Rapid changes in the natural environment and ecosystems, the loss of biodiversity, combined with climate change, are of particular concern at global level. The planet is facing several problems, including extreme weather events, global warming, the destruction of flora and fauna and the extinction of species. The need to change our mindset as a society, adopting environmentally friendly attitudes and behaviours, becomes essential in mitigating such phenomena.
What can help raise awareness of the protection of the natural environment?
Here, the importance of Environmental Education is highlighted. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Environmental Education is defined as the approach to building society. Environmental Education provides citizens with the necessary knowledge about the natural environment and the enduring challenges that afflict it, offers the opportunity to develop skills and critical thinking to address these challenges, and motivates the global community to take responsible actions and make decisions and measures to protect it.
Environmental Education involves the engagement of social groups, children and adults, with the natural environment. Its aim is for social groups to perceive and understand the relationship between man and the natural environment, developing ecological behaviours and following an environmentally responsible lifestyle. Critical thinking and empathy are sought through experiential activities and contact with the problems facing the natural environment. People will be brought closer to nature, in contact with contemporary environmental problems in order to raise awareness and develop critical thinking skills to find solutions.
Empathy and change in people's behaviour are benchmarks for changing mindsets and adopting sustainable lifestyles. From an early age, behaviours are developed which are maintained in later stages of adult life. Therefore, if ethical values and pro-environmental attitudes are instilled in childhood, they can be retained in later life and passed on to others. Thus, an unbroken chain of values and behaviours is created, which YES can bring about the desired changes!
Contact with the environment from an early age is very important, as the early years of a person's life shape his or her character and behaviour towards it, through the cultivation of morals and values and proper patterns of behaviour and expression, which are mainly transmitted to the family and social environment. However, despite the fact that society has grown up with different patterns and attitudes, there is always the possibility of changing our thinking and attitudes towards the environment through awareness-raising and information.
Environmental Education programmes exist and are taught in the form of formal, non-formal and informal education, as well as educational material which is available on the internet and in books. More specifically, one can learn about the environment at school, by participating in environmental programmes outside school and through one's social environment.
Ideas for engaging in environmental projects and activities are plentiful if you start with the internet. However, they are organised by non-profit organisations and also through the Unit of Education for the Environment and Sustainable Development, a competent unit of the Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth, and are implemented in the Environmental Education Centres of Cyprus. In addition, the "Forest School" operates, which enables children to explore the natural environment through a series of experiential activities.
The development of child and adult relationships with the natural environment can bring about significant changes in our society and thus in the protection of the planet. The shift towards providing children with environmental education is a catalytic issue and can change our entire mindset as a society, ensuring the well-being of all people around the world.