Environmental education and information are essential components in environmental programs. 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 enhancement. It is widely recognized today that environmental awareness and understanding are prerequisites for environmental improvement. Environmental education is all the more crucial in light of today’s complex global problems, whether ozone depletion or climate change. To ensure wise environmental management on the local, regional and global levels, awareness must be increased and behavior changed.
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 the enactment of the National Parks and Nature Reserves Law. The campaign was so successful that the law has rarely been invoked. Picking wildflowers is now taboo among young and old alike.
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 local level (see chapter on Non-Governmental Organizations).
General Principles of Environmental Education
Environmental education strives to integrate cognitive goals-acquiring multidisciplinary knowledge, and socio-behavioral goals-increased 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.
The philosophy of environmental education seeks to integrate three approaches-scientific, socio-political and educational. Its basic tenets are:
* The environment must be perceived in a holistic manner, as an integrated and interdependent system;
* The teaching of environmental education must be interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary, integrating natural sciences, social sciences and the 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 the environment must be cultivated through community involvement and public participation.
While all too frequently public involvement and participation in environmental issues arise as a result of disasters and crises, environmental education seeks to achieve involvement by means of a process whereby the realization of one goal leads to the next. Environmental education leads the student through the following stages: attainment of information, fostering of understanding, development of awareness, changes in attitude and participation and involvement in environmental activities. Under the motto, "Think Globally, Act Locally," each individual is encouraged to act, on a personal level, for the improvement of the environment on the community, regional and global levels.
To foster the student’s interest and involvement and to promote the development of new patterns of behavior, environmental education strategy is based on three elements: study in the environment, on the environment, for the environment.
Study in the environment stimulates the student to experience the problem directly within his immediate environment. Direct exposure leads to questioning and inductive reasoning and helps develop such skills as observation, questioning, spatial understanding and research. It helps create an emotional bond between the student and the environment, leading to responsibility and involvement.
Study on the environment fosters the development of environmental systems thinking and analysis. It incorporates historical aspects, current events and decision making which impacts both present and future events. The student acquires investigative, analytical skills and systems thinking.
Study for the environment spurs the student toward direct action and involvement. Learning through action obliges the student to deal with specific problems, to develop a system of values and sound judgement based on priorities, responsible decision making and implementation. The student develops such essential skills as team work, pluralistic and democratic thinking and accountability. The holistic environmental approach emphasizes combined cognitive and affective learning which places value considerations side by side with scientific considerations in the decision-making process.
The Role of the Ministry of the Environment
One of the Ministry of the Environment’s major aims is to educate a new generation which is concerned and knowledgeable about environmental issues. To implement this policy, the Education and Information Division of the ministry has produced environmental curricula, information booklets, films and slides, and has organized environmental projects, cleanup campaigns and environmental events in conjunction with other organizations. The ministry operates an information center for teachers, students and the general public and provides booklets and teaching aids on environmental subjects.
In 1982, in line with the Ministry of the Environment’s policy of broad dissemination of information, environmental education centers were established throughout Israel, within the framework of environmental units in municipalities. The major impetus for this move was the difficulty in introducing environmental education as a multidisciplinary subject into the traditional formal education system. Today, 27 local environmental education and information centers operate throughout the country, in the Jewish and Arab sectors, 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 into the learning process.
The centers provide educational material for both teachers and interested citizens, including audio-visual materials, simulation games, literature, slides, films, cassettes, posters, demonstration models and exhibits for study by students at all levels. They promote informal environmental education by stimulating public involvement; they initiate and coordinate lectures, seminars, environmental tours and training courses; and they 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.
The Formal Education System
Formal environmental education is the responsibility of several divisions within the Ministry of Education. Over the years, the Education and Information Division of the Ministry of the Environment, the staff of the environmental centers, and teachers throughout Israel have worked with the Ministry of Education to develop formal environmental education curricula which encompass the principles of environmental education.
Environmental topics have been integrated into primary, secondary and higher education programs. While environmental studies are frequently integrated into such traditional subjects as nature studies, agriculture, chemistry, history, geography and biology, more and more schools have begun preparing programs for teaching environmental studies as a multidisciplinary subject. For example, the subject of acid rain, taught in the intermediate grades, is integrated into the following subjects: geography (climatology-air pollution and rain, hydrology-water cycle and water pollution), chemistry (acidity-water, flora and fauna), botany
(forests and vegetation), technology (industry and air pollution), agriculture (fertilizers and biological and chemical control) and mathematics (graphic presentation of data). Environmental subjects can also be taught from various points of view: legal, aesthetic, historic and universal, to name but a few. The choices are unlimited.
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 large environment- community, city, country and world. Textbooks and workbooks adhere to the principles of environmental education and include background material, concrete tasks for performance iii the field, research, and conclusions. The modular structure of most study programs provides the teacher with maximum flexibility in choosing subjects and adapting them to the time frame provided and the level of the students.
Unique high schools specializing in environmental studies have also emerged in recent years. The first, established in 1976 in Sde Boker, and affiliated with the Institute for Environmental Education of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, uses the desert environment as a model for natural and human ecological systems. The Institute developed learning units, called eco-shops, for use in the high school. The method is based on integrative, interdisciplinary study whereby students leave the school to undertake field studies within the environment itself. Based to a large extent on the Sde Boker model, several specialized schools have been inaugurated in recent years offering three to six-year programs in environmental studies.
In 1984, the Ministry of Education approved a special environmental studies program for high school matriculation examinations, at two levels of study. The basic program provides an understanding of the concepts and foundations of environmental study and focuses, in more depth, on an individual environmental subject related to a specific location in the vicinity of the school. The more intensive program includes all these elements with the addition of a special project, entitled "ecotope" an independent project undertaken by the student which involves fieldwork, observation, surveys and the presentation of a paper. In all cases, study of such issues as water scarcity, urban problems or air pollution is accompanied by community work, cultivation of environmental values, use of modern technology and methodology, development of independent study, and nurturing of such values as responsibility and respect for humankind and the natural environment. Over 20 high schools currently offer the matriculation program on the environment; their numbers are increasing each year.
In addition to the matriculation program on the environment, high-school biology students are required to work on a "biotope" project-an ecological study analyzing the interrelationships of organisms in a given ecosystem. Students are encouraged to do independent work, but ecology experts, notably field instructors of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, frequently guide them in the selection of the organisms for study and in the research and observations.
Formal education is augmented by informal education programs which 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.
The Year of the Environment
One of the central goals of the Year of the Environment in Israel was to increase public awareness of the environment and to involve the public in environmental activities. While environmental curricula have been developed for every level of schooling, from kindergarten to university, 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.
The Year of the Environment was officially launched in the formal education system in December 1993. To mark the occasion, an environmental education fair, organized by the Pedagogical Service of the Ministry of Education, was held in Jerusalem. The fair, in which some 90 bodies participated, displayed the entire gamut of educational material now available on the environment-textbooks, workbooks, computer programs, audio-visual material, films, study kits and games. Workshops were held to demonstrate teaching methods in the classroom, and some 20 schools presented their experience in environmental education. Most importantly, thousands of visitors, among them hundreds of teachers and educators, became acquainted with available materials and returned to the classroom equipped not only with innovative ideas but with tools and materials with which to implement them.
Within the framework of the Year of the Environment, the Ministry of the Environment prepared a special study kit for all schools in Israel including material on recycling, solar energy, environmental activities for youth, air pollution and general environmental information in Hebrew and in Arabic. The Ministry of Education, on its part, distributed special circulars on environmental education principles and environmental curricula and model programs-as well as a 550-page catalogue of environmental materials, including 400 entries. Entries are subdivided into four categories: subject matter, age and target audience (e.g. kindergarten to 12th grade, teachers, professionals, Hebrew, Arabic, English and French speakers), type of teaching aid (e.g. workbooks, teacher guidebooks, periodical articles, cassettes, videos, slides, computer games, exhibitions, posters) and type of activity (guided tours, shows and plays, workshops, simulation games, scientific experiments, lectures, discussion groups).
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 and industries participate in a special ceremony to mark the occasion. The presentation of environmental awards to individuals, local authorities and industries excelling in environmental protection constitutes 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 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, protection of open spaces, etc. The Nature Reserves Authority, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the National Parks Authority, the Jewish National Fund, the Education Ministry and the Ministry of the Environment-all take part in the events, which include workshops and seminars.