Congress Themes

The thematic niches relate to the three spheres of interaction that are at the very basis of human and social development, namely the relation to self, relation to others (human and more-than-human) and relation to the environment, our Oïkos. These themes were chosen with a view to complementing those introduced at previous Congresses and reflect the outcome of broad consultations. The twelve (12) selected themes offer a wide range of opportunity for participation. We hope that all of the environmental education stakeholders from the various regions of the world will feel inclined to share their research, assessments, practices, actions, socio-environmental accomplishments, and other activities within these thematic niches.

1. Relationships between ecology and economy:  the issue of sustainability

This strand explores ways that environmental education can contribute to understanding and transforming relationships among these two ways of approaching our surrounding world, our common home, our Oïkos. Ecologically sustainable living in our common home calls for drawing out, transforming, producing, exchanging, trading, consuming and disposing of the matter which constitute the Earth itself, our home. How do we deal with complex issues arising from the above activities such as: climate change, diminishing biodiversity, exploitation, maldevelopment, peak oil, pollutions, resource depletion and concentration, resourcism, risks of alienation from fellow humans and the Earth, etc.? From an educational perspective, how do we approach critical analysis and implementation of various solutions that are advanced such as alterglobalization, bioregionalism, community supported agriculture, ecodevelopment, ecological economics, ecotourism, fair trade, green economics, green and ethical funds, industrial ecology, life cycle assessment, organic and other types of certification, social economy, sustainable development, etc.? What about environmental research, education and training in work organizations?

2. Questions of fairness in socio-ecological issues

In the social life of our common home, various societies and groups hold different views about environmental relations and issues and environmental problems affect some social groups more than others. This strand looks at education and concepts such as justice, fairness, and equity as they are related to issues of gender, race, class, poverty, violence, war, and the more-than human world. These issues call for the critical involvement of educators to promote an awareness of various problems of socio-ecological equity and to enable social transformations (political, economical, cultural, etc.). What could be the contribution of environmental education to such socio-ecological issues? How can dialogues, including those between the North and the South, be stimulated through environmental education action projects?

3. Environmental health

The health of our common home is inextricably linked to that of its inhabitants. This strand considers how human health and environmental health are closely related. The issue is not only to prevent, treat and eradicate diseases and dysfunctions but also to provide conditions for well-being and equilibrium. From such a perspective, issues of agri-food, biotechnologies, food security/sovereignty, water or air quality and various contaminations call for, amongst others, ecosystemic approaches. It also calls for creativity to invent and to put into practice alternative projects: urban agriculture, “slow food” initiatives, water treatment technologies, etc. How can the fields of health education and environmental education be related to create the field of environmental health education?

4. Urban challenges

Since the early years of the 21st century, more than half of the Earth’s human population has come to live in cities. Life in the city provides opportunities but raises specific urban challenges, such as urbanization and the lifestyles it entails, problems of resource management and service delivery (water, energy, waste), city planning, transportation, and security, etc. This strand examines educational and socio-ecological issues of living in cities such as: new forms of identity and spatial relations, the environmental impact of large urban centers, modernist cultures and consumption, cultural diversity. How can education contribute to community building, to create convivial places nurturing peace and solidarity? What do we implicitly learn from the built environment, from the materials and the forms of urban architecture, from the city lay-out and the cityscape? What about the educational dimensions of initiatives such as “Growing up in cities”, “Healthy cities”, and others. What types of programs, structures and educational services can local authorities establish? How can we learn to live in the city so it does not negate the Earth as our vital common home?

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5. Ecologizing colleges and universities

Higher education institutions are places where more and more specialized teaching, learning, and research activities transform our worldviews, our relationships to the world and our common home, our Oïkos. However, colleges and universities, and the activities that take place in these institutions, are also shaped by the transformations in the surrounding world. Where are we at with ecologizing colleges and universities? This strand considers strategic and pedagogical issues and includes topics such as: organizational learning, policy change, curriculum transformation, teacher education, greening of grounds and infrastructure. Many technicians, professionals, and leaders receive education from institutions of higher education. Their expertise is sought and we expect them to somehow be models for socio-ecological practices. How is the environment integrated in the programs and the pedagogies of these institutions? What about the landscaping and the management of these places? How can teacher education institutions bring environmental education concerns to the core of their mandate?

6. School and community

The 10 to 12 years of schooling represent an important mediation between the family life of home and the broader social and ecological life in our shared household, Earth. Why and how are the relationships with the Earth taken care of during the years of kindergarten, primary and secondary education (K-12)? This strand includes critical challenges at junctures of educational and socio-ecological issues such as: strengthening relationships between schools, communities, and society, educational policies and reforms, reflective practice, professional development of teachers and other educators involved in the school community, ecologizing curricula, ecopedagogy, and the quality and relevance of learning processes. It also considers the greening of schools, their grounds and other infrastructures. Finally, how can youth authentically and critically participate and engage in understanding, caring for and transforming the world they belong to through community service or through social and ecological action projects?

7. Learning in society

Learning to live in our common home, at the scale of local communities or at the scale of larger socio-ecological units like bioregions, calls for educational initiatives and learning in a diversity of contexts and organizations in addition to school. Socio-ecological issues invite citizens to generate and share knowledge and know-how associated with specific environments and challenges. Environmental education thus occurs in numerous non-formal and in-formal contexts. This strand explores issues and challenges related to environmental education and learning in society within community organizations and other places of social action. How can the links between environmental education and social action projects be improved? In collective processes, how can action and reflection be linked in communities of practice and learning communities through organizational learning, social learning, etc.? This strand includes themes such as lifelong learning and adult education, and considers relationships between environmental education, community education, popular education, and socio-cultural initiatives. The role of media in the processes of learning in society is also addressed.

8. Heritage interpretation

The history of life on Earth inscribes each human being and each society within a highly complex and diversified heritage. This heritage is also part of our environment, our Oïkos, our shared home. How does environmental education address this legacy? A growing number of environmental education initiatives take place in natural history museums (zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens), parks, ecomuseums and others, where a broad expertise in natural, constructed, historical, artistic and other heritages is being developed. What is the social mission of these institutions? How do they make the environmental connection? How can the management of these institutions and their ecological messages be harmonized? How can their education initiatives foster local action on environmental issues? How can they promote North-South relations and encourage solidarity? Can museums, parks and other interpretative institutions contribute to a multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary approach to environmental realities and issues that incorporates the sciences, art, history, and more? How can interpretive educational initiatives be assessed? In what ways can the knowledge of our heritage and conservation projects influence public policies for our shared home?

9. Indigenous knowledge and practices

The Earth gives birth to and sustains great biological and cultural diversity. The diversity of linkages between nature and culture translates into countless practices for inhabiting the Earth including: agriculture, fishing, gathering, hunting, cooking, practical design, transportation, languages, customs, kinships, worldviews, etc. This strand is sensitive to the complexities of eco-cultural issues from an educational perspective. It explores topics such as relationships among: peoples, spirituality, and landscapes; ways of knowing and being in the world and worldviews; literacy and orality; education, storytelling and how learning and understanding are informed by and linked to cultural heritage; as well as the politics of knowledge and cultural marginalization. How can environmental education address these issues?

10. Ethics, environmental thought, and worldviews

Daily living on Earth engages us in a diversity of relationships that call for ethical choices that are more or less conscious and deliberated. Our way of being on Earth is always informed by some environmental thought, some environmental philosophy; the worldviews that we have learned, and those that we reconstruct, lie at the heart of our educational endeavours in more or less explicit ways. This strand looks at the links between environmental education and ethics, environmental thought and worldviews. It focuses on the educational and pedagogical implications of emerging environmental philosophies (ecosophies) and ecological worldviews informed by contemporary positions such as in deep ecology, the Earth Charter, ecofeminism, the Gaia theory, religion, social ecology, social justice, and spirituality. It considers ethical responses informed by ethics of care and proximity, transpersonal ethics, and ethics as praxis. It also considers participatory ecopedagogies informed by systemic thinking and by experiential learning.

11. Art: imagination, creativity, and meaning

For humans, living on Earth gives birth to cultural productions charged with meaning and aesthetics beyond purely utilitarian considerations: aboriginal art, traditional arts, fine arts, folk art, arts and crafts, modern art, contemporary art, and so on. Art as an activity is a form of relationship with the world and a way of expressing these relationships with the world, often using the Earth’s substance. Environmental education can invite us to attend more closely to the aesthetic and symbolic dimensions of relationships with our surrounding world which find expression in various artistic productions such as: cinema, dance, graphic arts, installation arts, literature, music, theatre, etc. This strand invites participants to consider artistic learning and expression in environmental education, to consider how to stimulate the development of environmental sensitivity and the expression of peoples’ creative potential through artistic endeavours. It recognizes that artists are communicators with potential to imaginatively frame and reframe perceptions and experiences in new ways, to transgress boundaries, and to foster new understandings, and generate new meanings. It also considers art as a participatory activity within communities, art as a popular education, and art as a form of activism.

12. Ecological identity

Everywhere on Earth the formation of personal and cultural identity involves ecological dimensions that are more or less repressed, voiced, or valued. Identities are constructed and evolve, like life itself, in a network of relationships with the world in which we live. The experience of nature, of beings, and of things is a foundation of our ecological identity, the perception of oneself and of one’s society in the world. This strand examines relationships between experiential learning, encounters with nature, and formative experiences including those of children, adolescents, and adults. In environmental education, what kind of experiences can be fostered to address the identity issue and to work on personal and collective ecological identity? Issues of identity in environmental education are often linked to self study, environmental autobiographies and environmental history. How can they be put into practice? What are the links between identity and environmental action? In the current context of diverse forms of migrations and changes, how can ecological identity contribute to ecologically and socially responsible action, sustainable livelihoods, and bioregionalism?