- Breiting, S., Csobod, E., Lindemann-Matthies, P., Mayer, J. 1996. Consequences of the new
strategy of IUCN for environmental (biodiversity) education. In: Elcome, D. (ed.): Education
and communication for biodiversity. Key concepts, strategies and case studies in Europe. IUCN,
Research Group on Environmental Education, European Committee for Environmental Education,
Commission on Education and Communication, IUCN.
Consequences of the New Strategy of IUCN for Environmental (Biodiversity) Education
By Søren Breiting, Eva Csobod, Petra Lindemann-Matthies, and Jürgen Mayer, all members of
"The Research Group on Environmental Education", European Committee for Environmental Edu-
cation, Commission on Education and Communication, IUCN.
The tree planters
A common picture illustrating environmental education shows a school class planting new trees.
Planting new trees is often good for conservation, but is it good for education, too?
The answer depends on whether the project has been developed by the class or by others for the
class. In the first case, the tree-planting project gives a benefit to all of the learners, because the
schoolchildren are directly involved in the planning process, whereas in the second case, the
children are often only instruments for others to obtain their goals.
Telling a class what to do will often produce "faster results", but the main thesis of this paper is that
environmental education, and more specifically biodiversity education, is more far reaching, if, as a
result of biodiversity teaching, a class takes the initiative and decides itself to plant trees. This
approach will also produce better results for conservation in the longer term.
New challenges for environmental education
In 1980 IUCN and UNEP produced the „World Conservation Strategy“ and initiated the
international debate on the imperative of sustainable resource use. In the Brundtland report on "Our
Common Future" (1987) the possible impact of environmental education on future world
development was pointed out. The introduction of environmental education in all sectors of
education, including vocational training and adult education was advocated in 1988 by the
"Caring for the Earth, a Strategy for Sustainable Living" produced by IUCN in 1991, showed the
importance of environmental education for achieving sustainability. Aims of this strategy are
profound changes of societies, their values, institutions and economies, which are currently far from
what would be needed for sustainability. It is important to note that education for sustainable
development promotes not only conservation of natural resources, but also peace and human
development. Environmental education has been regarded as essential in all areas of education.
The Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 adopted the "Convention on Biodiversity". In chapter 36 of this
convention education is emphasised once again as central for promoting sustainable development
and improving the capacity of people to address environmental and developmental issues. As part
of the Rio process IUCN has developed a new strategy which stresses the human aspects of conser-
vation. Both the new focus of IUCN and the request for appropriate education formulated in Rio
present a challenge for environmental and biodiversity education. Sustainable use of natural
resources has become an important topic not only for conservation but also for environmental
Two views of environmental education
As outlined above, the importance of education as a tool to achieve the necessary changes in society
has frequently been stressed. It is logical for organisations like IUCN to think about how schools
can be used as instruments to achieve their specific goals and to provide appropriate teaching
material. The crucial question is, however, on what view of environmental education these efforts
One view is that the aim of environmental teaching is to achieve some predetermined type of
behaviour, e.g. sorting waste or saving energy. We will call this the "outside view of environmental
education". In our opinion this approach is acceptable from the point of view of conservatio-
nists/environmentalists, but should be questioned by educators. Another view is that environmental
education should enable the learners to make their own informed decisions concerning
environmental issues. We will call this the "inside view of environmental education". In this
approach education supports the development of action competence, which is regarded as an
important part of responsible environmental citizenship. This is especially important because there
is often not only one solution for an environmental issue, and because we cannot foresee all the
environmental issues that may arise in the future.
From the educators point of view we therefore strongly advice an inside view of environmental
education to promote sustainable development. The new strategy of IUCN which integrates human
aspects and sustainable use of biodiversity into conservation gives room for a stronger integration
of educational aspects, e.g. results of research about biodiversity teaching, learning and educational
goals. Results from recent research in the fields of environmental and biodiversity education should
be applied in the classroom to make environmental education more effective. We think, that IUCN
too should make more use of the expertise of professional educators to make environmental
education less superficial and more successful.
Traditional thinking in the field of environmental education has been that by making schoolchildren
more knowledgeable about the environment and its problems their behaviour can be changed. This
was based on the assumption that increased knowledge directly leads to a greater awareness of the
environment and to environmentally friendly behaviour. However, empirical research does not
support this linear model for changing human behaviour. The results of some studies even suggest
that, among schoolchildren, a greater knowledge about environmental problems can lead to a state
of general anxiety, a denial of the existence or a complete refusal to think about environmental
problems. Research indicates that factors other than a general knowledge about the environment
and its status are much more powerful in helping schoolchildren to finally become well educated
and responsible decision-makers in their societies. Key-factors are, for example, environmental
sensitivity, which is defined as an empathetic perspective toward the environment, in-depth
knowledge (understanding) about an issue and knowledge of and skill in using environmental acti-
on strategies. Perceived skill in using environmental action strategies seems to be one of the best
predictors for responsible citizenship behaviour. By using environmental action strategies
schoolchildren can experience that they have the power to help resolve issues (action competence).
It further helps them to improve their self-esteem and let them experience that they are more fully
incorporated into society.
Schoolchildren of all ages hold conceptions about many phenomena, like animals and plants, before
they are presented in education. These conceptions stem from and are deeply rooted in their daily
experiences and life contexts. From the scientific point of view these conceptions are often "mis-
conceptions". Research has shown that schoolchildren do not switch easily from their old daily-life
conceptions to the new scientific concepts they have been taught. Therefore, education should
specifically take into account the pre-conceptions of schoolchildren, rather than just presenting the
views of scientists or conservationalists.
Teaching of scientific concepts like biodiversity should therefore include not only cognitive, but
also affective (attitudes), behavioural (action orientated) and social (participatory) dimensions of
learning and should reflect schoolchildren’s daily-life conceptions. Furthermore, the development
of action competence in schoolchildren for dealing with today's and future environmental problems
requires a careful choice of suitable teaching methods.
A promising teaching method in the field of environmental and biodiversity education is the use of
case studies. There are probably as many variants of this method as there are teachers who use
them, but in general they are built around issue-orientation, balance, interdisciplinarity and group
learning. The interdisciplinary nature of this approach requires that teachers from different
disciplines have some basic common knowledge and skills with regard to the chosen topic and are
willing to work together and exchange their ideas.
Case studies are especially suitable to illustrate the complexity of environmental issues and the
often very many possible ways of viewing a problem and taking action. To look at an environmen-
tal issue from different angles closely resembles the "real life situation" and enables schoolchildren
to reflect critically about their own positions and decision making. Case studies let schoolchildren
experience that there is often more than one solution for a problem and that dealing with environ-
mental issues often means dealing with uncertainty.
Examples for case studies could primarily be taken from the immediate environment of the
schoolchildren. This allows them to bring in their daily-life experiences, provides opportunities for
personal contacts with people in the local community and first-hand experience of ideas and
opinions on the issue. Because they are personally involved in the critical examination of environ-
mental issues, encouraged to articulate their own ideas and needs, and probably also involved in
problem-solving activities, schoolchildren will acquire the necessary skills for acting in a
community. They will experience that they as members of the community are able to take part in
community processes and decisions, and gain confidence in their own abilities. Thus, they are more
likely to develop an awareness of their responsibility for the environment and make environmental
issues their own (internalise them).
Then perhaps they themselves will express the wish to plant new trees - after critical examination
and discussion of the issues.