Environmental adult education
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Environmental adult education is recognized as a “hybrid outgrowth of the environmental movement and adult education, combining an ecological orientation with a learning paradigm to provide a vigorous educational approach to environmental concerns” (Sumner, 2003).
In laymen’s terms, environmental adult education refers to efforts in teaching environmental issues and how individuals and businesses can manage or change their lifestyles and ecosystems to live sustainably. The overarching goal of this field of study is to educate global societies to live more sustainably.
Environmental adult education is a relatively new and unique field of study and practice. It is a community-based method in which educators listen and respect the input of learners, and all participants are considered essential.
During the last thirty years, environmental adult education has evolved. For more than a century, environmental and conservation organizations taught adults environmental education with very little structure.
The United States was one of the first countries to officially recognize environmental education. During a joint House-Senate session in 1968, Congress acknowledged the importance of environmental education, and in 1970 passed the Environmental Education Act, which established the Office of Environmental Education.
- Mid-1970s: EAE recognized as distinct field of study
- Late 1980s: EAE focus on learner experience
- Late 1990s, Early 2000: Focus shifted to how to teach EAE
- 1997: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) hosted conference on adult education with EAE being one of the 33 workshops presented
Earlier environmental education initiatives
According to the UNESCO Web site, in 1968 it organized the first intergovernmental conference aimed at reconciling the environment and development, now known as “sustainable development”. In the following years, UNESCO and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) initiated three major declarations that defined environmental education. Those included:
- 1972: Stockholm Declaration. This document included seven proclamations and 26 principles “to inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human environment.”
- 1975: Belgrade Charter. The product of the International Workshop on Environmental Education, this charter built upon the Stockholm Declaration by adding goals, objectives and principles for environmental education programs.
- 1977: Tbilisi Declaration. This document updated and clarified the Stockholm Declaration and the Belgrade Charter by including new goals, objectives, characteristics, and guiding principles of environmental education.
Participatory methods allow learners to make connections between social issues and environmental problems. This connection allows adult learners to understand the core causes of major environmental issues and the resulting social inequalities. This method also allows educators to stress the importance of instilling environmental awareness so that learners do not forget their relationship with the natural world.
To summarize the methods of adult environmental education training, environmental adult educators strive to instil learners with:
- a knowledge of environmental problems and their causes
- the skills to engage in social activism to combat those problems
- the attitude of respect and connection to the natural world
- a desire to change current practices to protect the Earth
Environmental adult education generally takes place in a nonformal education setting. This means that the organized learning can take place in many forms including vocational education, literacy education and on the job training.
The need for adult environmental education
Environmental problems are a reality in today’s culture that cannot be ignored. Growing environmental troubles that the world is facing today include:
Education is the key to reaching environmental sustainability, defined as “developing a way of human living that will ensure an enduring and sufficient level of support from the earth’s resources”.
Programs and organizations that encourage adult environmental education
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- Conservation education and governmental agencies such as the Forestry Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were established to educate adults in broad areas of the environment.
- The Nature Conservancy, originally the Ecological Society of America, was formed in 1915 with the missions of supporting ecologists and preserving natural ecosystems.
- The 4-H Organization was also established to reach adults by educating youth in areas of new agricultural technology and environmental awareness.
- The Peace Corps, established in 1961, has worked to incorporate adult environmental education and conservation practices into its international programming. Volunteers assist in:
- Environmental education
- Wildlife protection
- Park management
- Alleviating water-borne diseases
- Providing potable water
- Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) is a nonprofit water education program and publisher. This program “promotes awareness, appreciation, knowledge and stewardship of water resources through the dissemination of classroom-ready teaching aids and the establishment of internationally sponsored Project WET programs.” Committed to global water education that is implemented at the community level, the mission of Project WET is to reach children, parents, educators, and communities of the world with water education.
- Project WILD is a conservation and environmental education program for educators of students in kindergarten through high school. Project WILD addresses the need for human beings to develop as responsible citizens of the planet. It is based on the belief that young adults and educators have an interest in learning about the natural world.
- Project Learning Tree, a program of the American Forest Foundation, is an award winning, multi-disciplinary environmental education program for educators and students in PreK-Grade 12.
- Gobar Times a monthly environmental education magazine for the young adult.
- Haugen 2006
- American Geological Institute 2000
- Parker & Towner, 1993
- Project WET
- Project WILD
- American Geological Institute (2000). Update on the National Environmental Education Act of 1990. Retrieved September 27, 2008 from the American Geological Institute Web site: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/neea106.html
- Environmental Education (2008). The Modern Impetus for EE: The Tibilisi Declaration (1977). Retrieved September 27, 2008, from the Global Development Research Center Web site: http://www.gdrc.org/uem/ee/1-4.html
- Haugen, C.S. (2006). Environmental Adult education Theory and Adult Learning Principles: Implications for Training. M.A. thesis, American University, in Proquest Digital Dissertations
- Hill, L.H. & Johnston, J.D. (2003). Adult education and humanity’s relationship with nature reflected in language, metaphor and spirituality: A call to action. New directions for adult and continuing education, Fall 2003 (99), 17-26
- Parker, J & Towner, E. (1993). Editorial: Learning for the future. Adults learning, 4 (8) 208-209
- Sumner, J (2003). Environmental adult education and community sustainability. New directions for adult and continuing education, Fall (99), 39-45.
- United Nations Environment Programme (2008). Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. Retrieved September 27, 2008, from United Nations Environment Programme Web site: http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=97&ArticleID=1503
- United Nations Environment Programme (2008). The Belgrade Charter adopted at the International Workshop on Environmental Education in 1975. Retrieved September 27, 2008, from United Nations Environment Programme Web site: http://portal.unesco.org/education/en/ev.php-URL_ID=33037&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 
- The Peace Corps 
- The 4-H Organization: History 
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: History 
- U.S. Forestry Service: History 
- The Nature Conservancy 
- Project WET 
- Project WILD 
- Project Learning Tree