Environmental Education in Canada Dialogue – Add Your Voice
2017 is the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communications (EECOM). The annual conference theme is See Change–Tides of Environmental Learning. As part of the conference the planning committee felt that it would be valuable to invite a group of Canadian environmental educators who had extensive experience and long involvement in the field to express their views about the current status of environmental education (EE) in Canada, the impact on EE of new media for information and communication, and the best roles for EECOM in enabling and supporting environmental educators in the coming years.
At the closing of the conference we will bring forward these points from below, revised in relation to feedback from this on line commentary, as a proposed declaration by the conference. If adopted by the Board of Diectors, it will then be crafted into a news release following the conference. Please add your voice to this dialogue by commenting below.
The responses to the questions from of this group of experienced environmental educators may briefly be summarized in the following points and you may download and read the full version here.
- Environmental education in Canada is very much alive and well. It takes many forms both within schools, colleges, and universities and in less formal programs offered by clubs, associations, non-profits, government agencies, and corporations. A great deal of EE depends on programs and projects developed at the local community or organizational level by dedicated individuals or groups. EE programs involve young children and families, youth and adults from a diversity of backgrounds, cultures, genders and ages. The range of EE programs represents goals to inform, educate, provide recreational opportunities, and to address local needs, issues, and opportunities. The respondents were also encouraged by the growth of EE programs directed at early childhood and families.
- In spite of the diversity and number of local and community based EE programs, senior levels of government generally seem to be less systematically involved in offering support for EE, whether in policy or other forms. Our respondents believe that EECOM should play an active role in raising the profile of EE activities and programs with various levels of government and seek to have an effective voice at policy tables.
- The development and application of new digital media of information and communication present both challenges and opportunities for environmental education. The new media offer wide access to a range of environments and environmental topics and issues and can provide improved opportunities for sharing ideas and collaboration among diverse individuals and organizations and can encourage enhanced dialogue about significant environmental concerns and potential directions for development and innovation. However, there is a danger that the new media may be seen as a replacement for actual first hand experiences in the physical environment. Further, the respondents pointed out the need to foster critical thinking in EE programs so that users can assess the quality and validity of the information to which they have access.
- The respondents encouraged the development of EE programs that provide youth, especially at the high school and college levels with first hand field experiences and develop skills in conducting action projects. Further it was recommended that EECOM make specific moves to encourage greater youth participation.
- Finally, EECOM was urged to place continued emphasis on its role in supporting communication, resource sharing, and collaboration among the wide range and diversity of organizations involved in EE in Canada and seek partnerships with professional groups, corporations, foundations and individuals who can provide mentoring as well as physical and financial support for EE programs.
It was noted that Canada at the level of the National government is actively involved in a number of environment-related international organizations and agreements. These initiatives and policies are to be encouraged and supported but there is a clear need for greater attention to also be directed to local, community and region-based EE activities. The respondents questioned whether EE is given the priority it warrants in the curricula of schools and colleges and in the process of teacher education.
The challenge for EECOM is to determine what roles to perform to support local action and diversity while also attracting greater support from senior governments.
As one participant put it,
“A diversity of views isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I would like to think that all EE practitioners believe in and promote a respect for our environment and its fragility. By and large, I believe that to be true.”