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La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993

Beyond the Language Barrier

We have seen that the transferability of environmental education materials from one country to another can be influenced by language barriers, and even more important, that the educational impact of the materials may be colored by the biophysical environments they emphasize. Yet, differences between the United States and Central American rural areas include far more than their languages and biophysical environments. Important differences may also exist in their elementary school systems. In the United States, for example, it is generally assumed that primary schools are staffed by teachers who hold at least a bachelor’s degree in education along with a minor in a substantive curriculum area. It is assumed that most students finish at least 12 years of formal education, and that what is taught in a particular grade in one school is highly similar to what is taught in the same grade at a different school. With rare exception, it is also assumed that most U.S. schools have at least one teacher and one classroom for each grade. U.S. elementary schools also generally take for granted access to plumbing, electricity, photocopying facilities, chalk boards, pencils, paper, glue, scissors, crayons, textbooks, teachers’ guides, and student workbooks. Not surprisingly, environmental education materials developed for use in U.S. schools are based on these assumptions, and take for granted not only teachers’ educational backgrounds and conceptual levels, but also their access to the services and resources listed above. Because  of this, some have questioned whether translated materials originally intended for application in U.S. schools are going to be as effective when applied in settings where these assumptions do not hold (see, for example, Wood and Wood 1987, and United Nations 1980), and if this is indeed the case, whether U.S. environmental educators ought to consider alternative ways to provide needed assistance to rural school systems in Latin America—other than sending materials intended for use in U.S. schools.