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