The situation of participatory EE in Hungary
1. General information
Children and young people are the traditional target groups of environmental education. Young adults, families, institutional communities, church communities, and other small communities can be successfully addressed. In the following, we outline the history and circumstances of Hungarian environmental education, as well as the leading actors of participatory education, especially participatory environmental education, and the hindering factors.
2. The situation of environmental education in Hungary
2.1. The historical roots of environmental education in Hungary
The initiatives of nature and then environmental education in the XIX. were established in the second half of the century (Hungarian Society of Natural Sciences 1841, National Forestry Association 1866, Hungarian Carpathian Association 1873). Since the 1960s, environmental protection content has been included in education, and since the 70s, school study groups have operated under the name of environmental education, and many supporting materials have been written by excellent experts.1 Environmental education, and after 1992 also sustainability education, has produced a rich literature, primarily thanks to environmental NGOs and some educational researchers.2 Hungary participated in the environmental education processes and developments of UNESCO, UNECE and OECD ENSI. From 1984, the British Field Studies Council also had an impact on our field methodology and civil environmental education.3 Andrea Déri mentions this as follows: [Corresponding to the Tbilisi environmental education model] “holistic methods were first tried in June 1991 by environmental educators in Hungary”.4 This 1991 event may have been the first manifestation of participatory environmental education in Hungary. From its first edition (1998), the National Environmental Education Strategy prepared in community planning by experts from civil and professional organizations treats environmental and sustainability education in a unified manner.5 The Strategy validates participation both in its process and in its content and makes numerous recommendations for participatory environmental education that reflects local environmental issues.6
2.2. The environmental education today
Early childhood is of decisive importance in the formation of sensitivity to nature, environmentally conscious behavior, and the basic habits of environmental culture, and its institutional arena: the kindergarten and school. The Basic Program of Kindergarten Education validates participatory education in activities, learning about the world and free play, as it supports children’s creativity and ideas.
Based on the Public Education Act, the National Core Curriculum (NCC, 2020) defines sustainability and environmental awareness as a common educational goal in all areas of education. NCC lists the principle of active learning (the student’s participation in learning activities) first among the methodological principles. Topics and phenomena that require the integration of the knowledge of several subjects must be processed on topic days, topic weeks, and learning projects. The learning projects enforce the most important features of participatory learning.
In 2019, the obligation to evaluate the competence of sustainability education was integrated into the quality assurance of the work of teachers (kindergarten, school). Pedagogical competencies include, even in the case of beginning teachers7, the ability to build on students’ motivation and involve them in the management, planning, and evaluation of their own learning process (i.e., the ability to create a participatory learning situation). Unfortunately, these competences (or their obligatory evaluation) do not apply to the teachers of the vocational training. At the same time, the project graduation (project portfolio protection task) and project final exams appearing in vocational training are an opportunity for the students to deal intensively with the topics that interest them most, and sometimes environmental topics. This form of evaluation occasionally enables social and joint work, but most often it will mean individual learning.
2.3. Limitations and risks
Professional knowledge of environmental education and participatory learning, accumulated by highly qualified professionals, and rich professional material is available in civil organizations. However, the most important target group of environmental education, the school age group, and their teachers, are less and less able to relate to them, perhaps due to the centrally regulated school-learning time and the lack of financial resources. NGOs struggle with a permanent lack of resources, they cannot finance paid labor, they rely on voluntary work beyond their means, and their capacity is severely limited.
The educational centers of the national parks are another important basis for environmental education, where not only information dissemination and talent development (study group) tasks are available, but also habitat actions and voluntary work are available. The vast majority of these do not require the participants to be active in the planning of the objectives and tasks, which is why participation in environmental education is limited to gaining practical experience.
Since 2010, the institutional system and support for nature and environmental protection and environmental education has been gradually and increasingly relegated to the background. There is no independent ministry of environmental protection or education. Former professionals, officials have been dismissed in several waves. The educational research institute that previously focused strongly on environmental and sustainability education has ceased to exist.
In vocational training, the current green skills development trend (Green Skills in TVET) and the project-type exam can still only be perceived as slogans.
The time-consuming nature of organizing participatory learning prevents its application in formal education. Knowledge of the natural sciences does not add up to knowledge, the curriculum is uninteresting and overcrowded. The average age of natural science teachers is high because the salary level is low (the lowest in the OECD countries).
3. Possibilities of participatory environmental education in Hungary
3.1. Raising awareness of participatory education among environmental educators
„Participation—to provide social groups and individuals with an opportunity to be actively involved at all levels in working toward resolution of environmental problems.” In accordance with the recommendations for environmental education in Tbilisi 8, “participation means that our students actually participate in the solution of environmental public affairs… including from their involvement in the family tasks, through the school, the village (township, residential area, small town, etc.) to the national, then everything that concerns human communities, up to participation in international nature and environmental protection movements.9
3.2. Opportunities in education at ISCED 0-3 levels
According to a nationwide representative survey, 62-71% of teachers apply those learning situations of environmental education that are based on locally relevant topics – where the learning topics and activities are based on local needs, conditions, and issues, i.e., it can be considered participatory environmental education.
Project-based learning programs work well, and students can be involved in both their implementation and evaluation. Most of the teachers have already learned project pedagogy. However, they often feel that an activity that the children have built and implemented according to their own ideas cannot be included in the standard assessment system.
In the case of many schools, it is not the local, but the twin cities or international network collaborations that provide space for participatory environmental education (e.g. e-Twinning schools, UNESCO schools, schools participating in Erasmus projects).
In a previous international (CoDeS) project, a methodological guide was created for the cooperation of schools and communities for sustainable development. The Travel Guide can be downloaded in both Hungarian and English, and is still an important source for planning participatory environmental education campaigns.10
In environmental education, organizational practices covering the whole of the school and influencing the daily operation have a prominent role. Such are, for example, approaches involving the whole school, joint school events, special events, and action days, which play an important role in the formation of the students’ social norms.
Community participation in the school environment is basically not favored by the usual rigid institutional atmosphere, where students participate in a passive role of receivers, while teachers use frontal work methods and participate as rule-makers.
A serious problem, for example, is the pressure and criticism from parents in any unusual situation (where a form of activity that is different from the usual and pupils are evaluated). In this case, the parents feel that the child’s progress is uncertain.
Situations outside of school or formal education, but organized by the teachers themselves, traditionally provide a variety of opportunities for environmental education and participatory learning. These include, for example, forest schools, vocational clubs and talent clubs, scout movements, outdoor sports circles, and school hiking activities. Due to the situations outside of school, the responsibility of the accompanying teacher and the safety requirements, they can rarely be considered participative planning, only sometimes they build on the children’s own ideas. Talent management clubs and the scouting movement are much more suitable for implementing participative environmental education.
3.3. Opportunities for participatory environmental education in higher education
Resisting the acceptance of the ecological and transdisciplinary approach has eased, but it is still noticeable today.11 The topic of sustainability has been included in the training-exit requirements for most programs. A kind of campus greening process has started at several universities. Some Hungarian universities joined the international UI GreenMetric World University Ranking system, which also evaluates community activity. The University of Pécs was ranked 42nd as the best Hungarian.12
In general, it can be said that frontal work is even more dominant in higher education, the name “student” speaks for itself in this regard, it clearly indicates the students’ passive, receptive way of participation. The involvement of students and community decision-making are coordinated by the Student Self-Governments, which also organize university actions around individual topics.
3.4. Citizen and social initiatives in the field of participatory environmental education
There are few opportunities for community decision-making, structured development of environmental awareness and community living. Some larger municipalities select some of their developments through participatory planning, and among the winning ideas there are many environmental ones.
To prevent climate change and to plan for adaptation to inevitable changes, each municipality prepares a local climate strategy. A good and at the same time supported practice for this is the involvement of residents and local groups. Strategic planning is a motivating situation for almost everyone, so the participation of those involved can be expected.
Major NGOS have been working with active-inclusive work methods for several decades. However, their resources are limited and scarce, so they cannot reach all social groups, and the low rate of social self-organization and volunteering is also unfavorable for them. The same can be said in community decision-making processes, such as protest actions organized in connection with large-scale investments affecting the environment.
NGOs are, of course, diverse and carry many organizational cultures and traditions. Organizations of a national scope dealing with environmental education, without claiming to be complete: Magyar Környezeti Nevelési Egyesület; Erdei Iskola Egyesület; WWF; Hungarian Ornithological and Nature Conservation Society, HUMUSz Association, Jane Goodall Institute; Alliance of Hungarian Conservationists (MTVSZ); Magyar Éghajlatvédelmi Szövetség, Védegylet, Magonc Foundation as well as church organizations for the protection of creation (Ararát Group; MRE Ökogyülekezeti Movement; Naphimnusz Society). Regional or local organization, e.g., Magosfa Foundation; Reflex Association, Ecological Institute, Csemete, Zöld Kör, Nimfea Association and several local groups
3.5 Decisive parameters in which change is necessary for development
- A short and practical methodological description and collection of participatory environmental education should be made available to anyone.
- Time spent in nature and experiential learning should be documented and given more space in school life. There should be more opportunities for active participation in learning processes. In this way, teachers would be able to plan unusual activities with greater confidence.
- Teachers should be given more autonomy, have more freedom in time management and learning content.
- There should be cooperation and knowledge sharing between the various levels and actors of environmental education, and in an interdisciplinary approach.
- To maintain the desire for pedagogical innovation, it is important for teachers to receive appropriate management, parental, social and existential respect.
- At all levels of education, in higher education and beyond the education system, community programs should be available — mainly local, but even international — to which you can connect in an independent or self-organized way.
- Civil organizations that organize participative environmental education more easily and flexibly need adequate and plannable financial resources.
4. Best practices, leading examples
4.1. Key partners and actors of participatory environmental education
Educational institutions, bodies of official and local government institutions, civil organizations, and market players all participate in environmental education in Hungary, among which collaborations are organized. Supplementing Chapter 3, we highlight good practices in which participatory environmental education is realized in the following. You will find these examples in detail on the project website.
4.2. Best practices
River monitoring program — Green Heart Movement
The Green Heart Youth Conservation Movement is characterized by an emotional and aesthetic approach, humility towards nature, the use of gentle methods and the strengthening of personal responsibility. The River Monitoring Program was started by a “green-hearted group” of 10-12-year-old schoolchildren from Pomáz, when they started negotiations with the polluter due to the pollution of the nearby stream and persuaded the factory’s management to build a sewage treatment plant in 1990. Encouraged by the successful campaign, they extended their program to the countries along the Danube, to foreign schools and kindergartens near the Danube. A scientifically demanding worksheet was developed for the water test. Over the years, the “Program From the Black Forest to the Black Sea” was significantly transformed, extending to a large part of the Danube catchment area (Danube chain), and later also to the Tisza catchment area.
Vadonleső (Wilderness Watch) Program
The Vadonleső Program collects biotic data with the involvement of volunteers on species that are useful for European nature and hardly visible to science. After professional verification, the collected data will be integrated to the database of official nature conservation, the Nature Protection Information System. The aim is to generate specific species protection actions based on the biotic data collected. A playful website, WEB-2 approach, contact with data uploaders, “Google Map experience” and immediate response all help to encourage participation. Several side events, actions support attitude formation: “the mammal of the year” initiative, lectures, presentations, media appearances, publications, events organized together with artists and poets. The program has been in operation since 2009, and the website receives more than 30,000 visitors annually.
Vegetation-based Naturalness Measurer
A habitat assessment and community data collection program was started a decade and a half ago as a joint effort of the Hungarian Society for Environmental Education and the Ecological Research Center. Website and mobile application complements previous paper-based measurements. The scientific parent program is the MÉTA program, and for the relationship between the two data collections and the quality of the participatory aspect of community research, see this article. Community-driven research encourages experience-based learning, creating a diverse learning and socialization situation for all parties. They strengthen tolerance and scientific competences and encourage lifelong learning. It is important that the research starts from the problem of the community, that it is connected back and forth, i.e., that it is relevant locally. Joint planning serves not only involvement and local and scientific compliance but is the most important tool for common understanding: principles, procedures, behavior.13
The Naturalness Measurer focuses on examining five major types of vegetation: woodlands, shrubs, grasslands, wetlands, and others. The field worksheets of each habitat are suitable for estimating the naturalness of the vegetation based on answers to 15-20 statements. By filling in, evaluating, and then uploading the worksheets and looking through the worksheets in the area uploaded by others, the participants get to know the landscape and each other.
Traces of Life Action
„Traces of Life” Action intends people to learn about the Natura 2000 concept, experience-based learning in field, bond with natural values and with their greater community, and the use of digital opportunities for environmental education. The local — and at the same time Europe-wide important — life signs and traces of life presented to the public by the participating groups fill them with pride and strengthen their connection to nature and their place. The annual photo-tour supports the relationship between the grades and cohorts, as they compare the pictures taken of the landscape, the living creatures there, their traces and themselves. In addition to pride in local values, virtual publicity also helps to strengthen relationships between kindergartens and schools committed to environmental education. The “Traces of Life” outdoor action and award for children groups of eco-institutions (a photo-sharing campaign, similar to which there are many on social platforms,) was founded in May 2016 in the eco-school working group of the Educational Research Institute.
Working groups, meetings, conferences
Regular meetings with national significance
There are no thematically organized meetings specifically for participatory environmental education, however, there are several programs where the topic appears:
- Green NGOs Cooperation, Spring National Meeting: Zöld Civil Országos Találkozó 2022
- Valley of the Arts Festival, Green Yard, end of July every year, Kapolcs
- HERA (Hungarian Educational Research Association) annual conference (HUCER)
- Autumn National Meeting of MKNE (Hungarian Society for Environmental Education, always visiting a member organization, getting to know its activities, and getting involved in its activities.
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Vásárhelyi, J. (ed.) (2012): The history of Hungarian environmental education in the light of civil aspirations. Magyar Környezeti Nevelési Egyesület, 2012 (in Hungarian) ↩︎
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Déri, A. (2012): The emergence of active, experience-focused, holistic methods in Hungarian environmental education – 1991. in: The history of Hungarian environmental education in the light of civil aspirations. MKNE, Budapest (in Hungarian) ↩︎
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Lányi, A., Kajner, P. (eds) (2019): The topic of Sustainability in higher education. UNESCO Hungarian Committee, Budapest (in Hungarian) ↩︎
Greenmetric: Green metric: Overall Rankings 2021 ↩︎
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