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La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993


In June, 1992, the world’s leaders met in Rio de Janeiro for the purpose of approving a global strategy of sustainable development. The document that emerged from the conference, Agenda 21, devoted special attention to environmental education as a part of this strategy, for it is through education that values, ideas, priorities, and facts are learned. In keeping with the conclusions of Agenda 21, and in response to the mandate of the Inter-American Council for Education, Science and Culture (CIECC), the Department of Educational Affairs of the Organization of American States presents here a collection of papers which address the need to incorporate environmental concerns into the complex process of teaching and learning.

In the first article, discussion focuses on the relationship between social inequality and environmental degradation in Latin America and the Caribbean. The paper argues that environmental degradation is not an accident or a byproduct of development, but is instead a foundation of dominant economic structures. The function and challenge of environmental education, then, are to illuminate the relationship between accepted socioeconomic principles and the relentless destruction of the world’s ecosystems.

Departing from a similar theoretical framework and an analysis of environmental education programs in Colombia, Ms. Maritza Torres stresses the need to develop a new conceptualization of the relationship between nature-society. This new concept should include an educational component that gives emphasis to the integral formation of the individual. Ms. Torres analyzes the relationships between school, its context and environmental education, underscoring the need to construct a curriculum that includes an environmental dimension. She concludes her article by suggesting specific actions, such as regional and national seminars that could assist in curriculum revision, and the design of new teaching materials specifically suited to environmental education.

In his paper, Professor Lynton Caldwell considers the role of hemispheric cooperation in promoting sustainable development in the Americas. He analyzes the obstacles to achieving consensus about institutional arrangements affecting agencies related to environment and development. In this context, Professor Caldwell also discusses the role of national governments and recommends specific policies that might be adopted to foster cooperation.

Dr. Sam Ham and Dr. Richard Meganck investigate the reality of international cooperation between Central America and the United States as it relates to specific environmental education curricula. In a case study of rural Honduras, the authors show the difficulties of transferring environmental programs designed for particular surroundings, facilities, teachers and students to a different country with a distinct educational system. The paper concludes with recommendations for adapting packaged programs to local conditions.

In a related article, Dr. Janet Welsh Brown and Lic. Arnaldo José Gabaldón emphasize the fundamental connection between underdevelopment and environmental degradation as they discuss the Compact for a New World. The Compact is an outline of the agreements needed to promote sustainable development, and among its recommendations are those affecting educational systems in the region.

The Caribbean states represent a distinct set of environmental pressures in the Americas, which are detailed in an article by Mr. Calvin Howell. Because of a heavy dependence on environment-based tourism and agriculture, the islands must promote public awareness and concern for the preservation of natural resources. Mr. Howell assesses the environmental education programs in the subregion and recommends new approaches for their expanded implementation.

As a part of our focus on environmental education, this issue of La Educación includes in our Research in Progress section papers outlining findings in the field of disaster mitigation and projects designed to reduce the vulnerability of schools to natural hazards. As these papers point out, many educational facilities are highly vulnerable to the impact of earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides, flooding and other natural events because they have not been located or constructed with disaster mitigation in mind. The papers presented here were produced in cooperation with the Organization’s effort to draw attention to the need to fortify school structures and school programs in the face of natural hazards. This initiative has been undertaken by the Department of Educational Affairs and the Department of Regional Development and Environment of the OAS, as a contribution to the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The theme for IDNDR for 1993 will focus on lessening the impact of disasters on schools and hospitals.

Together, these articles represent the efforts of specialists in the region to confront the mounting problem of environmental deterioration through both formal and nonformal educational systems. The need to employ education in the reduction of social inequality, the elimination of poverty, the adaptation of technology to local conditions, the promotion of international cooperation and the protection of learning institutions themselves are all suggested as crucial parts of an hemispheric environmental education agenda. For the causes of environmental destruction are not found only at the site of the damage. They are instead to be found in the beliefs and the behaviors of human beings; the attitudes and ideas that were learned in school and put to work. To change these attitudes and human expectations and to resolve conflicts in the use of the Earth’s ecosystems is the immense task of environmental education.

Beatrice Edwards
Guest Editor

Yadira A. Soto
Assistant Editor