(Re)connecting children with nature? A sociological study of environmental education in Ireland.
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The outcome of environmental education to solve the ecological crises by producing an environmentally sustainable society is uncertain. The marginalisation of environmental education in mainstream education, its precarious position within broader concepts of (environmental) sustainability and the lack of critical evaluation of current practices finds it characterised by anecdotal narratives. It is claimed that modernisation is leading to childrens growing (dis)connect with the natural environment and brings additional responsibility to the relationship between society and the natural environment. But does environmental education (re)connect children with the natural environment, and to what extent is it (in)effective? Through a detailed examination of the evolution of environmental education in Ireland, this thesis makes an original contribution to the field of environmental education research while also offering useful insights for environmental education policy and practice. Qualitative data from 47 semi-structured interviews with environmental educators, school staff parents and children provide valuable insight into the evolution of teaching and learning about environmental issues in Ireland. The project finds that today the transformative impact of environmental education is severely constrained by its close links to mainstream education. Although environmental education adapts and partially resists certain constraining aspects of the education system, it is nevertheless directed and guided by the latter. Conventional programmes tend to promote the management and monitoring of natural resources as a way of solving environmental problems. Opportunities for informal and unstructured, experiential education outdoors, with no specific educational outcome in mind are increasingly scarce. On the other hand, changes in society-environment relations coincide with changes in what environmental education did, does and ought to achieve, as expressed by adult and child interviewees. The thesis recommends that environmental education adopts a more self-critical and reflective approach that takes into consideration wider social conditions that fuel and accelerate the growing gap between children and their natural environment. It is argued that environmental education needs to recognise that learners have the capacity to be educated in addition to school in the home and community environments. Specifically, the findings point to the need for the environmental education sector to rediscover and attach renewed value to children¿s knowledge, considering their boundless creative ingenuity and the role that plays in solving global environmental problems.
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