Inasmuch as the state of our Planet and sustainable development affect every person around the world, education on environmental protection as well as introduction of the concept “sustainable development” are directed to people of all ages. However, it is formal education with its curriculum that plays an essential role in promoting environmental education. This is because the school is an institution that exerts affects all people aged 6 to 18.
Compulsory education consists of the last year of preschool education and 8 years of elementary school. Children, and adolescents aged 15 to 18 are also subject to compulsory education, which is carried out either in the form of school lessons or other types of classes, including vocational training in the workplace.
Issues relating to environmental education and sustainable development, threats to and protection of natural resources including biodiversity are present at all stages of education, and it covers theoretical knowledge, skills and attitudes developed in early childhood education and as part of natural science subjects (Environment, Geography, Biology, Chemistry and Physics) at higher stages of education.
In Poland there are numerous ways to realize ecological education outside the education system, and the main options include:
- Trainings, workshops and educational materials offered by NGOs, whose statutory objectives focus on implementing ecological education. Example institutions include both local branches of international organizations including WWF Poland, Foundation for Environmental Education, GAP Poland Foundation and national organizations including Ośrodek Działań Ekologicznych Źródła (Center for Environmental Action Springs)
- Educational offer provided by regional and local centers for environmental education, including Włocławek Center for Environmental Education, which has been conducting environmental education since 1998 through programs and projects in the field of tourism and recreation, among other things.
- As far as local centers for environmental education are concerned, Center for Environmental Education in Royal Baths Park in Warsaw can serve as an example.
- Education provided by National Parks, Landscape Parks (protected area) and Polish State Forests.
- The educational offer is addressed to all visitors to those significant and environmentally attractive areas, but it is particularly concerns the educational needs of children and teenagers.
- Educative initiatives taken by companies, whose activity involves sustainable development in its comprehensive understanding, e.g. companies that deal with waste retrieval and recycling. Ample educational offer is provided by companies that work with collecting and retrieving electrical and electronic equipment waste.
Participatory approaches in the Polish education system. Accomplishments and insufficient tasks in EE (also as far as support of institutions is concerned)
Without doubt the state’s education policies with the documentation that specifies the common core featuring the goals and content of what is covered at different stages from nursery, through primary and secondary education, are the crucial impulse and the key factor that initiates implementation of environmental education. Guidelines on how to realize environmental education in the sector of formal education considerably influence the quality of the educational offer prepared by non-educational institutions that target schools as their client.
In Poland the common core allows for realization of environmental education at all stages of schooling. There is no separate subject dedicated to environmental education, but environmental issues and content related to sustainable development appear in a number of subjects, in particular in natural science subjects such as Environment, Geography, Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
Declared by the Ministry of Education (MEN) empowerment of environmental education as to be implemented as part of the state’s educational policy in the year 2021/2022 in schools as well as instilling in students a sense of responsibility for the natural environment can be considered an accomplishment.
According to experts1 the common core content as featuring environmental education is, nonetheless, insufficient or downright inadequate for the ecological threats that our Planet faces together with the challenges relating to implementation of the principles of sustainable development and green transformation required by commitments including those that are specified in the 2030 Agenda and the European Green Deal.
The state of education in Poland and the conditions of participatory approaches. Key parameters that need to be changed in Poland to develop a more participatory approach in EE.
From 17-19 May UNESCO 2021 World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development was held in Berlin. At the end of the conference 80 ministers, deputy ministers and 2800 stakeholders working in the field of education and environment protection signed the Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Environment (ESD) and thus obliged themselves to take specific steps to transform education and science so that these could serve our planet and help it survive. UNESCO called for establishing Education for Sustainable Development as the crucial element in all schooling systems at all stages. They prioritized the following:
- advancing ESD role in states’ policies
- transforming learning environments
- building capacities of educators
- empowering and mobilizing youth
- accelerating local level actions
It seems that given the current situation in Poland, the basic necessary conditions, which can considerably contribute to the implementation of effective participatory environmental education that would follow the UNESCO recommendations are:
- in formal education: educational programs designed by aware and involved teachers
- in informal education: educational offer prepared by NGOs.
To fulfill the former condition requires preparing teachers and providing opportunities for their professional development in the field of environmental education. The latter condition can be fulfilled by providing permanent funding to NGOs involved in environmental education.
Top and most progressive examples of EE participatory approaches in Poland. Accomplishments and good practices.
Conducting high quality and effective environmental education, which could address the actual challenges of the today’s world including global warming, biodiversity loss, unsustainable production and consumption, growing heaps of waste and environmental pollution, limited access to water, social inequalities and migration is supported on a big scale in Poland. Centers for Teacher Enhancement as well as the educational offer prepared by NGOs deserves to be mentioned here for their remarkable work.
Centers for Teacher Enhancement
Center for Citizenship Education, a non-governmental teacher enhancement institution that provides trainings, methodology books and teaching aids that promote participatory learning and critical thinking deserves to be mentioned here for their remarkable work. One of the areas in students and teachers’ competence formation that Center for Citizenship Education deals with is global education and environmental education. CCE also commissions studies, and thus on June 2022, World Refugee Day, the report “Youths on Global Challenges 2022.” The research objective was to understand how youths perceive global processes and the current events related to these.
Teacher enhancement is also realized through institutions under the Ministry of Education and Science. For instance, Masovian Center for Teacher Enhancement could function as an exemplary institution that fosters environmental education as part of teacher enhancement programs. The institution regularly holds conferences and trainings. The training “Inspiring Environmental Education – How To Teach Actively, Take Action and Take Care of Health” carried out in April 2022 was dedicated to mastering application of diverse methods focused on activating students while teaching Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Geography. MSODN (the Masovian Center for Teacher Enhancement) collaborates with Warsaw University Center for Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development. Owing to this cooperation teachers are granted the opportunity to take part in a series of lectures Sustainable Development in Theory and Practice conducted by both Warsaw University lecturers and expert practitioners teaching students enrolled for the program Interdisciplinary Studies in Environmental Protection.
NGOs’ Educational Offer
NGOs whose objective and mission consists of conducting environmental education offer a wide range of programs addressed to diverse audiences from pre-school children to school students to seniors that attend the University of the Third Age. Teachers, entrepreneurs and service providers also constitute part of the target audience, who the educational offer prepared by the NGOs is addressed to. The numerous initiatives can be divided into 2 characteristic types: international projects and individually designed programs.
A sample international project: Water Explorer addressed to schools, implemented in 2015-2019 under the Global Action Plan initiative. The project aimed to involve students aged 8 – 14 to take powerful action to save water. 3980 teams from 12 countries took part in the project. Actions varied but what was characteristic was excellent planning, well-organized group work, involving the entire school community as well as parents, and local institutions responsible for water and environmental protection. The organizers estimate that as a result of the project more than 10 million liters of water could be saved. Furthermore, what were equally important achievements were raising awareness not only in school students but in entire communities, as well as collaboration with the local government and actions for cleaning up and protecting local water ecosystem, frequently initiated by students.
Participation in the project consisted of a few-stage competition. The best teams evaluated by external experts received valuable prizes, which were handed in during a meticulously prepared attractive ceremony, which was an award in itself. An advantage of this type of a program is participation in an international initiative, learning from peers from different countries, careful planning, high quality educational materials and attractive prizes. A disadvantage of such projects is that they usually terminate when the funding runs out.
A sample individually designed program can be the educational offer created by Ośrodek Działań Ekologicznych Źródła (Center for Environmental Action Springs). It is an organization which has been active since 1993, registered as a voluntary association in 1997. Its goals include implementation of student-activating education and engaging in the learning process, which is realized by organizing workshops, trainings, field trips and informative projects. A total of an approximate 1000 workshops are conducted annually. The classes focus on environmental issues, climate protection and water-saving as well as global and regional education. Apart from workshops “Źródła” (Springs) organize wildlife and nature tours, school camps (Polish term: green schools), weekend workshops for families, workshops for children, workshops for children in the city as well as trainings for coaches, teachers, librarians and companies. The association creates innovative teaching materials and aids.
Ośrodek Działań Ekologicznych Źródła (Center for Environmental Action Springs) operates locally, mainly in the city of Łódź in the Łódzkie Voivodeship, but also due to its high quality educational offer – its attractiveness and high standard is widely recognizable in the educational circles in Poland – they create programs and educational materials for such institution as the Ministry of Environment, Center for Citizenship Education, Greenpeace Poland and WWF Poland.
Environmental Education – Governmental Level
Increasing the knowledge of children and young people about the environment and climate protection — this is the main goal of introducing environmental education to schools. Work on the preparation of such lessons is just beginning. — As the Ministry of Climate and Environment, we will present substantive proposals, which will then be transferred to teachers by the Ministry of Education and Science, giving them pedagogical schemes that will be used during educational hours — says Michał Kurtyka, Minister of Climate and Environment.
He emphasizes that today the ecological awareness of Poles is growing, but we need to reach everyone with this knowledge.
We are dealing with what we call the generation relay. We are aware that shifting our civilization to more ecological tracks is a certain generation process. And today, the responsibility that weighs over us is to initiate this process and pass on to young generations such knowledge that will enable them to make wise decisions in 20 years, when they mature and take over the reins in the economy and politics, Michał Kurtyka tells the Newseria Biznes agency.
This is what the cooperation for environmental and climate education initiated with the signing of a letter of intent is to serve. Introducing knowledge in this field into the core curriculum was a postulate put forward by the interested parties, i.e. students, during the ongoing consultations of the government’s strategy for the young generation. It is for him that the issues of environmental protection are of particular importance, but the awareness of the problem and knowledge about it is growing throughout the society.
We are looking for solutions that are available at the level of each of us: be it at the family level, such as waste segregation and water saving, whether at the district and city level, e.g. in the form of green participatory budgets, or at the provincial level and regions, because as the Ministry of Climate and Environment, we give them more and more funds to counteract climate change. However, there is also a high expectation that environmental and climate education will reach everyone, because in the end, even if there is only one soot in a given town, everyone is poisoned anyway — emphasizes the Minister of Climate and Environment.
An advantage of creating individually designed programs is an opportunity to enrich and pursue the educational offer as well as reacting to current needs and challenges. Its drawback lies in unstable financing.
Internet Websites of the Institutions Mentioned Above:
- Włocławek Center for Environmental Education (Włocławskie Centrum Edukacji Ekologicznej)
- Foundation for Environmental Education (Fundacja Edukacji Ekologicznej)
- Center for Environmental Action <em>Springs<
- GAP Poland Foundation
- WWF Poland
- Center for Environmental Education in Royal Baths Park in Warsaw (Centrum Edukacji Ekologicznej w Łazienkach Królewskich w Warszawie)
- Center for Citizenship Education (Centrum Edukacji Obywatelskiej)
- Water Explorer (Badacz Wody)
Kozłowska, A. (2021). Edukacja ekologiczna w polskiej podstawie programowej. Rocznik Pedagogiczny (Environmental Education in the Polish Common Core), 44 ↩︎