30 SES 11 A, Critical Perspectives and Learning Apporaches to Global and Environmental Citizenship Approaches
The environmental crisis in which we are living transcends borders, nations and continents. Actions taken in one part of the world can cause environmental damage in places thousands of miles away (Clark & Stevenson, 2003; Hinchliffe, 1996). In recent years it has become clear that social aspects are an inextricable part of the environmental crisis, and that it is impossible to address environmental issues without also addressing the social and environmental injustice that exists between and within different countries (Spencer, 2010; Taylor, 2011). Education for sustainability (EfS) was developed as a tool that would tackle the environmental crisis by addressing a variety of social factors, including environmental citizenship (Berkowitz, Ford, & Brewer, 2005). The starting point for this study is therefore based on two bodies of knowledge: (a) EfS in the context of social and environmental justice; (b) environmental citizenship, which includes both the cultural and the environmental contexts.
EfS and environmental justice: The ongoing global environmental crisis has given rise to the development of EfS that focuses on the promotion of social justice as a central element in managing that crisis, taking onto account both political and cultural issues (Cole, 2007). Environmental justice, which is defined as part of social justice, is the product of the inequitable distribution and exploitation of Earth’s natural resources (Mohai, Pellow, & Roberts, 2009). In most cases, social injustice leads to environmental injustice, with vulnerable communities from lower socioeconomic backgrounds being disproportionately influenced by environmental issues at the local, national and international level (Walker, 2009). Among other things, EfS promotes global thinking, which emphasizes the connection between local activities and their broader implications. In other words, it addresses how human activity in one place can impact other, distant places around the world (Lim, 2008).
Environmental Citizenship is a political philosophy, according to which the social, political, economic and environmental realities of the world must be examined at all levels – through individuals, civic organizations, communities, and nation states (Dobson & Bell, 2005). Environmental citizenship emphasizes the relations of equality and mutual responsibility that exist between all members of the current generation, as well as the responsibility that the current generation has towards the wellbeing of future generations (Bell, 2005). This perception of mutual dependence is based in the understanding that matters of sustainability, such as the proper and equitable management of rare resources, can only be addressed on a global scale (Jelin, 2000). According to the tenets of environmental citizenship, the education of tomorrow’s citizens must take place not just at the level of the nation, but at the level of the world as a whole (Dobson, 2007).
In conclusion, both EfS and environmental citizenship encourage activity that takes place on a global scale (Houser, 2009). They seek to encourage a citizenship that is trans-national and multi-cultural, to promote forms of citizenship based on fostering common values, like tolerance, human rights and democracy, and to prepare the next generation to live together in diverse societies (Johnson & Morris, 2010). In accordance with the principles of these two frameworks, we created a course for teacher trainees, which was conducted both in Israel and in Nepal. This study was designed to assess how that course contributed to the development of the local and global environmental perceptions of the students who participated in it, and how it contributed to the development of their environmental citizenship.
Course design: The course included theoretical studies on the topics of sustainability, environmental citizenship and social justice, which took place in Israel between June and September, 2016. It also included a practical learning experience, which took place in Nepal in September, 2016. The segment in Nepal began with a preliminary seminar designed to connect the theoretical topics studied in Israel with the situation on the ground in Nepal. The seminar was also designed to familiarize the Israeli students with Nepal by providing a cultural, social and educational context for the visit. After the seminar, the students engaged in a two-and-a-half-week educational activity, which took place at schools in villages located about nine hours’ drive from Katmandu. Research methods: This qualitative research used case study and was based on the constructivist approach, which does not seek to discover one single truth, but rather to describe a complex reality. Case studies allow researchers to examine complex phenomena in their context, drawing upon multiple sources of data. In case studies, researchers must define the limits of the phenomenon and the unit under investigation (Yin, 2009). This study focused on the phenomenon of the influence of cultural differences in the field of education and sustainability on the subjects’ perception of environmental citizenship, at the level of each individual study participant following their experiences in the Nepalese schools. The study was based on data from multiple sources: 12 semi-structured interviews with students, conducted both before and after the trip to Nepal, a focus group that included all of the participating students, an interview with the course instructor, and the instructor’s journal documentation of the trip. Data analysis consisted of first and second cycle coding, creating categories that arise from the interpretive analysis of the data (Saldaña, 2009). Validity and reliability were confirmed by two researchers who conducted data analysis and created triangulation for the data from this study’s multiple sources, and comparing the findings with those of previous studies.
The combination of the theoretical course in Israel and the practical experience in Nepal proved important to the students’ internalization of EfS and environmental citizenship. Interviews conducted with the students after their return from Nepal showed that their experience abroad contributed to the development of their understanding of principles in both fields. For example, visiting the landfill in Kalimati, in which the Nepalese sort rubbish that arrives from all over the world, was very significant in helping the Israeli students understand the social and environmental gaps between developed and developing nations. As one student noted, “the gaps are unimaginable and it hit me there [in Kalimati] at full force. Until you’ve experienced something like this [rubbish sorting] you can’t understand…how people live like that.” Another example of the visit’s impact is the students’ understanding of the differences in consumption culture between the Western and the developing world. The Israeli students were amazed by the Nepalese people’s ability to be happy despite the environmental conditions. As another student told us, “they live, happily…sustaining themselves on what they have and not on what they don’t…they’re just happy.” The students also showed an understanding of environmental citizenship’s emphasis on global responsibility and interdependence, based on the understanding that “what happens here impacts what happens on the other side of the world.” In conclusion, our results suggest that combining theoretical instruction with practical experience in a developing nation helped the Israeli students attain a fuller appreciation of the principles of sustainability and environmental citizenship.
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