The aims of environmental science education revisited

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

As I noted the other day, the ASE is reprinting a 2010 article of mine in the 2022 edition of ASE International.  A core part of that paper was a section on The aims of environmental science education.  Here it is:

1  that students should have an appropriate knowledge and critical understanding of the following:

1.1. fundamental ecological concepts; viz: diversity of lifeforms,  communities of lifeforms in specific areas,  ecosystems,  adaptation of animals and plants to their environment,  energy flow through such systems,  material cycles in nature,  inter-relationships between energy flow, material flow and the viability of lifeforms and communities; and to have studied these at first-hand.

1.2. theories of genetics, inheritance and evolution, the theories and practices of plant and animal breeding, and the concepts of biotechnology and genetic engineering.

1.3. ways in which the natural world is of benefit to humanity; viz:

  • a source of those resources necessary for bio-processes (eg, a viable, clean atmosphere, nutritious, edible and palatable food, clean water)
  • a source of resources required for social and socio-economic activity (eg, fuels for heat, transport and economic activity, raw materials for shelter, security and economic activity, eg, minerals, plant crops, gases)
  • a means of disposing of the waste products of humans and their socio- economic activities in order to render such waste harmless, and/or in order to recycle/reuse it for further/future use.

1.4. ways in which both social and economic human activity is thought, increasingly, to disturb and stress natural cycles and flows, and jeopardizes the viability of such systems; viz: habitat loss and the commensurate effects on species and biodiversity; agricultural land loss; acidification of soils;  desertification;  eutrophication;  temperature fluctuations;  enhanced/ accelerated climate change; pollution of air, groundwater, land, waterways, and the oceans;  stratospheric ozone layer depletion, …

1.5. ways in which human activity is using up resources which are finite and irreplaceable, the search for alternative materials, and the problems associated with this.

1.6. arguments about, both the need to change the ways in which humans use energy and the urgency of such action, and the steps which are being taken to shift to greater use of renewable sources.

1.7. the large discrepancies in the use of energy and resources across the world, and the resulting differences in the quality of life and life-expectancy for different groups of people; and of the ethical issues raised by such differences.

1.8. the ways in which humans have a duty of care and responsibility towards other life-forms on the planet, both in the need to treat them humanely (eg, in experimentation, agriculture, hunting, their use in commerce and in domestic contexts) and in the need to do nothing to jeopardise their continuing viability at the species level; and of the ethical issues raised by such differences.

1.9. the ways in which humans have a duty of care towards the needs of future human generations and the future of the planet; and of the ethical issues raised by such differences.

1.10. the implications of all of 4 to 9 for the quality and perhaps even the existence of future life on the planet (human and all other), including a critical understanding of the quality of the arguments and evidence upon which such concerns are based, and the implications for future policy, activity, training and education.

2  that they should acquire such knowledge and understanding in a way which:

2.1  requires them actively to engage in the process, and allows them to appreciate the complexities of the arguments

2.2  gives them appropriate first-hand experience of environmental issues in an authentic context

2.3  allows them to acquire suitable practical environmental investigation and action skills

2.4  demonstrates the links between science and other disciplines

2.5  involves a respect for evidence and a recognition of the need for balance

2.6  requires them to create their own theories about how environmental issues might be understood and dealt with

2.7  increases their own sense of concern and responsibility for the future of lifeforms on the planet

3  so that they, individually and/or collectively, will have both the ability and the motivation to:

3.1  comprehend and contribute to the on-going debate about environmental and sustainability issues in a way which is both scientifically and environmentally literate, doing this in a critical way

3.2  be aware of individual and collective impacts on environmental systems in daily life and work, and think about how these can be mitigated

3.3  help influence those around them at work and in the community to raise the level of awareness of environmental/sustainability issues and the implications of actions

3.4  use their action skills at home, at work and in the community

3.5  contribute through social processes to shaping policy at local and national levels


I noted back then that "this is a view of science education that goes well beyond the usual conceptualisation of knowledge, understanding, and science skills", and also made the point that a focus on a preparation for social action is essential.   As such it is a citizenship agenda as well as a science one which suggests that linkages between the two can be very productive in raising issues with young people.  As Ofsted (2010: para 157) notes, citizenship can be considered as a bridge between various initiatives to which schools need to respond, for example, sustainability, community cohesion and user voice.

Has this, I wonder, any salience today amongst science educators?


Ofsted (2010) Citizenship Established? Citizenship in Schools 2006/09. Manchester: Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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