The race for a cleaner and greener planet remains one of humankind’s biggest challenges. With massive climate shifts and other environmental disasters, creating an eco-friendly system is more important than ever. Even though countries and consumers are becoming more aware of the need for change, there is still so much work to be done. The question is, what’s the key to transitioning to a sustainable future? This is where environmental education comes in.
Several countries around the world believe that environmental change begins in the classroom. These nations lead the way when it comes to teaching environmental literacy – from mandatory general education classes to upper-level vocational courses. Their courses prepare future generations to do better when it comes to preserving the planet. By making environmental education a priority, more institutions could set the stage for real, sustainable change.
What is Environmental Literacy and Why Does It Matter?
To put it simply, environmental literacy measures a student’s ability to make connections between humans and their environment. By knowing about sustainable practices and ideas, you’ll be better able to make informed and responsible decisions about your lifestyle choices. Until recently, the majority of environmental education was mostly knowledge-based. While knowing what’s happening with the environment is useful, it may not be enough to encourage students to think critically and to take action towards conserving the planet.
Instead, a holistic environmental education includes experiences that encourage students to analyze how their choices make a direct impact in their world, which increases their environmental literacy. When they can see the practical outcomes of what they learned, they are more likely to see what’s possible and how their relationship with the environment may impact the global community. This creates a generation that’s more eco-conscious – from their consumption patterns to their commitment to a greener future.
Countries that Are Leading the Way With Environmental Literacy
Finland’s education system is widely respected around the world for its innovative and personalized approach to helping each student succeed. When it comes to environmental education, this country is one of the first that has it as a core competency for its primary and upper-secondary education curriculums. This structure helps ensure that students learn about eco-friendly practices from the minute they start school. By the time they graduate, Finnish pupils are better equipped with understanding their relationship with nature, as well as how to make existing structures more sustainable.
From large-scale events like attending climate protests to incorporating eco-friendly practices in their daily lives, Finnish students develop a collective awareness to genuinely care about a greener future. It’s no wonder that this hands-on approach to environmental education is one of the reasons why Finland consistently ranks as one of the top countries for sustainability in the world.
Since the end of 2019, Italy has been at the forefront of environmental education with the education minister announcing major changes to the national curriculum – making it the first country worldwide to do so. Effective since the end of 2020, Italian students now have mandatory education about the effects of climate change. From ages six to 19, Italian pupils learn about environmental issues at least one hour a week. Given the alarming statistics about climate change in the country, the Italian government believed that they needed to act immediately and reform its curriculum to increase awareness. Students can gain an understanding of the importance of conserving the planet with this new education system.
Known for its progressive approach to sustainability, it’s no surprise that most citizens are well aware of the effects of climate change – and know how to incorporate sustainable practices into their daily lives. Despite not having a mandatory curriculum, Denmark developed a strategic approach to include environmental education from institutional policies to common school subjects. Danish schools stand out from other schools by partnering with environmental organizations like Eco Schools. Through this program, local education systems across 72 countries develop curriculums that teach sustainability and eco-friendly practices to build students’ environmental literacy.
France has a comprehensive approach to educating its students about sustainability. The country’s sustainability classes teach students awareness about issues such as climate change and resource management. Aside from incorporating environmental education into their curriculum, agriculture high schools and vocational programs are widely available for students wanting to pursue a career in sustainability development. This holistic approach gives students the opportunity to receive a well-rounded education when it comes to sustainability practices.
Environmental Literacy is the Key to a Sustainable Future
While education is only one of many steps required to create a greener future, it’s a highly important one. It is the one vital key to creating awareness, especially when it has to do with the pressing issue of preserving our planet. In addition to increasing general awareness, environmental education can result in lasting effects like fostering stronger bonds between students and their communities, increasing their sense of inquiry, and teaching them valuable skills that they can use once they leave the education system.
Luckily, there are countries around the world that are stepping up and ensuring that future generations have the knowledge and skills to adapt to the changing environmental reality. Besides the knowledge, sustainable education curriculums give them the hope and inspiration they need to understand that real change is possible. Hopefully, other education systems will use these examples as inspiration for creating environmental education programs that empower young people in the fight for a sustainable future.
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Want to learn more?
What does it mean to be environmentally literate? – Stanford Graduate School of Education
Defining Environmental Literacy – Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education
The Finnish education system & education services and solutions – Finland Toolbox
Finland | Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP) – The GEEP Finland
Finnish schools emphasize climate change education – this is FINLAND
Italy Mandates Climate Change Education for All Students – NYC Food Policy
Is Italy the first country to require Climate Change Education in all schools? – International Bureau of Education
Climate Impacts in Italy – Climate Analytics
Denmark | Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP) – The GEEP Denmark
Eco Schools – Eco Schools
France | Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP) – The GEEP France
How Can Education Promote The UN Sustainable Development Goals? – Kapadia Education Foundation