Academic journal article Australian Journal of Environmental Education

Community Environmental Education as a Model for Effective Environmental Programmes

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Environmental Education

Community Environmental Education as a Model for Effective Environmental Programmes

Article excerpt

The goals and objectives of environmental education, outlined at Tbilisi, are still evident today in numerous international and national policy documents (UNESCOUNEP, 1978; ICUN, UNEP, WWF, 1991; UNCED, 1992; MfE, 1994; UNESCO, 1997; MfE, 1998; United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2002). However, many statutory authorities concentrate much of their environmental education resources and efforts into schools (Clover, 1997; Treeby, 2001). This approach does not meet the goals and objectives of environmental education as a life-long process aimed at educating whole communities. Current initiatives promoting environmental education to predominantly school-aged learners is, while an essential element of formal environmental education, a long-term approach to achieving environmental sustainability. Environmental education also needs to target communities. This paper proposes that the principles of community environmental education can act as a model for effective environmental programmes.

Community environmental education is underpinned by an environmental education framework aimed at educating communities and empowering them with the skills, values, knowledge, and awareness to critically assess and take action over local environmental issues (Maser & Kirk, 1996). Specific principles and practices provide a framework for developing, implementing and facilitating community environmental education programmes. The key principles and practices are environmental adult education, public participation, and environmental communication. Environmental adult education promotes a holistic view of the environment and is aimed at educating adults within an ecological framework (Clover, Follen & Hall, 1998). Public participation seeks to engage statutory authorities, organisations and community members to ensure that all stakeholders are represented in a decision-making process (Maser & Kirk, 1996; Forbes, 1987). Communication strategies form an integral part of community environmental education programmes by helping to increase public awareness and knowledge of local environmental issues, helping to foster effective public participation, and promoting environmental action (IUCN, 1995; Maser & Kirk, 1996; Keliher, 1997).

Based on the hypothesis that the principles and practices of community environmental education would aid organisations and local communities in the development, implementation and facilitation of effective environmental programmes, the study reported on here examined and compared the effectiveness of two contemporary environmental programmes/projects in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. The approach, findings, discussion and implications of this study are summarised below. The study findings provide some evidence that there are benefits to statutory authorities when they work through a framework of community environmental education.


Following a critical examination of three dominant research paradigms: positivism, interpretive social science and critical theory (Robottom & Hart, 1993; Sarantakos, 1998; McCutcheon & Jung, 1990; Yin, 2003), the research methodology for the study was embedded in both the interpretivist and critical perspectives. Of significance is that particular consideration was given to research by Robottom and Hart (1993) and Connell (1997) who view the interpretivist and critical methodological paradigms as complementary rather than competitive. Essentially, it was acknowledged that both paradigms recognise the importance of researchers' understanding the theories and values behind environmental education approaches in a particular situation and of including the collective knowledge of participants.

In line with an interpretive perspective, the context of the case studies examined was of critical importance. Thus, the objectives of both the educators and participants were investigated; the wider social, cultural and political realms of society were considered; and discussions between the researcher and the participants was included (McCutcheon & Jung, 1990). …

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