With stacks of masks abruptly around, sudden environmental problems drastically came close to us. Many have complained about pain in their respiratory systems or even on their skin due to the fine dust. Aside from the issues which can be felt distantly, like polar bears on small pieces of ice, now it is the direct reason for our everyday coughs and sneezes. So, what should we do to protect not only the environment, but also our healthy lives?
It is quite easy to expect your answers. It would mostly be about individual efforts, such as saving water or picking up trash. As you would have been educated in school about this, those are all important doubtlessly. However, can we call it a “worldwide improvement” if you picked up an empty Coke can for the environment? The polar bears drawn on a red can might dance, but will the ones in the Arctic as well? Actually, most of you and the people around you are good citizens. Your parents also try to save on electricity, but the problem lies in the fact that environmental problems can never be solved on a personal level. As coal-fired power plants keep discharging particulate matter (PM), which is called a fine dust, our individual efforts will hardly stand out. It is more essential to make your voice with conviction than to only pick up trash with your hands.
In this point, for us as pre-service teachers, a high sense of responsibility is needed. A teacher’s voice always affects more than others.’ It is us that should be the guiding light for students. It is us that should teach others how to raise one’s voice. Here lies the possibility to make a “worldwide improvement” through individual efforts.
All those things above might ring a bell if you have taken a lecture named “Dialogue between Education and the Environment.” Professor Kim Chankook, from Department of Environmental Education in KNUE, has taught and given students chances to ruminate over the desirable demeanor toward environmental education. Let’s look further into this by looking at the interview with Professor Kim.
INDIGO: Hello, professor. Before we start the interview, can you briefly explain about the precise concept and specific range of “environment” in environmental education?
Professor: OK. You might be accustomed to the concept of the environment as environmental problems, nature, or resources. However, we can call the place we live in, the earth we share with other generations and other species, or projects we work together on for a better future within the “environment.” Based on this notion, it is important for all of you to have a proper understanding of the environment as not only pre-service teachers, but sound citizens also.
INDIGO: Either environmental education as an independent subject based on the environment, or being divided into several parts and integrated into every subject, how do you think the two approaches harmonize or work together for environmental education?
Professor: The former one you mentioned is called “independent subject approach” while the latter is “dispersed subjects approach” in environmental education. The independent subject approach resembles a lens. It refers to making an independent subject which plays the role as a lens through which it is to help the students integrate the whole concept of the environment. In the dispersed subjects approach, each learner is expected to understand concepts of the environment from related subjects and then integrate the concepts inside themselves. In the current Korean education system, the way in which environment is taught varies dependent upon the age of the learners. In the case of elementary school education, it applies a dispersed subjects approach. But, in middle and high school education, it is implemented in an eclectic way, which mixes the independent and dispersed approaches. Thus, you might have learned contents related to the environment in various subjects. For instance, you learn about ecosystems in science, environmental products in domestic science, respect for all living creatures in moral education, conditions of power plant locations in social education, and so on. There is also an independent subject named Environment, but only a few of you might have taken the subject in middle and high school. Since the elective subject Environment has been offered at about 10~20 percent of middle and high schools, some of you couldn’t recognize the existence of the subject. Thus, the dispersed subjects approach is also important for environmental education. Basically, the environmental education should be soaked into every related subject thoroughly so that the learners understand the meanings surrounding the environment. And then, the subject, Environment, further helps learners integrate the meanings of it and have competences to make our environment better for us.
INDIGO: Oh, I also have never heard of “environment” as an independent subject. Then, what do you think about the current environmental education for teachers? Is it enough for them to raise a total comprehension of the environment?
Professor: That’s a good question. Most elementary and secondary school teachers do not have an opportunity to take courses on the environment after they enter teacher universities. Though some portion of elementary school classes and many subjects in middle and high schools are closely related to the environment, pre-service teachers usually have little chance to learn about it. This sort of teacher education system is based on an assumption that pre-service teachers are all conscious and sensible enough to teach others about the environment without any further education. But, as you know, you need to know much more than elementary mathematics just to teach mathematics to elementary school students. You need to be able to grasp the hidden side of it. In that sense, the current teacher education system leaves much to be desired. We cannot expect all the teachers to be experts of the environment. However, for Korean language teachers, having experiences to write ecological poetry would help them understand naturalism literature a bit more. Similarly, it would be profitable for English teachers to discuss the environment, in that it would help them teach global environmental issues. Providing at least one environmental course to every pre-service teacher as liberal arts courses can be a realistic solution for environmental education for teachers.
INDIGO: It is quite fortunate that we already have some in KNUE, I think. Thank you so much for taking your time to talk to us today. Do you have any other additional comments?
Professor: Teaching students how to make their voices is not the only duty of environmental education. It is the role of the entire education system, which is why every teacher has the responsibility to ponder over it.
Teachers are in charge of more than just providing academic knowledge. Regardless of the type of subject you would like to teach, to some extent you all have a responsibility to foster the students as upright citizens. They should learn how the environment relates directly with their quality of life, and accordingly, how they can participate in actions to make the environment better as ecological citizens. To expect this from teachers, appropriate learning opportunities should be provided to pre-service teachers. They should contemplate on not only the environment itself, but also how they would engrain the students with a sound view toward it.
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