The climate question

Why pigeon-hole the issue within science or geography lessons, rather than exploring it in a more holistic, cross-curricular way?

Environmental education as a discipline unto itself is of fairly recent origin. Its roots, however, extend back in time to when humans first envisioned a relationship between themselves and the biosphere which resulted in an evaluation of their role in the maintenance or deterioration of the environment.

When exactly did this happen and the context of this interaction are, of course, unknown. However, the historic concerns for interactions between humans and the environment are many and various.

Environment education curricular patterns throughout the world demonstrate a wide variety of goals, many of which align with the objectives presented at the world’s first intergovernmental conference on environmental education in Tbilisi (1977). However, if one looks at the objectives of the recommendations as a continuum, beginning with environmental awareness and ending with citizen participation, a great deal of variation exists.

Some curricular efforts deal primarily with ecological principles and others go beyond ecology to attempt to show the relationships between ecological concepts and environmental issues.

In Pakistan, the process of introducing environment education in the curriculum has not been a priority issue. Over the past few decades, with an uptick in climate-induced calamities, countries and non-governmental organisations, policymakers, and education ministers from various countries have continually argued for enhancing the environmental literacy of their citizens.

On a basic level, environmental education as part of the curriculum is considered one of the silver bullets in developing environmental knowledge, awareness and attitudes at the student age already in order to encourage civic participation for sustainable development.

The ongoing debate in Pakistan on the Single National Curriculum (SNC) is embroiled in the jurisdiction of the federal government in provincial matters and the role of religion in curriculum which has overshadowed some other important aspects of the exercise.

Placing environment awareness in respect to climate crises and natural calamities at the heart of learning and as an important aspect around which the restructuring of the curriculum was done largely remained unnoticed. The idea of making environmental awareness part of primary school learning that will then feed into secondary school learning, is an effort in the right direction to pique the interest of students who might later want to take the subject and learn more about it.

Given the many environmental crises within the country and the many issues surrounding these crises, it seems that an attempt has been made by professional educators to develop a research-based curriculum, leaving behind many intuition-based programmes which have failed to bear results till date. At least in the case of environment education the SNC has made an effort to bring social relevance to the topic. This is important in times when people across the world are beginning to realise that environmental issues are interdisciplinary.

At least in the case of environment education, the SNC has made an effort to bring social relevance to the topic. This is important in times when people realise that environmental issues are interdisciplinary.

Broadly speaking, environmental knowledge includes both knowledge of and knowledge about the environment. According to studies, “knowledge of” can be defined as the student’s ability to recall and understand a range of environmental concepts, problems, and issues. Whereas, “knowledge about” can be described as the means (scientific inquiry) and goals (scientific explanations) of environmental education.

The SNC has focused on introducing the knowledge of environment at the primary level and gradually shifts to the knowledge about environment at the secondary stage. The topics have been integrated into subjects such as Urdu, English and social studies.

A growing body of evidence suggests that communities affected by calamities induced by climate crises either lack awareness, sensitisation or education regarding these hazards. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has pointed out that education, including emergency preparedness is a particular need for populations located within the flood plains of the country.

The NDMA also stresses the need for scientific information to be produced in a clear and concise manner so that the average person is easily able to understand it. Though some early warning systems (EWSs) are in place the flow of information has a limited outreach. With basic understanding of these concepts, simple satellite maps with a graphic and pictorial representation of ground information will help locals take timely action against disasters.

Whether environmental education can be considered a major determinant of improved environmental literacy is yet to be tested in the case of Pakistan. Whereas, the impact of environment education translating into environmental literacy among the population has been recorded in the developed countries, the literature that looks at the relationship between environmental literacy and schools as well as individual characteristics in the developing world is rare.

It’s high time for the country to go through such an exercise to understand how certain student and school related (teachers) factors respond to environment literacy. This, in turn, will help to further hone educational policies, programmes, and practices in regards to education for sustainable development (ESD).

The objectives outlined at Tbilisi, in 1977 – namely awareness, knowledge, attitude, skills and participation – are still valid. The main goal of aligning human behaviours, actions, practices and social conditions towards a sustainable future, has yet to be achieved. Why then pigeon-hole the issue within science or geography lessons, rather than exploring it in a more holistic, cross-curricular way that encourages the students to make links between different areas of their learning?

The writer is a   development   communications specialist and journalist covering environmental issues

The climate question