a holistic, lifelong learning process directed at creating responsible individuals who explore and identify environmental issues, engage in problem solving, and take action effectively to improve the environment. As a result, individuals develop a deeper awareness and understanding of environmental issues and have effective skills to make informed and responsible decisions that lead to resolute the environmental challenges.

Environmental Education is neither environmental advocacy nor environmental information; rather, Environmental Education is a varied and diverse field that focuses on the educational process that has to remain neutral by teaching individuals critical thinking and enhancing their own problem-solving and decision-making skills in a participatory approach. The guiding principles of Environmental Education include awareness, knowledge, attitudes, skills and participation.

Environmental Education can be taught formally in schools classrooms, colleges and universities, or it can take place in informal learning contexts through NGOs, businesses, and the media, natural centers, botanic gardens, bird-watching canoeing, and scuba diving. Besides, Environmental Education takes place in various non-formal education programs such as experiential outdoor education, workshops, outreach programs and community education.

Environmental educator should deliver Environmental Education in a unique way as it is not only based on science, but also concerned with historical, political, and cultural aspects with the human dimension of socio-economic factors. It is also based on developing knowledge on socio-ecological systems.

Environmental Education provides opportunities to kids to build skills, including problem-solving and investigation skills. Qualified environmental educators should work in the field, conducting programs, involving and collaborating with local communities, and using strategies to link the environmental awareness, building skills, and responsible action. It is through Environmental Education that citizens, especially children, can test various aspects of an issue to make informed, science-based, non-biased, and responsible decisions.

Environmental Education in Islam

Islam considers seeking knowledge as an obligation. Islam teaches its followers to keep streets clean, to help animals and any living being, prohibits the pollution of water, prohibits cutting down a fruitful tree and preserves the components of the environment. Islam also sets legislation for cultivating land and benefiting from it. Additionally, Islam has strict teachings to prevent environmental deterioration caused by industrial development, urbanization, poverty etc. Islam organizes the relationship between humans and nature where it calls for its protection and enrichment through a comprehensive educational process. Islamic teachings in preserving environmental components hold the sense of responsibility and sensitivity. Such teachings were extraordinary at a time when the environment was not suffering the pressures it is suffering nowadays.

Environmental Education in Jordan

As far as Jordan is concerned, National Environmental Education efforts remain largely focused on programs organized by NGOs. For example, JREDS is a Jordanian NGO which became the national organization for the Foundation for Environmental Education. JREDS is implementing three international eco-labeling programs – Green Key, Blue Flag and Eco-SchoolsRSCN is another Jordanian NGO that designed Environmental Education programs to improve peoples’ general understanding and awareness of environmental issues. Activities of nature protection organizations have been instrumental in fostering significant cultural change.

Environmentally-literate citizens take active part in solving and reducing the impact of environmental problems by buying "green" products and using natural alternatives to pesticides to name two. However, the success of environmental programs adopted by NGOs will be difficult to sustain for future generations without continuing Environmental Education.

Eco-literacy Outlook for Jordan

Jordan has typically centralized education system where teachers aren't consulted about curricula. School curricula are mono-disciplinary, making interdisciplinary learning hard to apply. Despite environmental topics incorporation into curricula recently, still it is fragmentary. Jordan has a long way to go before a national strategy of environmental education can be totally implemented in its educational system.

Jordan should employ a holistic Environmental Education program adopting sustainable development principles, and presenting green ideas that perceive handling the environmental issues as important target and offers various solutions to different environmental problems which has become a national scourge. Ministry of Education should merge the eco-traditional knowledge effectively with leadership due to the link between the two, and empower the youth to participate in solving their own environmental problems as well as affecting the actions of public towards the desired goal, which is participating in solving the grim reality of environmental problems in the country. The scientific community should also get involved in public relations efforts that enable communication of its research, in effective and understandable ways, to the organizations responsible for education.

Additionally, Jordan should adopt a holistic approach of zero-emission eco-schools throughout the country, eco-schools that relies entirely on renewables for their energy supply and be completely self-sustaining. The design shall adopt Earth building and be constructed out of locally sourced materials, while the geothermal energy will cool and heat it.  Furthermore, school garden and cleaning routines will use the harvested rainwater. Such an eco-school model, hold a bright future where students will eventually have access to a bright green education thereby facilitating a sustainable future.

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Environmental Education: Key to a Better Future

environmental-educationTomorrow's leaders need to be equipped for tomorrow's challenges, and we must adequately prepare our children for the future they will inherit. As climate change is being felt across the globe and its long term catastrophic impacts have never been so scientifically clear, environmental education is the key to a better future. In an era where more and more children are disconnected from nature, we should recognize the importance of making a real investment in environmental education and outdoor learning. Studies have shown environmental education engages students in learning, raising test scores, and encouraging youth to pursue career in environmental and natural resources. And not only that: environmental education can help children perform better in social studies, science, language, arts, and mathematics.

Engagement at Different Levels

The secret to environmental education is to act at different levels, engaging the entire school and addressing students, teachers, parents, administrators and all members of the schools community. Eventually, it will link up all the participants within the community. The components of this initiative depend on interaction and participation, with teachers undertaking a guiding role by encouraging students to discover solutions on their own.

At first students should determine and check the extent of their use of natural resources in the school. Through this, they evaluate their efforts in the field of environmental management. 

As a second step, children should set up and run Eco Clubs. Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities. They also serve as a forum through which the students share environmental problems, along with the school staff, parents and the community surrounding the school, in order to work on finding solutions, and promote a positive environmental behavior. In this component the schools can implement internal and external projects, such as introducing efficient methods of irrigation, lowering the volume of waste, reducing the consumption of electricity and water and trying to reduce air pollution.

The third step focuses on organizing training courses for teachers and releasing educational resources in different themes and curricula, helping them to teach environmental concepts in innovative ways and through various educational materials. This will help teachers to adapt and to provide students with information about different habitats, biodiversity, climate change and other issues faced at the local level, as well as faced by the planet on a global level.

The final step should be to connect students to environmental causes and issues, and identify solutions through the provision of field trips. Additionally, such trips can be associated with the educational curriculum as they offer direct learning method. This helps boosting the understanding of various concepts by the students, and increasing the chance of using multiple senses such as eyesight, hearing, etc., which helps to raise their capacity to understand what they have learned. The success and engagement of schools to take on the environment field trips is great and extensive and it represents a set full of amazing adventures of exploration and knowledge.

Undoubtedly, the final and greatest outcome is to educate our children on the importance of becoming good environmental citizens.

Challenges in the Middle East

The Middle East region faces difficult natural conditions, and it is clear that steep population growth, poverty and the consequent degradation of natural ecosystems make it a priority when it comes to Environmental awareness and sustainability goals. One of the biggest challenges is certainly the lack of awareness. 

Most countries are blessed with high levels of education, with a large portion of the population pursuing secondary and higher education. Unfortunately however, human development and wealth are not always synonym with high environmental awareness and interest in sustainability issues… Jordan and Lebanon, for example, have their primary focus in tourism, which mostly contributes to their GDPs.

An interesting survey conducted in the Sultanate of Oman revealed that the environmental awareness of the Omani public was related to education level but also to gender and age. Males were found to have a higher level of knowledge about environmental issues than females. Males were also more environmentally concerned and tended to engage in more environmental behaviors than females. Younger and more educated respondents tended to be more knowledgeable and concerned about the environment than older and less educated respondents.

Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities.

Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities.

Another challenge that countries such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar are faced with, is trying to reduce their consumption patterns. Even though awareness levels seem to be higher than in other countries, these nations are notorious for their unsustainable consumption rates. For instance, KSA and the UAE’s water consumption have reached 265 and 550 liters per capita per day respectively, which significantly exceeds the world’s average. 

Participation of Emirati Youth

Educating the UAE youth and preparing them to lead the country’s sustainable future is the first goal in the UAE national environmental awareness strategy and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment encourages the youth to innovate and be part of global environmental efforts.

Recently the UAE has taken a major step including environmental education in all schools: back in November Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, announced that awareness of climate change and how to help save the environment will be taught in classrooms across the country.

Under plans to tweak schools' curriculum to include learning on sustainability, schoolchildren will also be shown how to take energy-saving measures. These include schoolchildren of all ages, including in private sector schools, learning the importance of turning off lights and air-conditioning when not in use, and how to use less water. Each pupil will also be encouraged to spread the message to their family and friends. One of these initiatives, called Sustainable Schools, is an extension of a program that started in Abu Dhabi in 2009.

As a consequence to all these efforts taken by the government, I observed an increase in the numbers of UAE nationals volunteers participating in our programs: we've usually had a majority of Indians and Europeans taking part in our tree planting events or in the anti-pollution awareness drives, but lately large groups of young Emiratis have come forward to participate actively in all our programs and we continue to receive many emails asking to become long term volunteers. This is one of the biggest achievements we could wish for the UAE.

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