Environmental education and information are important supporting measures in any environmental program. Their major objectives are to increase the environmental awareness of both the general public and decision makers, to educate them toward responsibility and concern for the environment, and to arouse their willingness and ability to contribute to environmental improvement. All too frequently, the public does not understand environmental problems. Global issues, such as ozone depletion and climate change, are even more difficult to comprehend. To ensure the protection of the environment, these attitudes must be changed.
Changes in attitudes and behavior can take place. The foremost example in Israel of a successful environmental re- education effort is the protection of wildflowers campaign launched in the mid-1960s, soon after enactment of the National Parks and Nature Reserves Law in 1963. The campaign was so successful that the law has rarely been evoked. In recent years, heightened concern about environmental issues has resulted in increased activism among the populace. New non-governmental environmental organizations are being created on the national level, while grass- roots groups are organizing in many areas to pressure authorities to seek solutions to environmental problems at the municipal level.
The Role of the Environmental Administration
Since its inception in the early 1970s, the environmental administration has been involved in educational activities. One of the administration’s major aims is to educate a new generation of environmental decision makers to be knowledgable about environmental issues. To implement this policy, the Education and Information Division of the Ministry of the Environment has created environmental curricula, information booklets, films and slides, and has organized environmental projects, cleanup campaigns and environmental events in conjunction with other organizations.
Environmental Education Centers
In 1982, in line with the Ministry of the Environment’s policy of broad dissemination of environmental information, Environmental Education Centers were first established throughout Israel, within the framework of the environmental units in local municipalities. The major impetus for this move was the difficulty in introducing environmental education as a multi-disciplinary subject into the traditional formal education system. Today, eighteen local environmental education and information centers operate throughout the country, serving as focal points for community environmental activities. They assist the formal education system in the planning and preparation of environmental curricula (in conjunction with local teachers), conduct in-service teacher training programs, and support the introduction of innovative educational approaches.
The centers provide educational material for both teachers and interested citizens, including audio-visual resources, simulation games (a number of which have been specifically designed for conditions in Israel), literature, slides, films, cassettes, posters, demonstration models and exhibits for study by students at all levels. They also promote informal environmental education by stimulating public involvement. They initiate and co-ordinate lectures, seminars, environmental tours and training courses, and promote events such as Israel Environment Week, Nature Protection Week, and recycling and cleanup campaigns. In addition, environmental education centers publish information notices on environmental matters in local newspapers, serve as centers for public complaints on environmental problems, and in general, guide and support local environmental efforts.
General Principles of Environmental Education
Formal environmental education is the responsibility of several divisions within the Ministry of Education and Culture. Over the years, the Education and Information Division of the Ministry of the Environment, the staff of the Environmental Education Centers, and teachers throughout Israel have worked with these divisions to develop formal environmental education curricula which encompass the following general principles:
* The environment must be perceived in a holistic and integrated manner, in which humans are seen as a part of, not apart, from the biosphere;
* For students to understand and solve complex environmental problems, the teaching of environmental topics must be inter- and multi-disciplinary, based on ecological, political, economic, social, historical, cultural and other dimensions;
* In order to develop informed environmental decision-making skills in the student, problem-solving teaching techniques are used, in which the student develops skills in observation, identification, evaluation and research;
* Community involvement and public participation are important means for developing the student’s sense of responsibility and affinity towards the environment;
* The overall goal of environmental education is to change the student’s behavior patterns and attitudes towards the environment.
Over the years, environmental topics have been integrated into both primary, secondary, and higher education programs. Israel’s dynamic models of environmental curricula offer background material and activities on a modular basis, allowing for flexibility by the individual teacher in incorporating the material in the school program. The modules offer a variety of environmental topics and are accompanied by suggestions for various teaching aids. Individual schools can add their own materials to the modules, or can adapt the material to the community’s environmental needs.
In addition to the integration of environmental education into the traditional school curricula, unique schools specializing in environmental studies have emerged in recent years. The first, established in 1976 in Sde Boker, uses the desert environment as a model for natural and human ecological systems.
Other informal education programs also play a crucial role in fostering environmental awareness among the general public. Special events, lectures, field trips, seminars, periodicals, posters and films have served the purposes of both governmental and non-governmental organizations in alerting the public to the need for environmental action. The Society for the Protection of Nature in particular, with its extensive network of field study centers and guided outings, has achieved success in instilling a conservation ethic in the population.
Special Events to Promote Environmental Education
Special events are an important part of any publicity effort directed at the general public. Environmental events serve to acquaint the public with environmental issues and provide information. Thus, Israel Environment Week is celebrated every June in conjunction with World Environment Day. Government officials, heads of local authorities, and representatives of environmental organizations participate in a special ceremony to mark the occasion. The presentation of environmental awards to individuals and local authorities excelling in environmental protection forms the high point of the annual celebration. In addition, a wide range of events, including school competitions, youth marches, photography and art contests, cleanup campaigns, workshops and environmental exhibitions are organized to acquaint Israelis from all walks of life with environmental issues.
Every Spring, Nature Protection Week is held in order to encourage Israelis to become familiar with the natural environment. Each year a different ecological issue is
selected as the central theme: the rehabilitation of fire-damaged forests, coastal protection, desert nature reserves, rehabilitation of streams and rivers, wildflower protection, etc. The Nature Reserves Authority, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, National Parks Authority, Jewish National Fund, Education Ministry and the Ministry of the Environment all take part in the events, which include workshops and seminars. The theme is promoted through a special publicity poster or publication.
Although these events, the formal and informal educational programs and other efforts have led to greater environmental awareness, much work remains to be done. Israelis are well on their way toward becoming knowledgable about their environment, and committed to its preservation.