World’s environmental education experts meet in Maryland

From 12-14 October the World Future Council hosted a workshop in Annapolis, Maryland for representatives of education and environmental ministries from around the world, to explore the positive impacts of the state’s Environmental Literacy (E-lit) Standards. Participants from five continents came together to see Maryland’s pioneering policy in action but also share their own experiences and success stories in pursuing environmental educations in their home countries.

The link between children’s rights and well-being and the environment is now beyond doubt, and was recently discussed as an urgent point of action at the UN-Committee on the Rights of the Child at which we raised Maryland’s environmental education model as a best practice example. Access to a healthy environment is vital for children’s physical and mental health.

Maryland became the first US State to make environmental literacy a mandatory high-school graduation requirement in 2011, a policy for which we awarded the Silver Future Policy Award 2015. This environmental education requirement has fostered the integration of environmental content in varied ways and in subjects across the curriculum from Kindergarten through to graduation. It has also strengthened the cooperation between outdoor education providers and schools to ensure that every child has regular meaningful experiences in nature.

The link between children’s rights and well-being and the environment is now beyond doubt, and was recently discussed as an urgent point of action at the UN-Committee on the Rights of the Child at which we raised Maryland’s environmental education model as a best practice example. Access to a healthy environment is vital for children’s physical and mental health. In the face of climate change and widespread environmental degradation and pollution, many children are already experiencing adverse effects such as chronic respiratory problems, asthma and behaviour disorders. In many countries we are witnessing the first generation of children largely growing up indoors. Too often the experience of childhood has become disconnected from the natural world. As several of the delegates in Maryland noted this can have serious impacts for both children and nature: you do not protect what you do not know.

International workshop environmental education

Maryland’s environmental literacy standards with its focus on hands-on outdoor learning offers a wide variety of benefits for students – enhancing engagement, raising test scores, and increasing well-being – as well as the local environment and wider society. The workshop, hosted in cooperation with the Maryland’s Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) and the Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature, allowed delegates the chance to join a broad range of field experiences with Maryland school kids testing river pollution levels and relating the findings to surrounding land use, identifying wildlife and plant species in the Chesapeake bay ecosystem and conducting experiments to learn about the importance of oysters for water quality. These rich experiences added to three days of fruitful exchange and insightful discussions, on environmental education best practice from both the agencies, NGOs and champions delivering it on the ground in Maryland and the international delegations that took part.

Our task now is to apply the lessons we have all learnt and work with this vibrant network of legislators to help spread elements of this proven policy into national and local curricula around the globe.

 Maryland’s Literacy Standards, awarded with the Future Policy Award 2015

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In 2011, Maryland became the first US State to make environmental education obligatory for high-school students. The State Board of Education ruled that each local school system must provide a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary environmental education programme that is integrated into the general school curriculum.

While the teaching of environmental education is now required from pre-school to graduation, the focus is on all incoming Grade 9 students (14 and 15 year olds) who must complete a comprehensive environmental education programme that meets the Maryland Environmental Literacy Curriculum Standards.