The value of teaching environmental education in schools
Roxanne Irani, teacher of biology, environmental systems and societies and theory of knowledge at King Edward's School, Birmingham, describes how her students benefit from reconnecting with nature.
How lucky was I, to have a grandfather who helped me nurse injured birds back to health, who taught me that earthworms are superheroes and that the best tomatoes that I will ever taste will be the ones I grew myself? I think of this every time I develop lesson plans and activities that will help my students learn, like I have, that we are connected to nature. It’s a part of us, and we must tend to and protect nature as we would our own selves.
Children who are taught to care will be adults who care and at the moment we need leaders who passionately care for the world in which we live. Children spend far longer indoors than ever before, depriving them of the opportunities to develop the patience and observational skills it takes to spot a starling, identify a hellebore and curiously examine the teeming metropolis under a rotting log. Schools can step up and provide students with these opportunities at every age.
Our wildlife pond is teeming with creatures that thrill and excite students, heightening their imagination and enthusiasm and unlocking their creative and observational sides. The lessons our Year 8 students do with their pond samples makes them more engaged with the curriculum, enthusiastic about food webs and brimming with excitement at the sight of a newt. These are the lessons they remember, as they nostalgically look back on their seven years at school before heading off to university. These are also the experiences that help them make connections with the theory in a biology lesson and the reality of the world around them; connections that are vital to strengthening their understanding.
Older pupils benefit from environmental education as well when they learn that everything is connected to everything else – biologically, socially and in a myriad of other ways. Students also learn how their own decisions can influence the world around them, and their connections to nature help foster a feeling of tolerance and understanding in all aspects of school life. The knowledge that they need in order to take responsible action can be taught, so they feel empowered to be leaders and make changes for a more sustainable future. After learning about the problems associated with plastic waste, some of my students have developed a school-wide awareness campaign and are working on plans for a giant robot to be made from the plastic waste they collect. They are hoping this leads to changes in habits with regards to plastic consumption and policy concerning the generation of waste in school.
Planning allotments with students in Year 7 is an exciting part of the summer term where students design their own mini allotments, plan what to grow and discover what it takes to have a bountiful harvest. They learn that bees have an irreplaceable role to play in our lives, that we cannot eat the way we do without them. Teaching young pupils about healthy eating is also invaluable in a time when they are bombarded with junk food adverts. They even confess that it’s now very difficult to waste any food, because they know the care that has gone into growing it. And, to my utter delight, they tell me that their home-grown tomatoes are the best in the world!