The challenge of environmental education in the classroom
23 May 2022
Education for sustainability puts students at the center of learning and, with methodologies that promote active learning, has valuable potential to improve the quality and management of an educational institution.
Achieving sustainable development is one of the great challenges facing humanity; a challenge that is not simple, since it involves multiple dimensions. In 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) of the United Nations, chaired by Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, presented the report “Our Common Future”, known as the “Brundtland Report”, in which it was disseminated and coined the best-known definition of the concept: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The great challenge, then, is to reconcile the needs and aspirations of human societies with maintaining the integrity of natural systems, a complex but not impossible task. Jason Beech, PhD in Education from the University of San Andrés, assures that education could be a key strategy in training people with the skills to look at the world differently and, in this way, design solutions that address the challenge of sustainability in its complexity.
When we think about educating for sustainability in formal educational spaces, we find ourselves with a school grammar in which knowledge is compartmentalized in disciplines in charge of teachers who generally do not have the time or the space to plan together, a situation which results in interesting but not very genuine or transformative pedagogical practices in the lives of our students that generally achieve a superficial result with little impact. School grammar is not conducive to developing the skills needed in these projects. In this scenario, the Education for Sustainability proposals are usually presented as a set of sporadic actions generally linked to Natural Sciences, but which are not connected between curricular spaces.
That is the challenge for educational institutions. How to promote Education for Sustainability within the grammar of the school, so that students live significant experiences, appropriate knowledge and feel that their choices and actions count and can make a difference?
A network job
To answer this question and start thinking about developing projects related to Education for Sustainability, like any educational practice, the diagnosis is essential to measure the possibilities of acceptance of the new proposals by the management team and other teachers of the school. the institution, since it is important to have their participation. Let us remember that addressing these issues, as I said at the beginning, involves multiple dimensions and, therefore, multiple perspectives from different disciplines. The first step is to identify teachers who are motivated to join these pedagogical practices aimed at sustainability.
Once organized it is necessary to think about the proposals. These should lead students to know, do, be and live with others in the world. We need to empower students and, to achieve this, it is essential that they be protagonists in the construction of their knowledge and that we be their guides in this task.
At this point, an important aspect to take into account is the conceptual basis about teachers’ mastery of the central contents of Education for Sustainability. It is a reality that at the initial and primary level teachers are expected to be able to teach all the topics of the curriculum of different areas, therefore it is difficult that only with initial training they can work on them to their full extent. Teachers must feel comfortable with the content to be taught, being able to understand what is important and what is not, and handle a large number of examples. This means that they must be trained in these topics, only then will they have a sufficiently robust platform to deal with each topic with ease and comfort and propose activities that go beyond the enunciation of content.
There is no way to generate challenging teaching without a good understanding of where we stand with the content we have to address, and having the best teaching strategies to do so.
Educate for sustainability
In this way, with the stakeholders identified, with a clear proposal and those involved trained, the path towards education in sustainability is taking shape. It is time to explore concrete ways to reorganize the task of teaching.
To do so, it is necessary to bring students closer to environmental conflicts without an apocalyptic and hopeless look that paralyzes them. The idea is to empower students to positively transform their environment, starting from the premise that they deserve to be educated from the value of life. , in the sense of biophilia, it is necessary to know to love and love to protect and care. At present, environmental education for sustainability is unavoidable and the school is the privileged place to embrace it and carry it forward with hopeful eyes.
One of the most powerful pedagogical strategies to bring environmental education to the classroom is Project-Based Learning (PBL). It is a methodology that breaks with the curricular fragmentation of knowledge in watertight and unconnected compartments. Starting from a guiding question, a set of activities are proposed that allow the disciplinary integration of knowledge around real problems, in this way the students are involved in experiential learning activities, putting their interests at stake and displaying their multiple abilities. Through these collaborative work projects, the development of interpersonal skills such as solidarity, empathy, the ability to listen actively, skills necessary to build sustainable societies is promoted.
This type of motivating, interesting, interdisciplinary projects, connected to reality, have the consequence of transforming the habits of students and their closest environment, which are born from deep convictions. Another consequence, but in this case in institutions, is the improvement in educational quality, since it promotes pedagogical practices where the student is the protagonist, works on systemic thinking, the vision of complexity and cooperative learning. In this way, in addition to learning content, skills of global citizens are worked on.
Carla Sabbatini in her book Educate for sustainability expresses that, when the ways of working offered by education for sustainability in institutions are incorporated, there is an improvement in pedagogical management and in educational quality since practices are reviewed and innovated. pedagogical that give another dynamic to school grammar, projects can be articulated between areas, cycles and levels, significant, authentic and transformative learning is encouraged, education in values, service learning and leadership of management teams are promoted it strengthens.
Education for Sustainability has the potential to transform us and the world.