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7.8 Public education (Topic h)

Public awareness of environmental issues is relatively high in all transition countries, but reflects more the immediate surroundings than the whole country or region. Public environmental education is still a process which has only started recently and which needs a lot of attention from governments and other sites. Hereby, environmental NGO’s play a prominent role.

The creation of environmental NGO's, composed of environmental professionals and other interested people, especially young people, was an important starting point for wider public awareness of the environment. According to the new environmental laws, all people have the right to get access to environmental information. Public participation in environmental decision-making is also part of the new legislation. At present, most of the transition countries signed the UN/ECE Convention on Access to Information and Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.

Governments are obliged by law to publish information about the state of the environment on a regular basis. Beyond this, it is more or less up to the single ministry which other kind of environmental information they release to the public, including to NGO’s. Public access to environmental-relevant data from other departments and ministries is in most cases very limited. In most transition countries, information about planned projects and their local environmental effects as well as participation in Environmental Impact Assessments is still not easy to obtain for NGO’s and the interested public.

In most transition countries, there is no co-ordination between the Ministries of Environment and the Ministries of Education to guarantee a comprehensive and systematic school toward professional environmental education. At the level of kindergartens and schools, there are many different projects ongoing to involve the youth in environmental actions and create awareness and sensitivity. But how much environmental issues are regular part of school curriculum’s is difficult to say and not often a reality. For adults, environmental education is often provided by environmental NGO’s with workshops for professionals, or project-related discussions or protests for the public. Furthermore, mass media information about environmental issues and new development projects, but also media campaigns, including TV-spots or documentary films, about accidents or other special events inform and educate the population. Besides, companies with environmental development projects (mostly financed from outside the countries), are obliged to hold public workshops introducing the projects to the local population and discuss them with the people.

In Ukraine, many environmental activities on local levels, in pre-schools and in schools, are initiated or supported by NGO's. There are about 100 environmental NGO's, the majority are acting locally. Due to the Chernobyl catastrophe, public environmental awareness is still comparatively high in Ukraine, although public interest in environmental protection issues is shrinking in view of the severe economic situation. The press regularly covers environmental issues. The highest priority of environmental issues has air and drinking water pollution, followed by nuclear safety and waste. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Nuclear Safety is obliged to submit every year to the Parliament a "National Report on the State of the Environment" and to provide ecological information to the interested public and private institutions. This report and the monthly bulletin "Living Ukraine" have summaries in English (EPR; 1999).

In Lithuania, environmental yearbooks, quarterly "State of the Environment Reports" environmental monitoring and annual environmental media reports were published by the Government. To a large extent this information is available in English and provided on the Internet. Public participation is sufficiently covered by the new environmental laws and regulations. However, access to information appears to be a crucial requirement for NGO's. Active public participation in environmental policies has to be encouraged, NGO's have to be supported and the dissemination of environmental information via mass media has to be improved. Environmental training should be extended to experts in all ministries concerned, as well as in all regional and local administrations involved in environmental management EPR, 1998).

In Estonia, public awareness and concern for the protection of the environment plays a substantial role in the political process. Environmental issues have been a contributory stimulus to arouse the national consciousness in the process of restoring the countries independence. Several NGO's have been established and public pressure has stopped i.e. the production of phosphorite. However, the environmental movement has waned over the last years because public attention is more directed to the severe economic situation in the country. New legislation obliges the Government to provide environmental information to the public. However, the procedures which information will be published and how to obtain relevant information as well as how to participate in decision-making process are remaining still unclear. Procedures for access to environmental information (from Government, but also industry and agriculture) need to be clearly defined.

Latvia's recent history has demonstrated a strong connection between environmental criticism and the fundamental political changes. Public awareness of environmental issues in general is high. NGO's can not always be clearly distinguished from government. Environmental education has no formal status, it is treated as a cross-curricular theme. There is no formal recognition of the importance of environmental education from the Government. Furthermore, there is a lack of co-ordination between the ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development. This results in overlapping activities and parallel events. In school projects or special camps pupils became familiar with environmental issues. National school programmes, often involving 10 - 30 schools across the country, are a great success. Examples are the National Olympiad of Environmental Projects organised by the Curriculum Development and Assessment Centre. "Environmental education in Latvia" is a three year project of the Norwegian and Latvian Ministries of Education, involving 16 schools. Each school has chosen a different environmental topic which will be published and later used by teachers as educational material. In co-operation with the UK, the children environmental school of Latvia developed a project on "Implementation of Environmental Education Strategy in Latvians Schools". Other national projects (on energy, the Daugava river, etc.) were carried out with the involvement of dozens of schools all over the country.

The main difficulties are valid for most of the transition countries:

  • The teachers are underpaid, often not well trained and there is a lack of educational material.
  • Schools don't have much experience with cross-curricular work and active approaches to teaching.

In Slovenia the responsibility of environmental education is distributed to different ministries and institutions. Education in kindergartens, elementary and secondary schools are under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Sport. Graduate and postgraduate education are in the hands of the independent universities. After establishing a new law on Education in 1996, the National Curriculum Council and commissions were created including the Cross-Curriculum Commission on Environmental education. Nevertheless, an integrated environmental education does not yet exist.

The country has joined the European programme "Eco-Schools" which aims to involve pupils in elementary schools, their teachers and parents in predetermined environmental activities every year. Other initiatives like environmental training courses for schoolteachers were initiated with the support of NGO’s and the national Board of Education and with relevant PHARE programs.

In Croatia, again NGO's did the first step to foster national environmental education. The NGO "Nature Friends Movement" has been conducting national environmental education programmes for several years. It has been nominated as national co-ordinator and operator for the European Blue Flag Campaign and the Eco-Schools Project in Croatia, which started in 1997. The Croatian authorities have joined this project in order to improve environmental education in schools as part of the official school curricula. At present, both projects are jointly carried out with the Ministry of Education and Sport and the Ministry of Tourism. The Blue Flag project involves monitoring the water quality on beaches and marinas, and the Eco-School project is targeting different environmental matters for both the elementary and secondary school students throughout the country. The Croatian State Directorate for the Protection of Nature and Environment (SDEP) takes part in the implementation of the Eco-Quiz show "Our beautiful homeland" and "Days of Bread-Days of Gratitude for the Fruit of the Earth" involving again elementary and secondary schools in the whole country.

The general public interest on environmental matters is mostly concentrated on the damages which happened during the war and local projects influencing daily life. More information about Environmental Impact Assessment procedures would enable NGO’s and the public to be interested and included in decision-making. Information about planned developments should be published at an early planning stage to facilitate public participation and to improve public acceptance of individual environmental protection projects.

In Romania, both the Government and NGO's are responsible for raising public environmental awareness and education. The Government is carries out workshops, conferences and is publishing brochures, photo exhibitions etc, to promote public awareness and education. Several environmental NGO's, especially young people (the Ecologist Youth of Romania, Terra Nostra etc.) organise periodically action of waste collection from river beds, monitoring water courses in order to find out illegal contamination sources etc. Another form of environmental education is realised through Water Inspections or Environmental Inspections at local levels, which apply fines for people washing cars in the vicinity of rivers or lakes or throwing garbage into a water course.

A broader public understanding of the benefits of an improved and technologically advanced wastewater treatment for public health, and a healthy urban and rural environment is recognised as a prerequisite for any development in this sector. This is reflected in school education at all levels. Kindergartens as well as elementary and secondary schools have introduced environmental education, and they carry out excursions to drinking water and wastewater treatment plants.

Another form of public education is given through water companies, involved in or financed by international programs. Part of their work is to inform the local people and to carry out public workshops to inform/educate about and discuss projects with the local population. With the support of local mass media this form of education activities reaches large sections of the population and helps to create environmental awareness (Rojanschi, 1999).

 

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