Israel Environment Bulletin Winter 1994-5754, Vol. 17, No. 1

EDUCATION AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Picking wildflowers used to be a popular pastime in Israel; today the practice has totally disappeared. The protection of wildflowers campaign, launched some three decades ago, was indubitably the most successful environmental reeducation campaign ever launched in Israel. Can its success be repeated with regard to complex environmental problems? Environmentalists and educators are committed to finding out. All acknowledge that the task is difficult, but there is wide consensus that children are the natural way to startthey learn quickly, their habits are not entrenched and they love to perform tasks which they themselves can control, whether separation at source or water conservation.

What can children do to clean up, maybe "save" the environment? Dozens of environmental publications, videos, tapes, games and computer programs are providing the answer. The unprecedented introduction of workbooks and textbooks into the school system this year was born of many years of painstaking effort on the part of both educators and environmentalists to integrate environmental studies into the school system. This effort culminated in the decision to declare this year the Year of the Environment in Israel and the Year of the Environment in the educational system.

Each year the Ministry of Education selects one theme to stand at the center of the educational curriculum. To date, most subjects were designed to impart important information on vital issues. This year’s choicethe environmentis no exception, but it does differ from previously chosen subjects in one aspect: its success will be measured not only by the quantity of information acquired but by its application in the student’s daily life for many years to come. In addition to the study of environmental issues and concepts, special importance will be accorded to identification with and internalization of environmental values. The goal is to develop the student’s ability to deal with environmental dilemmas through multidisciplinary study, careful consideration, informed decision- making, and wise action.

General Principles of Environmental Education

Environmental education strives to integrate between cognitive goalsacquiring multidisciplinary knowledgeand socio-behavioral goalsincreased consciousness, responsibility and involvement. It constitutes a unique educational experience whereby the student is given the opportunity to develop independent thought and study while undertaking concrete steps to improve his environment.

Over the years, the Ministries of Education and the Environment, along with the staff of Israel’s 25 environmental education centers and teachers throughout Israel, have developed environmental education curricula based on three basic elements: study on the environment, in the environment and for the environment. Most environmental programs have incorporated the following general principles:

  • The environment must be perceived in a holistic and integrated manner, as a comprehensive and interdependent system;
  • The teaching of environmental education must be interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary integrating between natural sciences, social sciences and humanities and emphasizing the interrelationships between them;
  • The learning process must expose the student to the environment and help develop problem-solving skills to enable the student to observe, identify, evaluate, research and take a part in informed decision making.
  • The student’s sense of responsibility for his environment must be cultivated through community involvement and public participation.

    Based on these principles, curriculum models have been developed for every level of schooling, from kindergarten to university. A matriculation program on the environment was approved for secondary school, units on environmental themes were incorporated into such traditional subjects as agriculture, biology and geography, and in several schools, unique environmental education initiatives were developed. Yet, with few exceptions, environmental studies have remained elective, part of a non-compulsory enrichment program. This year’s decision to place environmental studies at the center of the educational curriculum has changed this. While maximum freedom is given to each school to adapt the wide range of available environmental material to its own requirements, the subject can no longer be ignored.

    A Gamut of Materials

    The Year of the Environment was officially launched in the formal education system on Hanukkah. To mark the occasion, a giant environmental education fair, organized by the Pedagogical Service of the Ministry of Education, was held at the Binyanei Hauma exhibition halls in Jerusalem on December 13th. The fair, in which some 90 bodies participated, displayed the entire gamut of educational material now available on the environmenttextbooks, workbooks, computer programs, audio-visual material, films, study kits and games. Workshops were held to demonstrate teaching methods in the classroom, some twenty schools presented their experience in environmental education, artists displayed creations made of recycled materials and performers provided song, comedy and dance routines on the subject of the environment. Most importantly, thousands of visitors, amongst them hundreds of teachers and educators, attended the fairwandering from booth to booth over an area of 1000 square meters, participating in pedagogical workshops, becoming acquainted with available materials and learning from the experience of others. All have gone back to the classroom equipped not only with innovative ideas but with tools and materials with which to implement themwhether in the form of drama, simulation games, school competitions, computer games, fieldtrips or work with recycled material.

    Following are only a few examples of the textbooks and workbooks which have been introduced to the formal education system this year:

  • "The Environment on Your Doorstep," published by the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of the Environment, consists of three chapters: My EnvironmentMy Town, Conservation of Historical Sites and Environmental Infrastructure in the City. It is geared for grades 4 to 8.
  • "You and I Will Change the EnvironmentEnvironmental Study for Grades 5-6" (73 pages) and "A Wonderful Environment Environmental Study for Grades 3-4" (64 pages) present a wide variety of environmental subjects, popular songs, and Biblical and Talmudic sayings on ecology along with graphic illustrations.
  • "Glitter from Litter," "I Care" and "Burning Issue," a series of illustrated workbooks for elementary school, published by Tel Aviv University, tackle a wide variety of issues in an attractive format.
  • "All Around," a series designed for the various levels of elementary school, begins with information on the local environment, moves on to the state of the environment in Israel and concludes with global problems.

    The focus of nearly all study and activity, especially in the lower grades, is on subjects and sites which are close to the student: the school, the neighborhood, nearby industrial areas, gardens and parks. Educators believe that environmental involvement can be developed in stages: beginning with responsibility for the immediate environment and concluding with responsibility for the larger environmentcommunity, city, country and world. The study books themselves adhere to the principles of environmental education outlined above. For example, each chapter in the booklet "The Environment on Your Doorstep," is subdivided into the following sections: background material, concrete tasks in the field (study in the environment), research work (study on the environment), and summaries and conclusions (decision-making and activities on behalf of the environment). The modular structure of the booklet provides the teacher with maximum flexibility in choosing subjects and adapting them to the time frame provided and the level of the students. The subjects encompass most of the environmental aspects related to human activity on the local level (e.g. air pollution, water and sewage, solid waste, noise), but ample opportunity is provided to widen study to such global issues as ozone depletion, global warming, desertification, etc.

    Alongside, the educational material listed above, the Israeli market has been flooded with environmental publications, usually printed on recycled paper, and geared toward every age group and interest. A random selection of both fiction and didactic material reveals the following:

  • "Eco and Logy," one of the first ecological stories to be published in Israel, is still much in demand among 4 to 8- year-olds. In the midst of a chase after "Logy," the alleged culprit who destroyed a lovely park, a group of children discovers that they themselves, through their own careless behavior, unintentionally caused the destruction;
  • ChalasEnvironmental Gang," an adventure story which follows the escapades of a gang of kids whose express mission is to protect the environment;
  • "Environmental Adventures," four stories for the younger reader about a boy named Eyal who sets out on a trip armed with a sheet of paper, a drop of water, a ray of sunshine and a small cloud. With their help, he finds out about such environmental problems as deforestation, groundwater pollution and air quality.
  • "Black Roses," a story for seventh to tenth graders about a family who struggles to relocate a nearby polluting plant.

    "What a Child Can Do," 25 simple activities for elementary school children (e.g. cleanups, reuse, water saving).

  • "Every Child Can: Fifty Ways to Save the Earth," a translation into Hebrew of the popular English book.
  • "Nature’s ChildEnvironmental Quality," didactic information accompanied by a colorful visual display of a wide gamut of environmental subjects.

    The above examples provide only a representative sampling of the vast variety of books available today. They are complemented by a wide array of games, plays and materials designed to drive the environmental message home:

  • A new play, based on the "Eco and Logy" story, uncovers a plot by a king and his evil advisor to transform their kingdom into "the most developed kingdom on earth," at the expense of the natural environment. The inevitable "happy ending" sees the princess and her hero succeed in foiling the plan and saving the environment.
  • A variety of games challenges children of all ages to preserve natural habitats, protect water quality and separate waste at source.
  • A unique exhibition enables visitors of all ages to wander amidst the debris of an apartment which has collapsed under the weight of its inhabitants’ wasteful consumption habits. As he makes his way through the rubble, the visitor is confronted by problems and solutions by means of three-dimensional, hands-on experience and activity.
  • An environmental maze, made up of "stations" dealing with environmental subjects (i.e. recycling, sewage, air quality, energy, nature protection, etc.), engages children in environmental study by means of films, professional literature and work sheets.
  • Environmental programs are increasingly being aired on general and on cable television. Israel’s Educational Television recently devoted an entire day to the environment.

    Will the flurry of educational activity increase environmental consciousness in Israel? Indubitably! Environmental exposure is undeniably at an all-time peak. The challenge now is to translate awareness into involvement, to integrate knowledge with the development of responsible patterns of behavior. The real success of this year will only be measured in years to comewhen the younger generation comes of age and takes an active part in preserving and enhancing its environment.