24 October 1994

Doc. 7189

REPORT on an action programme for environmental education in teacher training

(Rapporteur: Mrs RYYNÄNEN, Finland, Liberal, Democratic and Reformers Group)


      Environmental degradation continues to be one of the most serious problems threatening our future in Europe and our fragile home planet.

      Environmental education is one of the keys to solving environmental problems and turning to sustainable development.

      The concept of environmental education has undergone radical changes in recent years, as have the approach and methods of teaching it in the better schools and institutions.

      Good environmental education practice is of utmost importance to all educational institutions, but at present is being followed by too few teachers.

      Teacher education should be made a central focus of all strategies and programmes to promote environmental education aiming at sustainable development.

      The Council of Europe should contribute to the process of raising the quality of environmental education in its member states and to its full implementation in schools and institutions by launching and funding an action programme for environmental education in teacher training.

      This action programme should be organised in a participatory way with teacher training institutes, education departments and other relevant institutions. The aim is to activate creative contributions and the full commitment of all bodies concerned.

I. Draft recommendation

1.       Europe has created a way of life, greatly dependent on scientific and technological progress, which is now at the limits of its ecological sustainability. Questions are being asked about the viability and the wisdom of unrestrained progressive development. At the same time, the European life-style represents for many a desirable model of development. Europe has to be made aware of its responsibility for the creation of economic practices, models for living and infrastructures based on an understanding of what ecological stewardship requires.

2.       The most serious environmental risks and threats menace the future of Europe and the globe. The challenges of climate change and transfrontier waste, the mechanical manipulation of soil, the acidification and pollution of soil, oceans and fresh waters as well as the exhaustion of natural resources and the disappearance of species and plants need to be dealt with in teacher training.

3.       Environmental problems are caused by human beings and can be corrected by human beings. Environmental education is the key to a better relationship with nature and the use of natural resources. Teacher training is in its turn the key to success in implementing environmental education.

4.       Each child has the right to be educated in a positive spirit as a potential agent for the betterment of the overall environment. Too often environmental education portrays a scenario of unsolvable or unavoidable threats.

5.       Environmental education must moreover be re-conceptualised and re-constructed to include a system of value education and moral responsibility which challenges those wider frames of thinking and behaviour — scientific, technological, economic, social, political and cultural — that reduce the natural world to nothing more than a resource to be plundered for short-term consumption.

6.       The concept of environmental education has broadened from protection of the natural environment to that of the historical and cultural heritage; it has widened to include the notions of active ecological citizenship and sustainable development. This development has to be reflected in teacher training.

7.       The best environmental education programmes are visionary in concept and participatory in practice. Imaginative, innovatory techniques and teaching skills need to be created and developed. Daily life in teacher-training institutions can be changed to reflect a more enlightened ecological perspective and so provide a context for pedagogical change.

8.       The importance of environmental education and of teacher training has been regularly recognised in international fora from the initial conference held in Tbilisi (Georgia) in 1977 to the new action plan for Nordic school co-operation adopted by the Nordic Ministers of Education in 1993. Council of Europe texts include the Committee of Ministers' Resolution (71) 14 and Recommendation No. R (91) 8 and the Assembly's Recommendation 937 (1982). The proposals contained in these texts are however still far from being put into practice.

9.       The Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers launch an action programme for environmental education in teacher training.

10.       The main objectives of the action programme should be:

      i.       to learn more about the potential of environmental education for furthering sustainable development;

      ii.       to collect examples of successful programmes in environmental education through teacher training;

      iii.       to develop practical strategies for overcoming barriers to the successful implementation of environmental education through teacher training;

      iv.       to draw up guidelines on how to include the environmental dimension in teacher training in general;

      v.       to develop, test and disseminate practical adaptations (programmes, courses, modules, credits, study weeks) of the principles generated by participants in the action programme;

      vi.       to create and strengthen networks of environmental educators in Europe.

11.       The action programme should seek to identify promising developments in educational practice, curricula and teacher training.

12.       It should also serve as an invitation to all kinds of teacher training institutions to intensify their efforts for the promotion of environmental education. Teachers in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, vocational institutes, technical or adult institutes should be encouraged to include environmental education in teacher training programmes and to improve its quality.

13.       Teacher training institutions should also be invited to submit sub-programmes to the action programme. They should inform the Council of Europe of the successful programmes they have organised in environmental education.

14.       The action programme should be part of the Council of Europe's contribution to European Nature Conservation Year in 1995. It should be co-ordinated with related action by the European Union, OECD, Unesco, and the Nordic and Baltic Councils of Ministers, but from the outset it should be particularly aimed at the countries of central and eastern Europe.

II. Draft order

1.       Having regard to its Recommendation ... on an action programme for environmental education in teacher training,

2.       The Assembly asks its Committee on Culture and Education

      i.       to monitor the implementation of the action programme and to report back to it by the end of 1996;

      ii.       to participate in activities organised in this field by the Council of Europe so as to ensure that full advantage is taken of the experience gained during the action programme.

III. Explanatory memorandum


1.       It is generally acknowledged that new ways have to be found for the reconciliation of economic growth and social progress with environmental conservation and protection. Europe, together with the rest of the world, has to accept responsibility for the development of new economic concepts and practices. One of the ways of achieving this is through education and one of the means should be that of environmental education.

2.       The best environmental education programmes are visionary in concept and participatory in practice. Imaginative, innovatory techniques and teaching skills need to be created and developed to form new approaches for environmental education. The normal conditions of daily life in teacher training institutions can be changed to reflect a more enlightened ecological perspective and provide the context for pedagogical change.

3.       In many parts of Europe the climate for environmental education is favourable. We are not at the very beginning. The signs of this favourable climate are that there are countries

      —wh       ere public awareness of environmental issues is reasonably secure as a result of media coverage, pressure group activity and public policy decisions;—

      —wh       ere public opinion is in principle supportive of action to improve, protect and conserve the environment and there is evidence that this is leading governments, industry and business to adopt a positive attitude in the ways they act;—

      —wh       ere the environmental predicament is being addressed and education plays a part in informing the public and in encouraging participation, and—

      —wh       ere there already are sufficient teaching materials for effective environmental education at many institutional levels.4.

4.       Still, there are too few people whose lifestyles are ecologically responsible. There are too few, if any, ecologically enlightened practices in the production of any products. Sustainable development calls for qualitative changes in economies which must be programmed for less intensive exploitation of natural resources. The process of adapting human activities to ecological needs is an "education-intensive" process.

5.       In this educational process the idea of sustainable development needs to be presented in terms of changes in life-styles, improvements in production systems, technological advances, new social structures and decision-making patterns, cherishing and creating valuable cultural traditions etc. Future teachers should be encouraged to analyse these changes and see their role as agents of changes furthering sustainable development. During their training they should have a chance to enrich their experiences of ecologically sound practice and of the thinking behind it.

6.       Given the favourable climate, what is the explanation for the lack of implementation of environmental education in general and of teacher training in particular? Why does institutional education tend to place environmental education at the margin of the curriculum, even though its importance is acknowledged?

      — En       vironmental education lacks the qualitative definition that traditional disciplines and subjects possess. This gives rise to uncertainty as to its aims, components and boundaries. This uncertainty affects the selection of the relevant forms of knowledge it should impart and the appropriate strategies and methods for its teaching.—

      — In       many countries educational systems suffer from a varying degree of structural conservatism. Good environmental education requires certain preconditions. These include participatory decision-making at local level concerning the methods and content of environmental education, flexible time allocation for the topics chosen (projects, courses, modules etc.) and co-operative networking with the relevant environmental bodies (research centres, environmental authorities, environmental activists, entrepreneurs, companies etc.) in order to ensure a flow of information on environment in general and on innovations furthering sustainable development.—

      —"D       isciplinary protectionism" is deeply rooted in educational systems everywhere. Forms and categories of education that challenge or disrupt the educational status quo are either precluded or marginalised. Generally these are classified as "inter- or multidisciplinary" arrangements for teaching and learning; they are seen not so much as possessing a distinctive body of knowledge but rather as a framework of ideas and values the interpretation of which might be challenging or even subversive to the established system of power interests and structures. One of the most clearest indications of this problem is the fact that environmental education is very seldom subject to assessment.—

      —En       vironmental issues are often complicated and extensive, reflecting a range of interactive relationships (and the values and attitudes that accompany them) between human beings and the natural world. In environmental education we are dealing with a new vision of cultural evolution.7.

7.       The quality of teacher training as a whole is under intensive analysis throughout Europe. Its philosophical foundations are being studied: what human concept is involved? What are the basic values? How does it support individual autonomy and co-operative skills among colleagues? etc. Education in schools is also changing rapidly: for example tendencies towards self-assessment or local networking of educational services. The concept of learning is under revision, the keywords are now "active participation", "meaningful knowledge", "learning to learn". Future societies are probable, hopefully, becoming more decentralised, multicultural, diverse and open. The main trends in general teacher training need to be taken into consideration as they offer a promising landscape for good environmental education.

8.       As far as the environmental component of basic teacher training is concerned, it is essential that Europe immediately draws on its developmental resources. The environmental education programme Intressekonflikter i bruk av naturresurser (Conflicts of interest in the use of natural resources), created on the initiative of the Nordic Council of Ministers, provides some ingredients for this developmental work, as does "Diversity within unity", a European Community research programme on teacher training. The Nordic programme emphasises the importance of learning to work with the value conflicts intrinsic to environmental issues and encourages schools in the identification and analysis of local environmental problems. It calls for instruction in the skills of active, ecologically enlightened citizens. The European Community programme stresses the connections between natural environments, modes of culture and economic life, and the state of the environment. The programme challenges us to recognise the cultural factors which lie behind environmental problems. It challenges us to cherish culturally valuable ways of life and create alternative development models based on ecological understanding.

9.       In order to foster deeper understanding of the interrelationships between nature and man-made technosystems, the educator needs new skills. In order to activate the learner to work for better environments, the teacher needs visions of good alternative futures. Learning processes should

      —in       crease "environmental literacy", that is, the ability to recognise environmental problems and appreciate the quality of the cultural environment;—

      — in       culcate skills in the preservation of bio-diversity;—

      — en       courage the consideration, in educational settings, of value conflicts related to the use of natural resources, and strengthen active citizenship;—

      —op       en up practical possibilities for the learner for an ecologically enlightened and participatory lifestyle; pupils should be taught to take personal responsibility for example by means of special anti-litter campaigns in schools;—

      —fo       ster a sensitive and experimental relationship with nature and local culture, aiming at an understanding of the interrelationships between nature, culture and the economy on local, regional and world levels;—

      — ac       tivate understanding of the historical and cultural mechanisms governing the interaction between technosystems (created by human beings) and natural ecosystems;—

      —st       rengthen the perception of Europe, especially through the idea of "Europe of the regions", as a natural and cultural environment on whose well-being the future depends;—

      —ac       tivate the will, intelligence, courage and professional orientation of those involved in the learning process towards the notion of sustainable development;—

      —an       d thus should, through this process of teacher training, stimulate and activate human processes which aim at a Europe which is more democratic, environmentally healthy and culturally diverse.10

10.       The Council of Europe should launch three to five sub-programmes in this field. The sub-programmes would be headed by specialists in teacher training with experience in environmental education in their own institutions but acting as consultant experts for the Council. Each sub-programme could relate to ten to twenty teacher training institutions in member states. In the course of the activity one to three participants, with different tasks, could be invited from each teacher training unit (which in many cases would be combinations of educational departments, teacher training institutions).

11.       Each sub-programme could include the following elements:

      —jo       int launching seminar;—

      —di       stant learning activities: analysis of general preconditions for satisfactory environmental education in own institutions, production of new suggestions for own institution, testing and evaluating new study weeks, modules, techniques, programmes, materials etc.;—

      —ex       change programmes and shared activities within the sub-network;—

      —jo       int evaluation seminar: experiences, successes and future challenges;—

      —di       ssemination of information about new innovations concerning environmental education in teacher training: articles, reports, publications.12

12.       The duration of each sub-programme could be about two years to allow for the possibility of changing the teacher training programmes in practice and for its evaluation.

13.       The primary objective of this report is to stimulate the effective implementation of environmental education by drawing attention to the key sector of teacher training. Council of Europe action in this sector should clearly be coordinated with that being conducted or proposed by other bodies, such as the European Union or the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe. An important aspect of the Council of Europe's approach however will be to extend these considerations of environmental education through teacher training to the countries of central and eastern Europe.

      Reporting committee: Committee on Culture and Education.

      Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none.

      Reference to the committee: Doc. 6852 and Reference No. 1939 of 15 April 1994.

      Draft recommendation and order adopted unanimously by the committee on 6 October 1994.

      Members of the committee: Mrs Fischer (Chairman), Sir Russell Johnston, Mr de Puig (Vice-Chairmen), MM. Alegre, Arnalds, Bauer, Berg, Berti, Bonnici, Decagny, Deniau, Mrs Err, Mrs Fleeetwood, MM. Galanos (Alternate: Hadjidemetriou), Gellért Kis, Baroness Gould of Potternewton (Alternate: Sir Keith Speed), Mrs Guourova, Mr Gül, Mrs Hawlicek, Mr Hint, Mrs Hjelm-Wallèn, Baroness Hooper, MM. Ivanov, Karas, Koucký, Lopez Henares, Malachowski, Maruflu, Mocioi, Monfils, Muehlemann, Müller, Paunescu, Rivelli, Mrs Robert, Mr Roseta, Mrs Ryynänen, MM. Scaglioso, Schmidt, Schreiner, Seeuws, Serra, Siwiec, Skolć, Soell, Sofoulis, Stefanopoulos, Szakàl, Upton, Vajda, Verbeek, Vogt, Zingeris, N. ... (Alternate: Mrs Verspaget).

      N.B.       The names of those who took part in the vote are in italics.

      Secretaries to the committee: MM. Grayson and Ary.