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France and Greece - Towards a real Education for the Environment

Towards a real Education for the Environment

Thursday 18 November 2004, by Christian SOUCHON, D.I.R.E.S. Association (Didactics, Innovation, Research in Scientific Education), Yolanda Ziaka

Despite of the fact that Environmental Education (EE) began to be given formal recognition at the start of the 1970s - although the awareness of environmental problems and of the role that could be assigned to educational processes predates this point - we can say, twenty years on, that globally the present condition of EE hangs in the balance. On the one hand, methodological reflection, the proposition of didactic material and the realization of multiple pilot schemes have lead to exemplary and very profitable efforts and provided a stable foundation for the future. On the other hand though, educational systems show little in the way of institutionalized EE, and then very often illusory. In the French system, for example, the proportion of children having experienced an EE activity once in their schooldays is probably less than 10% (P. GIOLITTO and C. SOUCHON, 1991). Thus, we speak a lot about EE, but do little about it. However, we should be clear about what we mean when we talk about EE. In order to be so, we need to examine what distinguishes EE from other areas of education, what its specificity is and what this specificity implies when it is practiced.

1) The specificity of EE
In line with A. Giordan and C. Souchon (1990), we have adopted a wholly pragmatic approach in order to avoid ambiguity regarding EE, namely by defining it by its "subjects of study". First, we consider environmental problems which are well-known by general public: pollution in its various forms, land abuse, soil erosion, deforestation, ... Suffice it to say afterwards that the origin of environmental problems can be found in human economic activities which are predicated on the use of resources. This is the second subject of EE.
The specificity of EE also resides principally in its concern to fight against and prevent environmental problems and reasonably administer the use of resources. In this way, EE becomes an Education for the Environment rather than Education by the Environment, the latter being a pretext for an ordinary scholarly activity about the Environment (sometimes called medium studies). Censuring us for excluding Man speaking about an activity for the Environment is totally unjustified, as this approach points towards the relationship between Man and Nature and doesn’t settle on any kind of supremacy of Nature over Man. Furthermore, it still puts the accent on Man’s over exploitation of Nature.
Another characteristic of EE is its taking into account of values. This approach is essentially a philosophical one, but here it is practiced in concrete situations and only in certain fields. Following L. Goffin and M. Boniver (1982), we retain four values: Solidarity, Tolerance, Autonomy and Responsibility (STAR), remarking only the lesser specificity of Autonomy.
All are agreed on the need to have in EE an education in citizenship, a veritable concrete civic education. This should determine, in a practical way, firstly, the very type of educational activities aimed at the development of appropriate attitudes and behaviors and, secondly, a way to establish the relationship with values.
This first review of the characteristics of EE allows us to posit the global conceptual approach. With regard to effective educational practice, and an institutionalized framework, this approach points to a certain number of requirements which lend credibility to an EE founded targeting effectiveness and efficiency.

2) The requirements of EE
Now that we have stated the "conceptual" requirement (knowing what we are doing and why), we need to be as exact in affirming how we should educate. First of all, we must clear up a semantic problem. Socially the word environment is often abused and there is a vague conception of Environmental Education, according to the dictates of fashion. Thus, subjects that were formerly called botanical excursions, medium studies, walks in nature, gardening activities, ... become an Initiation into the Environment, or even an Education concerning Environment. This evolution in the vocabulary makes obvious the opposition between natural and human medium and the tendency to consider nature alone, outside its relationship to Man.
The "sensible" approaches, which favor the senses in an exclusive way, steering clear of any intellectual analysis of problematic environmental situations, benefiting from a pleasant presentation of active and spontaneous pedagogy, counting on games and conviviality, present a garbled image of what could be a real EE. Although they are not inherently useless, the activities of a sensible type and / or the classic naturalist approach should not be thought of either as an indispensable preliminary to EE, or as an exclusive activity. The practices of "nature animation", or "discovery of nature" (what we would now call "eco-animation") may be very enriching for individuals, but do not lead to an education in citizenship, as surely as a precise analysis of an environmental situation.
For example, with regard to Forest, a genuine EE would not begin with a perception of shadow and freshness, a marveling before the variety of vegetal and animal forms, or even the presentation of the functioning of the ecosystem and its biological diversity. Rather, certain questions regarding Man’s relationship with Forest should first be addressed, such as : "How is this relationship lead and why ? What are the uses of a Forest ? Are there any conflicts of use ? Why should we conserve Forests ? How do we care for?".

In conclusion, the current confusion affecting approaches to EE only delays its institutionalization and benefits the woolly-minded approach of those who do not really want it. The establishment of an authentic EE would see the following : a clear definition of EE; a definite place in the curriculum (while favoring an interdisciplinary approach of activities); a training of teachers that allows for the mastering of methods that facilitate the analysis of complex environmental situations; and, finally, making EE a subject with a controlled curriculum.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:
P. GIOLITTO et C. SOUCHON, 1991, "Environmental Education en France : assessment and outlook", in European Journal of Education, Vol. 26, N° 4
A. GIORDAN et C. SOUCHON, 1990, 1993, Une Education pour l’Environnement, Z’ Editions, Nice
L. GOFFIN et M. BONIVER, "La perspective environnementale en pédagogie", in Revue belge de psychologie et de pédagogie, tome 44, N° 19, septembre 1982, pp.79-95

SOURCE: C. SOUCHON et Y. ZIAKA, 1993, « Spécificités et exigences de l’Education pour l’Environnement”, in L’Education relative à l’Environnement : Pour un débat institutionnel et méthodologique, Environnement et Société, N° 11, Fondation Universitaire Luxembourgeoise, Arlon, Belgique.
KEY WORDS: Environmental Education; Environmental problems; Natural resources management; Citizenship.
LOCALIZATION: France, Greece
AUTHOR: Christian SOUCHON, Association D.I.R.E.S., 23, rue des Fossés St Jacques, 75005 Paris, France, Tel. / Fax: 33 / 1 / 43 54 30 41, E-mail: assocdires@minitel.net
Yolanda ZIAKA, Polis – International Network in Environmental Education, P.O. Box 4, 84100 Ermoupolis, Syros, Greece, Tel.: 30 / 281 / 87804, Fax: 30 / 281 / 87840, E-mail: polis@otenet.gr
FILE DATE: 1995