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La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993

Conclusions and Recommendations

The results of this study corroborate widespread recognition that it is not usually possible to simply transfer institutional models and procedures from developed to developing countries without substantial modification and adaptation. The priorities of the countries are often too different. In many rural areas of Central America, environmental problems are caused not just by a lack of access to environmental education programs also by inequitable land ownership and the related pressures of a growing population and declining natural resource base. If education is to attack environmental degradation at the root, it must address these issues directly as part of a comprehensive program of sustainable development. U.S. environmental education programs do not adopt this perspective because conservation priorities in the United States are different.

Despite the existence of several environmental education programs and activity guides in the U.S., the success of these materials in United States schools does not guarantee they will be successful or even appropriate in rural Central America. Results of this study suggest that beyond obvious differences in language and biophysical environments, other factors may limit the transferability of U.S. environmental education programs to Central American schools. Depending on the country, wide differences may exist in teachers’ educational backgrounds; school enrollment patterns and dropout rates; class composition; and in the materials, services and facilities available to teachers for everyday instruction. U.S. environmental education programs usually assume college-educated teachers, continuous enrollment between grades 1 and 12, one grade level per classroom, and the availability of basic instructional resources and services such as electricity, plumbing, and photocopying facilities. Based on the data reported here, it would seem that such programs, regardless of how well suited they are to U.S. schools and regardless of how well translated they are, would face serious obstacles in rural Honduras and in similar settings in rural areas throughout Central America.

Although the central conclusion from this study is that several factors combine to limit the transferability of U.S. environmental education programs to rural Central America, this does not mean that U.S. educators cannot contribute to the growth and development of environmental education in the region. It means simply that alternative approaches should be considered. Clearly, a better strategy to exporting their materials and  programs would be to assist educators in LDCs in developing their own approaches to environmental education. Often it is they who are most eager to acquire outside materials and put them to use in their classrooms, usually because there is little else available to them. Recognizing this tendency, Diane and David Wood developed a procedural guide for developing environmental education programs (Wood and Wood 1987, 7-46). Published both in English and Spanish, the Woods’ manual stresses the need for designing programs that are specific to local people, local environments, and to local environmental education priorities. What they present is not an activity book, but a process that educators from any country can use to analyze their own needs and develop strategies for achieving the desired outcomes of an environmental education program. More recently, the U.S. Peace Corps has produced an extensive guide to planning and conducting formal environmental education in LDC schools (Braus and Wood 1993, 1-94) that presents a logical extension of the Woods’ manual. U.S. environmental educators who wish to assist LDCs in environmental education might begin by becoming familiar with the approaches described in both of these documents.

University-level programs in environmental education training need to do a better job of adapting course content to the needs of their students. Latin Americans studying environmental education at U.S. institutions must be encouraged to question more of what they are taught because all of it may not apply to the realities they face at home. These students often arrive at a university highly motivated and eager to learn quick solutions because the problems at home are immense, and they sense that time may be short. Sometimes the result is that they accept concepts, procedures, and ideologies that do not really fit the situations in their countries. The fact remains, however, that there are many usable ideas not only in the United States but across the world that could prove valuable if adapted to local needs and conditions. A good example is an effort by Costa Rican school teachers and faculty at La Universidad Nacional to develop environmental learning activities based on Project Wild methodologies but which involve local educators not only in translating but in modifying the activities to include local environments and locally available materials and resources. Additional examples of innovative environmental education programs for local schools and communities can be found in Ham (1992, 191-232).

A key to the growth and development of formal environmental education in LDCs will be the extent to which in-country educators embrace environmental education as their priority. As they develop and experiment with their own approaches and continue to learn what is successful for them, they are more likely to see both the premise and promise of environmental education in their schools. Rather than importing a model and approach to environmental education that is not “them,” educators in any country would be better served by looking to the outside for ideas and resources, but developing environmental education programs from within. Adapting what can be effectively borrowed  from elsewhere, and trusting in the creative ability of its own educators, any country can develop effective environmental education programs suited to its own schools, teachers, and students.