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Number: 67
Year: 1999
Author: Eloísa Trellez Solís and Gustavo Wilches Chaux
Title: Education for a Sustainable Future in the Americas

The Pioneering Purpose of Environmental Education

Many of the “pedagogical innovations” mentioned in the UNDP document cited earlier, refer to experiences in the field of environmental education. Some of them have been developed by formal educators in urban and rural schools, often in low-income sectors; others have been developed in non-formal educational programs, by non-governmental organizations or by State institutions.

Typically, environmental education experiences relate closely to “real life” actors and processes. In the context of formal education, environmental education has played an important – though not exclusive - role in reducing barriers that separate schools from their social and natural surroundings. At the same time, innovations in non-formal education have presented development processes as mutual learning and teaching experiences, i.e., as experiences involving all social sectors, including nature, both as a forum and a participant. At varying levels, environmental education has, generally speaking, also understood itself as “an education about and through processes.”  The process approach thus allows an analysis of reality over time, and lends a sense of constant flux and continuity to the analytical approach.

Environmental education has been successful not only in minimizing barriers hindering communication among different areas of knowledge, but also in building bridges between different disciplines and types of knowledge. It has assumed the challenge of democratizing scientific knowledge and of recovering, understanding, and valuing traditional knowledge. Similarly, it can expressly incorporate emotional and sensory dimensions, as required for holistic learning.

Challenge for the Future
  • To prevent the development of a dichotomy between “environmental education for sustainable development” and education that continues to promote nonsustainable conceptualizations of development, which, in terms of its contribution to sustainability, would be simply a poor quality education. Environmental education should supply the tools necessary to provide the “high quality education and training for all,” emphasized by UNDP. Environmental education gives us the key to providing universally available education of high quality, based on adequate and consistent teaching standards.