On World Environmental Education Day 2021, EARTHDAY.ORG brought together an international panel of education experts and environmental activists to discuss the interdisciplinary nature of environmental education. The discussion titled “Environmental Literacy and Civics: Education to Change the World,” brought together Mirian Vilela, Executive Director of Earth Charter International, Dr. Lawrence M. Paska, Executive Director of National Council for the Social Studies, Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti, Kenyan environment and climate activist and founder of the Green Generation Initiative, Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, Executive Director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, and Dr. Pramod Kumar Sharma, Senior Director of Education with Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). Dr. Christina Kwauk, Associate Director of the Monitoring and Evaluation of Climate Change Education (MECCE) project, moderated this lively Earth Day Live discussion.
The focus of this discussion was to connect two core components of environmental education: environmental literacy and civics. Panelists discussed the gaps they have seen in their educational contexts and how they are working to close these gaps.
Dr. Mirian Vilela, ECI’s Executive Director and faculty member of the Earth Charter Center for Education for Sustainable Development at the University for Peace, reflected on the disconnect between the education we have and the education we need both for people and the planet. Dr. Vilela shared her concern for young students growing up in urban areas without a close proximity to nature, which can shape their worldview to see nature as something separate from humans.
In order to work towards tackling the issues of environmental illiteracy and unethical decision making, ECI offers a variety of courses and programmes to individuals and organizations to amplify worldviews through an ethical perspective of interconnectedness articulated in the Earth Charter. Though formal and informal education, we can break down the walls keeping us from integrating environmental education into all types and levels of education.
Although each panelist is working on a different project, the intersectionality among their work was evident. Panelists talked about their personal experiences and their personal connection to nature. They also discussed the challenges they perceive and how these challenges motivate them to mobilize their networks into action.
Ms. Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti highlighted the importance of seeing young people as solution providers, and the fact that younger generations are at the center of current world crisis, and because of this they are stepping up to act. Dr. Lawrence M. Paska explained what civic engagement is and talked about its connection to climate literacy. Ms. Michelle Ciulla Lipkin discussed media literacy and its importance, as well as how this type of education can provide students with the skills to analyze the climate crisis and take climate action. Dr. Pramod Kumar Sharma discussed trends in environmental education and his experiences with youth leadership for climate action.
In addition, the panel tackled questions such as how to reposition students in the learning process and beyond the four walls of the classroom, optimism about the application of environmental education into mainstream schools, fully implementing environmental education policies, and more.
Dr. Vilela concluded her intervention by highlighting the Earth Charter Education Center’s Leadership, Sustainability and Ethics online course for young leaders, and the Online Certificate on Education for Sustainable Development Programme for educators. These are just two examples of how nonformal education can contribute to sensitize people on their civic responsibility and engage actors to integrate sustainability principles into their communities and classrooms.
EARTHDAY.ORG is currently working on a global Climate and Environmental Literacy campaign, which counts on the support of hundreds of signatories from around the world.
Watch the recording to learn more about these inspiring projects and campaigns.