A few months ago, a scorching heat wave hit Egypt, as temperature peaked, on an otherwise breezy day in May, to reach 45 degrees Celsius in Cairo. The heat wave also stretched to reach neighboring countries such as Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and Iraq.
Climate change? Yes! It is happening and it is getting worse by the hour.
Floods in the dessert, extreme heat and drought are just a few examples of the current consequences of global warming. But, the consequences our children will have to deal with are much more terrifying according to organizations like the IPPC and the World Bank; widespread droughts and famines, the spread of insect-borne diseases and the displacement of entire populations, to name a few. Our children are going to pay the price hard if we do not do something about it.
For starters, children need to be aware of the gravity of the problem and know what to do about it. And since raising awareness and changing behaviors around this cause can be a pretty demanding duty for parents, who can educate them better than us teachers and educators?
Teach Eco-philia instead of Eco-phobia
Environmental education driven by fear of ecological problems, even if gamified and delivered via progressive channels, might leave the learner haunted with too many fears and concerns about the environment to which they have no direct connection. This fear of nature and environmental problems is known as “Eco-phobia”. If overwhelmed by fears and concerns, the learner might distance him/herself from nature instead of connecting with it.
Now let’s take a moment here and pause. Our intentions as teachers and facilitators here are honorable and justified. Indeed, educating students to stop using single use water bottles and replace them with stainless steel reusable ones is now an essential preventive action. However, if our students learn about the fatal effect of plastic consumption on animals through Youtube more than they know through first-hand exploration and play with animals and plants, then we as teachers need to revisit our pedagogical approaches inside and outside the classroom.
How can we ask learners to care about something they haven’t touched, smelled, or seen? We want kids to grow up and not just say no to cutting trees, but not even contemplate the action of cutting them down. We want them to establish a connection to the tree; climb it, hide behind it, dig a hole in front of it to hide a precious belonging, and even explore different inhabitants of the tree.
Research conducted in the US indicates that most environmentalists had their commitment to environmental issues rooted in a childhood of outdoor play, an exciting experience with nature, or an adult who modeled to them care and love to nature. Having a connection with nature that is built on love, empathy, and care is known as Eco-philia.
The Head, Heart and Hand model of learning:
Education as a tool for transformation requires an expansion of perception through knowledge acquisition and motivated application of learning. This demands the engagement of the affective domain (heart), cognitive domain (head), and psychomotor domain (hands) in the learning experience. This is known as the Head, Heart and Hand Model (HHH) model of learning.
While the affective domain was explained above in light of Eco-philia instead of Eco-phobia, the cognitive domain refers to inquiry, exploration, understanding and reflecting on ecological and sustainability concepts. Engaging the psychomotor domain includes learning practical skills for action- taking such as planting, building, and recycling. The HHH model indicates that transformation is a multi-dimensional process and not a linear or flat one.
The application of the HHH model in the context of environmental education depends on the developmental stage of the students. In his book Beyond Eco-phobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education, Sobel introduces three stages of environmental learning: early childhood (4-7), middle childhood (8-11), and early adolescence (12-15). In the early childhood stage, environmental learning integration is focused on cultivating empathy between the child and the diverse elements of the natural world around him. Also, it is centered on nurturing the sense of connectedness to nature as a living and learning space that allows learners to grow roots.
Suggested Activities using the HHH Model
Different activities can be integrated such as mimicking animal behavior; running like a deer, walking like an elephant or slithering like a snake. We can also add different emotions to these animals: a happy running dear or a sad walking elephant. Creative drama can be used as a tool to tell the story, for instance, of a happy free bird who wakes up every day to sing a song of gratitude to the tree, its home. Children can embody the birds, and they can have their own cardboard wings, own nests and can sing the song collectively. Taking care of the environment can be propagated for and practiced outside the classroom as part of a daily school routine.
Moving to mid-childhood, the highlight of this stage is exploration. It is focused on further expanding the scope of the learner’s world to include the surrounding of own home, school, and community. Activities are centered around hunting and gathering, building forts, gardening and planting, outdoors camping around fire and star gazing. They can go on field trips to farms such as SEKEM, Sara’s Organic Farm or Agawani Farm. They can also camp in protectorates such as the Wadi Degla Protectorate in Maadi where they can learn to co-exist with other creatures.
Last is the early adolescent stage where social action is the best way to integrate environmental education. This is the time for establishing a connection with society. For instance, students can participate in a recycling project in Hayy el Zabalen as part of an NGO that is already working there. They can go on a cleaning campaign to a nearby neighborhood. You can challenge the students to solve problems that they observe in their community. Problems related to coordination, logistics, schedule limitations will definitely emerge. However, teachers will assess the situation and integrate what is most suitable for their context.
Although each stage is distinguished with particular characteristics, there are no clear cuts between each of these stages. There needs to be flexibility across the different stages. For example, early childhood is focused on nurturing empathy, however, this doesn’t mean that we as teachers will not allow children to go beyond this to explore, inquire, and reflect. We might also find our middle childhood students ready to embark on projects that aim at social change. This is dependent on the context, readiness, time, and factors of curriculum and school administration flexibility. Needless to say, engaging heart, head, and hand throughout the different stages is necessary for a transformative educational experience.
Humans have forever shared their living spaces with all creation on planet Earth. In fact, our living quality depends on sustaining a healthy relationship with the environment. The key for students to build their motive and urge to do and whole-heartedly advocate for our planet is to feel that they belong to our home planet, Earth. “Our home planet Earth” is not a phrase that children can learn by watching fear inducing videos of a collapsing planet. Taking action needs to have solid foundation of established knowledge and values. The solid foundation which we, educators, can help support.
David Sobel: Beyond Ecophobia. Retrieved from: http://www.simplicityparenting.com/Beyond%20Ecophobia.pdf
Julie Singleton: Head, Heart, and Hands Model for transformative learning: Place as context for changing sustainability values. Retrieved from: http://www.susted.com/wordpress/content/head-heart-and-hands-model-for-transformative-learning-place-as-context-for-changing-sustainability-values_2015_03/
BBC: Mediterranean plastic pollution hotspots highlighted in report. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-48554480?fbclid=IwAR3Ba7qO1_YM0wiJXd1jre8IpqMWZGg5Ubczan71ufBtYsgyNfIs_c9ZB84
World Economic Forum: How Middle East is suffering on the front lines of climate change. Retrieved fromhttps://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/middle-east-front-lines-climate-change-mena/?fbclid=IwAR187dieMMq-UVaSXzy54YzBwQKNVB0uXM7fpZ1v0cRSQUVRiY8QmlCsfVs
Heba is a lifelong learner and a MA holder in International and Comparative Education, AUC. She is a Facilitator, Educational Programs Designer, and Participatory Theater Practitioner with a focus on Playback Theater and Theater of the Oppressed. She is also founder of Badreya Women’s playback troupe, member of Khoyout playback troupe and Forum Theater Egypt troupe.