UNESCO-UNEP's Environmentally Educated Teachers – once the priority of priorities

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In 1987, as part of its International Environmental Education Programme, UNESCO-UNEP published: Strategies for the Training of Teachers in Environmental Education [Vol 25 of the programme], a summary of whose recommendations was subsequently made available in 'Connect XV(1) pp.1-3, 'Environmentally Educated Teachers – the priority of priorities'.

The Connect article began with sentiments that we all might agree with, more or less, ...

"The role of environmental education in the care of the environment is crucial.  What of the role of the teacher in environmental education [EE] — rather, of the environmentally educated teacher in the vital process of education, before and after, in and out of school?  Is it not, arguably, the priority of educational and, certainly, environmental priorities, as experience increasingly instructs us?  For in this connection, environment must be conceived in its entirety – natural and built, personal and collective, economic, social and cultural, technological, ecological and esthetic."

It continued:

"Ministers at the [1977] Tbilisi Conference logically concluded that EE should be an obligatory part of pre- and in-service teacher education and pertinent to the area — urban or rural — where the teacher was going to practise.  This is still to be universally applied."

35 years on, it still is, of course.  The original UNESCO-UNEP paper said this (p.28) in relation to the competencies required of an effective environmental educator:

"The initial steps in designing training programmes at either pre or inservice levels must include a definition of the desired teacher product.  The most functional way to define the product is in the form of expected behavioral competencies – associated knowledge, skills, and attitudes which are necessary in order to effectively teach environmental education (E.E.) programmes.  The descriptions of E.E. competencies found herein have been selected on the basis of two criteria: (1) they represent unique applications of knowledge, attitudes, behavior and/or skills to E.E.; or, (2) they are general education competencies pertinent to E.E. as well as other disciplines, but are not adequately developed by most existing teacher education programmes.  Therefore, the competencies proposed here are in addition to the general knowledge, attitudes, and skills expected of an effective educator."

The authors of the Connect summary could not bring themselves to use the notion of a "desired teacher product".  Rather, they talked about 'results' ...

"Practical initial steps in designing EE training programmes for teachers include definition of the desired result.  This in turn involves the most functional way of defining the desired result, namely, in terms of desired teacher competencies, which may be divided into two linked categories: (1) foundational competencies in professional education and (2) competencies in EE content."

The rest of the Connect paper was taken up with a summary of what UNESCO-UNEP thought that these competencies should be:

A Foundational competencies in professional education

The effective environmentally educated teacher should be able to:

  • apply a knowledge of educational philosophy to the selection or development of curricular programmes and strategies to achieve both general education and EE goals. (General education materials and methods may sometimes need merely to be "environmentalized" to achieve both objectives);
  • utilize current theories of moral reasoning in selecting, developing and implementing E Ë curricula which will effectively achieve EE goals. (Teachers should be competent to use appropriate strategies to allow learners to recognize the role of values in environmental decision making, clarify value positions and understand the valuing process);
  • utilize current theories of knowledge/attitude/ behavior relationships in selecting, developing and implementing a balanced curriculum which maximizes the probability of desired environmentally aware behavior changes in learners. (A balanced curriculum takes into account such aspects as ecological factors vs. trade-off costs, etc.);
  • utilize current theories of learning in selecting, developing and implementing curricular strategies to effectively achieve EE goals. (The methodology of EE as well as the nature of many EE goals is problem solving. A pragmatic approach on the part of teachers to theories of learning development, such as Piaget's, can do much to increase EE effectiveness in such methodologies and goals as environmental problem solving);
  • apply the theory of transfer of learning in selecting, developing and implementing curricular materials and strategies to insure that learned knowledge, attitudes and cognitive skills will be transferred to the learner's choices and decision making concerning lifestyle and behavior. (The ultimate goal of EE is to produce environmentally literate citizens who are willing and capable of taking positive environmental actions in their lifetime);
  • effectively implement the following methodologies to achieve EE goals: interdisciplinarity, outdoor education, values clarification, games and simulation, case-study approaches, community resource use, autonomous student and/or group investigation, evaluation and action in environmental problem solving, and appropriate teacher behaviors when handling controversial environmental issues;
  • develop and use effective means of planning for instruction;
  • effectively infuse appropriate EE curricula and methods into all disciplines to which the teacher is assigned;
  • effectively evaluate the results of EE curricula and methods in both cognitive and affective domains.

B Competencies in environmental education content

Level I : Ecological foundations

The effective environmentally educated teacher should be able to:

  • apply a knowledge of ecological foundations to the analysis of environmental issues and identify key ecological principles involved;
  • apply a knowledge of ecological foundations to predict the ecological consequences of alternative solutions to environmental problems;
  • be sufficiently literate in ecology to identify, select and interpret appropriate sources of scientific information in a continuing effort to investigate, evaluate and find solutions for environmental problems;
  • communicate and apply in an educational context the major concepts in ecology.

Level II: Conceptual awareness

The effective environmentally educated teacher should be able to select, develop and implement curricular materials which will make learners aware of:

  • how people's cultural or vocational activities (economic, religious, industrial, etc.) affect the environment from an ecological perspective;
  • how individual behaviors impact on the environment from the same perspective;
  • a wide variety of local, regional, national and international environmental issues and the ecological and cultural implications of these issues;
  • the viable alternative solutions available for remediating discrete environmental issues and the ecological and cultural implications of these alternative solutions;
  • the need for environmental issue investigation and evaluation as a prerequisite to sound decision making;
  • the roles played by differing human values clarification as an integral part of environmental decision making;
  • the need for responsible citizenship action (persuasion, consumerism, legal action, political action, ecomanagement, etc.) in the remediation of environmental concerns.

Level III : Investigation and evaluation

The effective environmentally educated teacher should be competent to investigate environmental issues and evaluate alternative solutions and to develop, select and implement curricular materials and strategies which will develop similar competencies in learners, including:

  • the knowledge and skills needed to identify and investigate issues (using both primary and secondary sources of information and to synthesize the data gathered);
  • the ability to analyze environmental issues and the associated value perspectives with respect to their ecological and cultural implications;
  • the ability to identify alternative solutions for discrete issues and the value perspectives associated with these solutions;
  • the ability to autonomously evaluate alternative solutions and associated value perspectives for discrete environmental issues with respect to their cultural and ecological implications;
  • the ability to identify and clarify their own value positions related to discrete environmental issues and their associated solutions;
  • the ability to evaluate, clarify and change their own value positions in the light of new information.

Level IV : Environmental action skills

The effective environmentally educated teacher should be competent to take positive environmental action for the purpose of achieving and maintaining a dynamic equilibrium between the quality of life and the quality of the environment (if indeed one can be separated from the other) and develop similar competencies in learners to take individual or group action when appropriate, such as persuasion, consumerism, political action, legal action, eco-management or combinations of these categories of action.


This was all rather demanding – and somewhat daunting – as Chris Oulton and I commented on in a paper in EER in 1995.  It remains so, even when you take this caveat into account from the original UNESCO-UNEP paper ...

"It may well be impossible for a single educational programme to effectively complete the training of teachers in all competency areas.  The need for continued development of these competencies will undoubtedly exist throughout the individual educator’s career.  Accordingly, these competency statements [ma]y be used to develope preservice programmes or continuing inservice programmes in E.E. teacher training."

Chris Oulton and I were particularly critical of the demands being made on teachers in relation to ecological knowledge and understanding.  We wondered, to cut a long story short, how all this could ever be developed, given the typical educational backgrounds of teachers, and the short time available for teacher education programmes (pre- or in-service).  We though it an impossible demand, akin to taking an ecology degree.  Further, we thought it an unnecessary one.  Speaking only for myself, I still do.  Unsurprisingly, nothing came of this, despite the eminence of the academics writing those long lists of what their teacher products needed to know.

Such fundamentalist ideas and urges have not gone away, as I shall illustrate in a follow-up post.

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