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Environmental education


Environmental education (EE) refers to organized efforts to teach how natural environments function, and particularly, how human beings can manage behavior and ecosystems to live sustainably. It is a multi-disciplinary field integrating disciplines such as biology, chemistry, physics, ecology, earth science, atmospheric science, mathematics, and geography. The term often implies education within the school system, from primary to post-secondary. However, it sometimes includes all efforts to educate the public and other audiences, including print materials, websites, media campaigns, etc..

Environmental Education (EE) is the teaching of individuals, and communities, in transitioning to a society that is knowledgeable of the environment and its associated problems, aware of the solutions to these problems, and motivated to solve them [6]. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) states that EE is vital in imparting an inherent respect for nature amongst society and in enhancing public environmental awareness. UNESCO emphasises the role of EE in safeguarding future global developments of societal quality of life (QOL), through the protection of the environment, eradication of poverty, minimization of inequalities and insurance of sustainable development (UNESCO, 2014a).

Environmental education focuses on:

1. Engaging with citizens of all demographics to;

2. Think critically, ethically, and creatively when evaluating environmental issues;

3. Make educated judgments about those environmental issues;

4. Develop skills and a commitment to act independently and collectively to sustain and enhance the environment; and,

5. To enhance their appreciation of the environment; resulting in positive environmental behavioural change (Bamberg & Moeser, 2007; Wals et al., 2014).

Environmental education has crossover with multiple other disciplines. These fields of education complement environmental education yet have unique philosophies.

While each of these educational fields has their own objectives, there are points where they overlap with the intentions and philosophy of environmental education.

The roots of environmental education can be traced back as early as the 18th century when Jean-Jacques Rousseau stressed the importance of an education that focuses on the environment in Emile: or, On Education. Several decades later, Louis Agassiz, a Swiss-born naturalist, echoed Rousseau’s philosophy as he encouraged students to “Study nature, not books.” These two influential scholars helped lay the foundation for a concrete environmental education program, known as nature study, which took place in the late 19th century and early 20th century.



  • Citizen Science (CS) aims to address both scientific and environmental outcomes through enlisting the public in the collection of data, through relatively simple protocols, generally from local habitats over long periods of time (Bonney et al., 2009).
  • Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) aims to reorient education to empower individuals to make informed decisions for environmental integrity, social justice, and economic viability for both present and future generations, whilst respecting cultural diversities (UNESCO, 2014b).
  • Climate Change Education (CCE) aims in enhancing the public's understanding of climate change, its consequences, and its problems, and to prepare current and future generations to limit the magnitude of climate change and to respond to its challenges (Beatty, 2012). Specifically, CCE needs to help learners develop knowledge, skills and values and action to engage and learn about the causes, impact and management of climate change (Chang, 2014).
  • Science Education (SE) focuses primarily on teaching knowledge and skills, to develop innovative thought in society (Wals et al., 2014).
  • Outdoor Education (OE) relies on the assumption that learning experiences outdoors in ‘nature’ foster an appreciation of nature, resulting in pro-environmental awareness and action (Clarke & Mcphie,2014). Outdoor education means learning "in" and "for" the outdoors.
  • Experiential education (ExE) is a process through which a learner constructs knowledge, skill, and value from direct experiences" (AEE, 2002, p. 5) Experiential education can be viewed as both a process and method to deliver the ideas and skills associated with environmental education (ERIC, 2002).
  • Garden-based learning (GBL) is an instructional strategy that utilizes the garden as a teaching tool. It encompasses programs, activities and projects in which the garden is the foundation for integrated learning, in and across disciplines, through active, engaging, real-world experiences that have personal meaning for children, youth, adults and communities in an informal outside learning setting.
  • Inquiry-based Science (IBS) is an active open style of teaching in which students follow scientific steps in a similar manner as scientists to study some problem (Walker 2015). Often used in biological and environmental settings.
  • Walker. M. D. 2015. Teaching Inquiry-based Science. Sicklebrook Publishing.
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