What is Environmental Education? Objectives, Advantages, Programmes

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Environmental Education 

Today, we all are facing various environment related problems like climate change, global warming, pollution, ecological imbalance due to biodiversity loss etc. These problems are the outcome of human activities as humans are exploiting mother earth to the core. Now it is very necessary to bring about a sense of awareness related to all environmental issues amongst citizens so that we can understand the value of our life-supporting Earth and its environment.
This can be achieved through imparting environment related knowledge to people especially to children and young generation as they are nation’s greatest resources, and the future of civilization depends on them. For this, teaching Environmental Education in schools, colleges will assist with that. Environmental Education is a study of nature, its functioning and persisting environmental problems so that environmental issues can be tackled efficiently. It also involves building of strategies to enhance and sustain nature.

Environmental Education creates a positive impact on youth and helps us become conscious of our actions and in making responsible choices. It will regenerate human’s interest in conservation and improvement of our environment before it is too late.

Environmental Education is not just ‘saving the world’, it is also about the development of an appreciation for the wonders and beauty of the world, and a sense of needing to save it or we can say the development of ecological thinking (Palmer, 1998).Several environmentalist and agencies have defined the term in different manner and some of them are as follows in “The Journal of Environmental Education” written by William B. Stapp (1969) definition of Environmental Education is "Producing a citizenry that is knowledgeable concerning the biophysical environment and its associated problems, aware of help solve these problems, and motivated to work toward their solution”.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN, 1971) has evolved Environmental education definition as “Environmental education is the process of recognizing values and clarifying concepts in order to develop skills and attitudes necessary to understand and appreciate the inter-relatedness among man, his culture and his biophysical surrounding. Environmental education also entails practice in decision making and self-formulation of a code of behavior about issues concerning environmental quality”.

A definition of Environmental education first appeared in 1969 in “The Journal of Environmental Education” written by William B. Stapp but the need of environmental education was highlighted during seventies period that reflected a growing concern about environmental degradation and world realized that concern and awareness regarding environment can be spread only through environmental education programmes. It mainly emerged from the United Nations Conferences on Human Environment at Stockholm (Sweden) in 1972. This conference emphasized on organization of formal and mass environmental programs and led to the establishment of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In 1975, “The Belgrade Charter” was the outcome of an International Workshop on Environmental Education held at Belgrade (Yugoslavia) which was organized by United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Belgrade workshop formulated goals, objectives and guiding principles of environmental education programs to achieve the objectives of Stockholm conferences. Later in 1977, world’s first intergovernmental conference on environmental education was organized by UNESCO in cooperation with UNEP at Tbilisi, Georgia (USSR). The Tbilisi Declaration constitutes the framework, principles and guidelines for environmental education for all age groups at all levels (local, national, regional and international). In International level, the next initiative for Environmental education was the World Conservation Strategy (1980) by IUCN with funding from UNESCO, UNEP and the World Wide Fund (WWF). In 1987, Moscow hosted the Tbilisi+10 Conference to evaluate the progress of Environmental Education and in the same year, the Brundtland Report “Our Common Future” published.

Thereafter, in the same context time to time a series of meetings and conferences were held (Table – 1). In seventh World Environmental Education Congress, Morocco (2013) main topics of discussion include the importance of environmental education, its role to empower, establishing partnership to promote environmental education. In national level various recommendations were made as an outcome of a national seminar, organized by the Indian Environmental Society in collaboration with the International Programme on Environmental management at the Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi in 1979, in which stress was given to integrate Gandhian thought and values as a part of Environmental Education. In 1980, first International Conferences on Environmental Education held in New Delhi, where importance of Environmental Education was observed in developing social consciousness towards harmful effects of ecological disruptions on individual and community.

Table -1: An Evolution of Environmental Education
1968 UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Conference in Paris-discussion on environmental curricula, training and awareness development.
1969 Definition of Environmental Education first appeared in “The Journal of Environmental Education” written by William B. Stapp
1970 UNESCO and IUCN – Environmental Education definition; U. S. created the Environmental Education Act.
1972 United Nations Conferences on Human Environment in Stockholm-UNESCO and UNEP - funded Environmental Education programme.
1975 Belgrade Charter – proposed initial Environmental Education goals.
1977 First International Environmental Education congress at Tbilisi – goals and Objectives of Environmental Education established.
1980 World Conservation Strategy – declares sustainable development as important for conservation.
1987 Tbilisi+10 Conference in Moscow – to evaluate Environmental Education progress. The Brundtland Report “Our Common Future” provides globally recognized definition of sustainability.
1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro – Agenda 21, a global plan for sustainable development.
2002 Johannesburg Summit – Sustainable development with five target areas.
2005-2014 UN – Decades of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD).
2007 4th International Conference of Environmental Education in Ahmadabad, India, focuses on the DSED.
2013 7th World Environmental Education Congress, Morocco - Discussion on importance of environmental education, its role to empower, establishing partnership to promote environmental education.

Objectives of Environmental Education 

The main purpose of environmental education is to create great concern and awareness not only about the various components of environment and problem associated with its degradation but also spread knowledge, develop skills, attitude, motivation and strong determination to find solutions of existing environmental issues and challenges and finally to prevent the new ones (UNESCO, 1975). The main goals of environmental education formulated in Intergovernmental Conference organized by UNESCO/UNEP in Tbilisi;
USSR in October, 1977 were: 
  1. to create awareness and concern in rural and urban areas regarding socioeconomic, political and ecological interdependence. 
  2. to provide opportunity for individuals to acquire knowledge and skills to protect the environment and inculcate values, attitudes and commitment to improve the environment. 
  3. To create change in behavioral pattern of individual groups and society towards environmental issues.
Thus, the ultimate purpose of environmental education aims at following objectives to safeguard the environment for the survival and existence of living entity.

Fig. 1: Objectives of Environmental Education

  1. Awareness - Environmental education makes individuals aware of importance of environment in survival of organisms and sensitive issues and challenges associated with degrading environment. 
  2. Knowledge - A good knowledge about environment and its components and their relationships helps to find possible solutions by past experiences to tackle the existing problems related to environment. 
  3. Attitude - A positive attitude of the individuals and organizations is needed for the active participation to protect the environment, and this can be done only by environmental education. 
  4. Skill - helps to foster skills for identifying and solving environmental problems by practical education.
  5. Evaluation ability - Environment education plays a crucial role in development of abilities to evaluate environmental measures and education programmes in terms of ecological, economic, social, aesthetic and educational factors. 
  6. Participation - to ensure active participation of every individual at all levels by providing opportunities to work towards the resolution of environmental problems. 

Further, according to Vidart (1978), the specific aims of Environmental Education can be categorized as -: 
  1. Cognitive aims: Involves development of conscious intellectual activity that aims to work out political solutions by cognitive efforts of peoples and their social groups to solve problems concerning the environment. 
  2. Normative aims: It aims to foster environment awareness and concern among peoples that will be conducive in creation of environment value models that will be crucial for identifying the factors responsible for environmental imbalance and raise voice against it. 
  3. Technical and applicative aims: this focuses on conjoint practices to improve or restore the quality of life through formal and informal education that provide easy access to technology and tools in such a way that the economic development does not interfere with the biological rhythms of the ecosystem. 

Guiding Principles of Environmental Education 

According to the Tbilisi Conference (1977) the following are the Guiding principles of Environmental Education (UNESCO, 1978): 
  1. Every aspect of environment is important i.e., natural, artificial/manmade, technological, social (economic, political, moral, cultural, historical, and aesthetic). 
  2. Environmental education is a continuous lifelong process (from pre-school to all higher levels formal as well as non-formal) 
  3. Interdisciplinary approach should be taken into account while making holistic and balanced perspective towards the environment. 
  4. Emphasis on community based active participation for prevention and finding solutions to environmental problems. 
  5. Monitor major environmental issues from world and regional point of view for receiving insights into environmental condition in different areas. 
  6. Not forgetting historical perspective of the environmental situation while dealing with current, potential threat to the environment. 
  7. Growth and development plans should be drafted while keeping into mind all the possible aspects of environment. 
  8. To inculcate critical thinking and problem-solving skills to deal with environmental problems those are very complex. 
  9. Focusing on local, national and international cooperation in the prevention and finding best possible solutions for environmental problems. 
  10. Fostering multidisciplinary educational approaches to teaching and learning about environment along with practical activities. 
  11. Creating awareness about symptoms and the root causes of environmental problems. 
  12. Motivating learners to take decisions on the basis of their learning experiences by providing them with opportunities and to tackle the consequences arising due to it

Environmental Educational Programmes

Based on different discipline, Newman (1981) classified Environmental Education programmes (three-fold classification of Environmental Education) as-
  • Environmental studies: It is concerned with the involvement of society to minimize the environment related problems by creating awareness among peoples. 
  • Environmental sciences: It deals with the study of different abiotic (water, air, soil) and biotic factors (organisms) and activities leading to environmental pollution and degradation and to find scientific ways for establishing a standard that can be acceptably clean, safe and healthy for the natural ecosystem and organisms living within it (physical and natural sciences). 
  • Environmental engineering: This is the study that encompasses multidisciplinary approach to create solutions that will rejuvenate the environment. 

Environmental Education in India 

India is a country which is highly diverse climatically, geologically, ethnically, socially and economically etc., so Environmental Education has to be location-specific. At the basic beginning level, special attention must be paid to school going children and women that comprises about 50% of the population. They are to be made aware of health, family planning, nutrition, rural development, slum improvement, sanitation, hygiene, water and food contamination, fodder, fuel wood, nature etc. For this purpose, Non-government organizations can play a significant role. There are more than 200 non-governmental organizations, out of which 150 work in the area of Environmental Education and awareness (Sharma, 2018). 
The main objective of Environmental Education is development of awareness and knowledge, attitudes, skills and abilities to participate in solving real life environmental problems. The challenge of achieving these goals requires effective educational strategies.

The Environmental education has four main interrelated components (i) awareness, (ii) real life situations (iii) conservation, and (iv) sustainable development. The perspective should be integrated, inter-disciplinary and holistic in nature and lay mass in rural, tribal, slum and urban areas, women, students, teachers (schools, colleges and universities), planners and decision policy makers and R & D workers need to be educated about environment and issues related to it. For this, there is need for a new approach in education which cuts across various subjects at schools and higher levels. Some recommendations according to Peyton et al. (1997) that can be offered to guide teachers and curriculum developers in designing approaches to environmental education are (a) Infusion of environmental issues in school/colleges curriculum, (b) Designing environmental awareness or educational programmes, (c) Exhibitions and (d) Establishment of environment clubs and societies. India adopted the infusion approach to Environmental Education throughout the formal education system. Here, Environmental Education is compulsory at all levels of formal education from 2003 onwards.

Environmental Education is generally divided into two major sub- areas i.e. Formal and Non-Formal education. Formal Environmental Education is in organized form where students, teachers and institutions are involved whereas non-formal Environmental Education is designed for any age group, working in social, economic and cultural development of the community.

Formal Environmental Education

It focuses on sensitizing students to environment and its importance for existence of mankind and other organisms by inculcating basic environmental education at different levels staring from primary schools to college level. For meet this goal environmental studies subject is made compulsory. This provides a platform for building up awareness, followed by real-life situations and conservation from the childhood so that good habit concerning environment could be imprinted for life long. This goal can be achieved by following steps: 
  1. To make child sensitive towards its surrounding environment. The content to be used is surroundings from home to school to outdoor situations and teaching includes audio-visual and field visits. 
  2. By real life experience, awareness and problem identification. The study contents include general science, teaching, practical and field visits. 
  3. Emphasizing on conservation, assimilation of knowledge, problem identification and action skills. For this there should be proper teaching, practical and field work with science-based and action-oriented work.
  4. By imparting knowledge regarding sustainable development followed by conservation, real life situations and awareness. The content must be College or University based on Science and Technology. Teaching, practical and action-oriented field work is to be done.

Non-formal Environmental Education

The center points of non-formal environment education are adult education, children's activities, eco development camps, NGOs (Non- government organization) and various schemes and activity conducted by Government to protect and conserve environment.
Under this comes: 
  1. Generation of information packs, posters, slides, audio, audio-visuals etc., in local languages. 
  2. On the spot painting, modeling and poster design contests that are conducted for children by the National Museum of Natural History. Short term courses are also given by NMNH in environment education every year. 
  3. Various schemes and activities conducted by Government Like - Training senior executives/administrators

Environmental Organizations and Agencies

There are several international and national organizations, agencies and programmes involved in different areas of environment, forestry, wildlife and other relevant aspects. These organizations are playing a key role in sorting out environmental issues. Some of the important bodies of this type are as follows (Sharma, 2018):

Table -2: List of International Organizations:
Earthscan Founded by UNEP in 1976, commissions original articles on environmental matters
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) It is a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. The convention entered into force on 1 July 1975.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) An independent Federal Agency of the U.S. Government established in 1970. It deals with protection of environment.
European Economic Community (EEC) It is a community of 12 European nations involved in framing and implementation of policy for environmental improvement and conservation of natural resources.
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN/WCU) An international organization founded in 1948(Headquarters at Morges, Switzerland) - initiates and promotes scientifically based conservation measures. Now re-named as World Conservation Union (WCU).
South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP) Set up in 1982 for exchange of professional knowledge and expertise on environmental issues among member countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) UN agency (Headquarters - Nairobi, Kenya 1972), responsible for co-operation of inter-governmental measures for environmental monitoring and protection.
World Commission on Environment and Development Set up in 1984 to re-examine the critical environmental and development issues and to formulate proposals for them.
Project Earth Developed in collaboration with UNEP to inspire interest and educate young people worldwide on the crucial issues related to Earth’s Environment.
Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB) It is the outcome of international Biological Programme (IBP) and is launched by UNESCO in 1971.
United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) International environmental treaty adopted on 9th May 1992 and open for signature at Earth Summit (1992). Its ultimate objective is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere.
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) It is multilateral treaty (1992) having three main goals conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, fair and equitable sharing of benefits from genetic resources.
Global Environmental Facility (GEF) It was established in 1992 for tackling most environmental problems.
Greenpeace A non-profit organization which focuses on serious worldwide threats biodiversity and environment. It campaigns to: stop climate change, protect ancient forests, save the oceans, say no to genetic engineering, stop the nuclear threat, eliminate toxic chemicals and encourage sustainable trade.
Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) An international campaigning organization in U.K– investigating, campaigning and exposing environment crime - protect the environment through enforcement of environmental laws.

National Organization:
Apart from International organization, there are a number of governmental as well as nongovernmental organizations, agencies and programmes engaged in environmental studies. Most of the governmental bodies involved in environmental studies are under the administrative control of Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF, 1980), Government of India, which was set up for planning, promotion and coordination of environmental programmes. In 2014, this ministry was re-named as Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) to highlight India’s stand on global climate change at international summit. It is mainly concerned with the implementation of policies and programmes related to biodiversity, forests, wildlife and climate change. The main objectives of the Ministry are conservation of flora, fauna, forest and wildlife, environment protection, prevention and control of pollution and impact of climate change and afforestation etc. These objectives are supported by legislation and regulatory measures. Besides these measures, a National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development (1992), National Forest Policy (1988), a Policy Statement on Abatement of Pollution (1992) and a National Environment policy (2005) has also been evolved.

Role of Adult and Women Education 

Educating men and women are a key for sustainable development of nation and conservation of nature. Environmental Education increases better understanding of environment and the environmental challenges among men and women. It develops the knowledge, skills and commitment among them which is needed to take responsibility for addressing these environmental challenges.
Environmental adult education develops a link between the environment and other aspects (social, economic, political and cultural) of people’s lives. Environmental adult education uses engaged, participatory methods based on the understanding that learning is a far more complex, extensive and important process than information transmission.

Environmental adult education begins with recognizing people’s with ecological knowledge and bringing them together through dialogue and debate for developing new ecological understandings of our world. Women play an important role in managing natural resources on family and community levels as women manage various activity like water, sources for fuel and food, as well as both forests and agricultural terrain. Educated women provide plan-document to be used for physical development of the human habitat. Therefore, the presence of educated women is needed to play as a system for sustainable environmental development. In the same context, a statement was given by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet meeting at Columbia University (New York, 2010) that“ The world’s women are the key to sustainable development, peace and security”. Women are not only get affected by environmental disasters or degradation but also their activities have an impact on natural resources and the environment. Therefore, it is the need to promote and develop environmentally friendly behaviours among women.

Major sustainable development treaties have also accepted the specific need for and importance of women’s participation. In 1992 United Nations Earth Summit (UNCED) produced two key conventions i.e. one on biological diversity and other on combating desertification which served as guides for implementation of environmental actions from a gender perspective. Agenda 21 (UNCED document) included a chapter on gender that highlighted the role of women as sustainable consumers in industrialized countries. Studies related to the women’s link to environment are concentrated not only in developing countries but also in developed countries and have shown that women have a smaller carbon footprint than men, making the majority of environment friendly or “green” decisions at the household or base level.

This can be further assisted by various movements and activities leaded or conducted by women’s that have made great strides in preserving and protecting the resources around them. Women took the lead in the Chipko Movement of India in the 1970s, where activists stopped the felling of trees by surrounding it or hugging the trees. They also protected water sources from corporate control. Similarly, another famous effort initiated by women was the Green Belt Movement, which was the conservation and forestry movement that originated in Kenya on Earth Day in 1977. Previously and even today many women around the world continue the fight against climate change, making sustainable consumption choices, and improving access to, control over and conservation of resources. Their voices must continue to be integrated into policy and implementation efforts at every stage for the well-being and better survival of future generations. Thus, we can say that the adult and women education add an ecological lens to Environmental Education through which we can address environmental problems and give voice to the needs of those who are most affected. 

Advantages of Environmental Education 

Environment education is a process that creates awareness among individuals towards their responsibility for environment, allows them to explore environmental issues and engage then in solving environmental problems. If water gets polluted, what are we going to drink? How will we enjoy nature if every forest is cut down? All this questions are persisting today and actions are required. If our children and young generations who are the future of nations aren’t taught how to preserve our ecosystem, the earth will be doomed. This is why Environmental Education is important and it has following advantages-

Encourages individual to respect mother earth and every life forms - By teaching individual, how to respect our nature, will definitely pave way for a brighter future. Environmental Education teaches us to be kind towards every life form living in this world. This will have a positive impact on our nature.

Cultivates critical thinking - Environmental Education also develops critical thinking amongst people. We become mindful and responsible of our actions, and this will ultimately show positive or healthy sign in nature.

Promotes a healthy way of life - Environmental education encourages people especially kids and young mass to participate in outdoor environmental activities and this ultimately promotes a healthy way of life of our future generation by diverting them towards nature.

Restoration of Environmental balance - By teaching everyone how their actions impact nature, the environmental degrading activities can be suppressed, and environmental balance can be restored. For instance, in today’s developing world deforestation is a very serious issue, but through environmental education people get motivated to plant more and more plants thereby balancing the nature and this helps in creating a sustainable future.

In conclusion, today world is facing numerous crisis and critical environmental issues like climate change, global warming, loss of biodiversity and environmental pollution etc. These issues are the outcomes of human activities like genetic modification, deforestation, soil erosion, water and air pollution, over exploitations of natural resources, fisheries collapse, oil spills, trade, marketing and urban decay etc.
Thousands of flora and fauna are dying due to human activities creating ecological imbalance. Therefore, steps must be taken to preserve our life supporting Mother Earth and for this Environmental Education is the need of the hour and is vital for our future. The future belongs to young upcoming generations and Environment Education helps in building up a healthier and greener environment for future generation.


In this unit we have gone through the concept of Environmental Education and its various aspects. So far you have learnt that 
  • Environmental Education is a study of nature, its functioning and persisting environmental problems so that environmental issues can be tackled efficiently. 
  • A definition of Environmental education first appeared in 1969 in “The Journal of Environmental Education” written by William B. Stapp. 
  • The concept of Environmental education mainly emerged from the United Nations Conferences on Human Environment at Stockholm (1972). 
  • The Belgrade Charter (1975) includes formulated goals, objectives and guiding principles of environmental education programs to achieve the objectives of Stockholm conferences. 
  • The Tbilisi Declaration constitutes the framework, principles and guidelines for environmental education at all levels-local, national, regional and international for all age groups. 
  • The main Objectives of Environmental Education (UNESCO-UNEP, 1978) are to develop awareness, knowledge, attitude, skill, evaluation ability and participation among individuals. 
  • According to Vidart (1978), the specific aims of Environmental Education are – Cognitive aims, Normative aims and Technical and applicative aims. 
  • Newman (1981) proposed a three-fold classification of environmental education programmes i.e. Environmental studies, Environmental sciences and Environmental engineering. 
  • Environmental education can be further divided into two major sub- areas i.e. Formal and Non-Formal education. 
  • There are several international and national environmental organizations, agencies and programmes like Earthscan, CITES, EPA , EEC, IUCN/WCU, UNESCO, UNEP, Earthwatch Programme, MAB programme, UNFCCC, CBD, Greenpeace and Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Govt. of India (MoEF& CC) etc. 
  • Educating men and women are a key for sustainable development of nation and conservation of nature. 
  • Women took the lead in the Chipko Movement of India in the 1970s, Green Belt Movement in Kenya on Earth Day in 1977. 
  • Environmental Education encourages individual to respect mother earth and every life forms, cultivates critical thinking, and promotes a healthy way of life and restoration of Environmental balance. 
  • Environmental Education is the need of the hour and is vital for developing healthier and greener environment for future generation. 

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