Environmental education is a process of learning and teaching of environmental concepts and practices which increases people’s awareness about the environment. It mainly focuses on creation of knowledge and understanding of the environment and its challenges. It also focuses on creation of skills to mitigate environmental problems which are arising day by day and provides a forum for existing environmental knowledge to be exercised.
Its objectives are creation of awareness and helping people to develop a positive attitude towards environmental education.
Status of environmental education in Kenya
In Kenya today, environmental education has enabled learners to play a big role in environmental conservation measures. An example is the Green Belt Movement which has over 600 community networks across Kenya which along with other networks have participated in planting more than 30 million trees on private and public land, protected reserves, sites with cultural significance and urban centers. This has resulted in the transformation of many landscapes (forests, sleep slopes and other degraded areas) and protection and restoration of habitats for local biodiversity (plants and animals).
Many communities work with the Green Belt Movement to conserve and harvest water more effectively through construction of dams made of sand. That harvested water is used for household needs, food crops and tree nurseries. A related program with the Green Belt Movement Kenya improves food security i.e. the capacity of families to feed themselves, by promoting planting of fruit trees and indigenous foods including yams, cassava and arrowroots.
In Kenya today, many groundbreaking initiatives including environmental education have been launched so that people could identify the sources of their problems including poor use and management of their environment and poor governance at local and national levels. They then identify solutions to those problems hence helping in maintaining a stable environmental state.
Environmental education has been a reliable advocate for environmental and human rights by challenging abusive or ill-conceived actions by the previous Kenyan governments and rallying Kenyans to the cause. Through its advocacy and civic education campaigns, environmental education has been instrumental in bringing environmental issues to the Kenyan policy makers’ attention and has enjoyed significant success most notably the protection from wanton destruction of Uhuru Park and Karura Forest, both in Nairobi. This has been achieved through the Green Belt Movement.
Environmental education should examine major issues locally and internationally. Currently in Kenya, a certain aspect of environmental education, The Green Belt Movement, has opened the Lang’ata Learning Center in Nairobi which continues to offer environmental education through exchange programs that expose participating groups to community biodiversity issues through discussions with local leaders and excursions to selected areas around the country. Through its Pan African Green Belt Network, the Green Belt Movement has trained representatives from 15 African countries. As a result, several tree planting initiatives have been established in East and Central Africa and in the west.
Environmental education in Kenya today has promoted cooperation among very many people. Different people come together in joint initiatives to plant trees or build dams. They also partake in attending and holding seminars and workshops to discuss diverse environmental issues. In this way, people are able to listen to each other’s ideas and suggestions hence enabling exchange of knowledge and skills. They also get a chance to inspire and help each other as they offer a listening ear.
Today, environmental education is increasingly becoming a continuous process with so many environmental conservation measures been born and exercised. There thus arises the need to educate people on carrying out these practices.
It is also being made continuous by the increasing environmental degradation in our society. People are cutting down trees carelessly and polluting the environment at a very fast rate. As a result, environmental education is being carried out continuously to combat these ill habits. This is being done through initiatives such as the Green Belt Movement.
Environmental education has taken a big consideration in development and government plans in Kenya today. The government has planned to build many industries, medical facilities, petroleum refineries and electronic manufacturers. All these will generate hazardous wastes to the environment. Various movements to conserve the environment have recently sensitized the government on the need to institute both incentives and command and control measures to ensure that industries that generate hazardous waste dispose them off responsibly.
Opportunities of environmental education
Since environmental education should enable learners to actively play a role in environmental conservation, it should have a hand in encouraging research and propagation of drought-resistant crops such as cassava, millet and sorghum in order to assure food security. This is particularly important given that climate change is likely to occasion an increasingly higher incidence of crop failure.
Environmental education should also have an emphasis on encouraging propagation of indigenous tree species. Although these enrich tree species and are better able to withstand environmental shocks, they are considerably under-utilized in agroforestry.
It should discourage illegal logging of trees to meet timber and charcoal needs. This will be done by encouraging the formation of Community Forest Associations (CFAs) in line with the stipulations of the Forests Act and empower them to engage in sustainable forest management. CFAs should be representative of the communities that live adjacent to the forests and include women and marginalized communities and have strict rules and procedures that prevent their appropriation by the local dominant groups.
Environmental education should consider environmental aspects in major development and government plans. It therefore has the opportunity to sensitize the initiation of a range of energy sector reforms that will impel investment in clean and affordable sources of renewable energy such as solar, wind and biogas and therein eases the enormous pressure exerted on the country’s diminishing forests and woodlands for wood fuel.
Challenges of environmental education
Environmental education has suffered from the lack of participation among social groups and individuals. Studies have shown that most people formally educated make little efforts in ensuring that they take responsibility of the environment. This leads to knowledge gained from environmental education being stifled and may not get implemented and spread to other persons. Groups may find it unnecessary due to lack of incentives to participate in environmental education.
The lack of comprehensive strategies is another challenge facing environmental education in Kenya. Kenya has not focused much on inter-linkages between the environment and sustainable development. The environment has been mostly viewed in a great detail from the biophysical view but with less emphasis on the economic and social perspective. This has led to less participatory approaches to environmental education hence hindering its development.
There exists a negative attitude among some individuals towards environmental education. Some people are suspicious about environmental education as they fear it may affect their day to day living by e.g. preventing them from logging, use of chemicals on crops e.t.c. This brings a bad image on environmental education especially on less educated individuals.
The relevant government authorities are mostly underfunded in their attempts to bring environmental education to the forefront. The government allocates more funds to other ministries and departments that are seen to bring instant returns to the economy such as agriculture and tourism and thus undermines ministries such as environment. This makes it unable to fund sensitization projects based on environmental education.
There is lack of enough manpower to undertake projects concerning environmental education. People mostly in rural areas may end up not getting the relevant information concerning their environment whereas they are the people directly in contact with natural resources such as rivers, forests e.t.c. This greatly undermines the spread of environmental education in the country and is a huge challenge.
In certain cases, there might be inadequate information on the threats that the environment faces to the people. Theoretical teachings may not be sufficient to convince individuals on why they need to undertake certain measures to prevent environmental degradation and promote sustainable development. Practical case studies may have to be carried out to convince learners adequately on threats on the environment.