Here's my final comment (for now) on the new research on EE in secondary schools from King's College: Understanding Environmental Education in Secondary Schools – Report 1: The Policy Perspective It relates to the discussion section of the report.
There's much to agree with and appreciate here. I have been surprised at the revelation of just how much your choice of exam board matters at 16 in determining whether or not you will receive much by way of an environmental education.
The discussion focuses on two key questions:
- Why should the government be more active in shaping environmental education in secondary schools?
- What should be included in an environmental education?
In response to the first, the authors are clear:
"Human activity is ecologically unsustainable, and the loss of biodiversity, climate change and air and water pollution are worsening and leading to worldwide inequalities. It is incumbent upon a government to ensure that all people collectively understand how to repair our planet."
Nicely put. There's then a cheeky section saying that "it might be suggested that a government would be wise to additionally care about environmental education for more instrumental reasons." Think PISA and the green economy. Quite so.
In response to the second, I was pleased to see the following:
"Whilst ‘field work’ is listed in geography and science schemes of work, it is not always evident that this activity has much to-do with the environment per se, rather a technical skill required for an exam. Although these differences are at times subtle, if students are to learn about their environment, in their evironment and engender a sense of ownership for their environment, such learning aims will need to be made explicit."
Indeed they do, and this chimes with points I've already made about outdoor learning.
What follows this is harder to go along with. The report says:
"... for a democratic education young people require access to multiple viewpoints and a range of perspectives. Predicted outcomes and possible interventions concerning environmental improvements need to be shared and challenged. There is a need, as citizens, to understand that there are no environmental fixes and that all solutions have social, political, environmental impacts. However, as Stevenson (2007, p.143) cautions, exposing students to multiple perspectives will not be enough, rather ‘students also need to be competent to implement or act on their choice, otherwise they will not consider themselves capable of rectifying environmental injustices, and therefore will not experience an authentic choice on these issues’."
Well! Up to a point, Lord Copper. I think it will be a brave headteacher who goes along with Stevenson's impossibilist demands in their pure form. But that this shows up the false dichotomy at the heart of this conservative (boo) / radical (huzzah) split as there's a ying 'n' yang to it. To understand all these multiple perspectives you need a bit of knowledge – conservative though it might be.
My conclusion is that, overall, I'd have thought that an open-minded ESD1 / ESD2 framing would have served the argument better.
Finally, that brings us back to the recommendations:
1.In lieu of varied weakly framed references, a coherent national policy which sets out a vision for environmental education in secondary schools should be established. The policy would shape future National Curriculum reforms and national assessments.
– By whom? Not DfE, that's for sure. What a pity there isn't a Council for Environmental Education with the ear of government.
2.The national policy should recognize the multiple dimensions of environmental education (eg about, in and for the environment) and ensure that all dimensions are given equal footing throughout a student’s school career.
– much better, surely, to focus on outcomes: what every environmentally-educated 16 year old should know, understand and be able to do.
3. Young people should be given the opportunity to think broadly about local and global environmental issues and encouraged to develop a sense of ownership and agency. In other words, students should receive a democratic pluralistic education about the environment whereby they have the capabilities and resolve to mitigate environmental inequalities.
– working with others ...