EE: practitioners’ perspective 2

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

Here are further comments on the part 2 of the King's Report: The Practitioners’ Perspective: Understanding Environmental Education in Secondary Schools. Where is it, what is it and what should the future be?   In this, I build on what I wrote the other day.

The executive summary says this on page 1:

"Although contentious and not without issue, we propose that the first step towards this aim is to align the status of environmental education with numeracy and literacy education."

If this is to be the first step, we're in for a long wait as only the DfE can do this, and there is no mention of the DfE in the report.


2 The Recommendations section of the executive summary says this on page 2:

"... learning opportunities need to be framed at both the global/systemic level and the local level.  By emphasising local considerations, students are able to develop ownership and agency for solutions whilst also understanding the interconnected nature of local environmental issues in the global context."

What happened to the national level?  Given that education and environmental policy and legislation are both determined nationally, isn't this an important context?  It's a strange omission.


3 The Key Findings section on page 6 says:

"The decline of environmental education in the science curriculum was thought to be an outcome of the strong emphasis on subject acquisition and a reduction of context and application: "I think that the specification at the moment is more on the content, on the theory of some scientific concepts, more than actually the application to current issues." (Science teacher, 17_10)"

This sounds plausible, and is a (presumably unintended) consequence of government action.  It is, of course, not just EE that is affected here.  I hope the ASE / BA / etc are on the case.


4 Table 1 on page 6 throws up marked differences between the (small numbers of) the teachers and others consulted on whether there are sufficient or too few opportunities provided by the secondary school curriculum to pursue EE interests.  11 of the teachers consulted (out of 14) thought the was too little opportunity, with only 3 saying there was enough.   The split in geography teachers was 2 (enough) to 4 (too little).  In science teachers, it was 7 to 1.  The report comments:

"Most science teachers agreed that since the 2014 curriculum and examination changes, topics associated with environmental education have declined, received less of an emphasis and ‘are falling through the gaps’."

By contrast, two geography teachers were quoted as reporting an increase in opportunities since the curriculum changes in subject knowledge content related to the environment.  This reported subject imbalance would likely reflect many people's views of where the opportunities lie.    Of course, none of this matters much if teachers are unable to recognise and take opportunities, for whatever reason.

If only science teachers and geography teachers would / could collaborate more?  If only ... .  This plea is of long-standing and there are good reasons, many of them cultural, why this is difficult.  In the heady days in the 1970s when there were dedicated environmental science and environmental studies examination courses in secondary schools, nuclear power featured on both sides of the divide.  In science, students were taught about fission, about controlling fission, and about the structure (plumbing, etc) of reactors.  In geography, meanwhile, students were taught about the dangers and problems of fission and its by-products.  The poor students were left to bring the issues together for themselves.  They still are, as the quote from Science teacher 17_5 illustrates (page 7).


5 Page 8 is preoccupied with the in/about/for mantra, and the venerable Arthur Lucas gets a mention in despatches.

This is a popular way of thinking about EE which I try very hard not to use as I find it completely unhelpful.  I know I may be alone in this.  I also cannot take seriously the idea that about equates with science and for with geography, as some of those interviewed seemed to suggest.  And as for education in the environment, for me, this always has to have an environmental focus if is to count as EE – otherwise it’s just education / learning outdoors, and it’s why I am so disappointed at all the emphasis that’s on ‘outdoor learning’ these days, when so little has an environmental focus.  All this leads me to think that this artificial division into in/about/for is as problematic as the simplistic split between goods and services these days, when so many goods come packaged with services, and so many services need a good to enable them to be experienced.

Anyway, this comes back to a point I've already made: all this learning about / in / for / under / etc begs the question learning what, exactly?  Does anybody know?


6 Finally, for today, there is this (from pages 8 & 9):

"Interviewees highlighted that skills, such as ‘critical thinking’, ‘problem solving’ and ‘creativity’ (often referred to as 21st century skills) needed to be taught to ensure that students were able to cope with unknown futures. In practical terms, the respondents spoke about the need for skills in the ‘interpretation of data’ (e.g. data gathering, synthesis of secondary data, forming predictions) and understanding data credibility and trustworthiness:   'They need critical skills and increased creativity. So much information is thrown at them in the news but they have no way of knowing what is important or not.' (Science teacher, 17_8)"

This (almost) goes without saying, but I wondered why there was no mention of the sort of analytical argumentation skills associated with [i] a critical understanding of argument whether in textual or verbal form, and with [ii] an ability to make a coherent argument in whatever form is appropriate.  Such literacy skills are needed now more than ever before.  At the end of the day, it is these skills that I learned at school in my teens that I use every day – not the factual stuff I learned.  It's may be why I'm now a scribbler.

More later ...

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


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