York forum focuses on ecological illiteracy


Are Ontario students in danger of becoming ecologically illiterate under the present education system?

That’s the topic participants were examining at an environmental education forum at York Feb. 27, entitled, “The Future of Environmental and Ecological Education in Ontario”. The forum focused on the province’s track record as an international leader in environmental and outdoor education, and the challenges it faces in light of recent cuts to these programs.

There was a lot of interest in the forum and not just from participants. Teacher groups in London and Ottawa watched the live Web cast of the event, as did several hundred students at Lakehead University. During the Web cast, organizers received several e-mail questions and comments, most of which were put to the panelists when the studio audience was invited to participate.

Gordon Miller (right), environmental commissioner of Ontario, delivered the keynote address, “Reviving Environmental Education in Ontario: Facing the Challenges of Sustainable Development”. Panelists included Ontario MPPs Mike Colle (Lib – Eglinton-Lawrence), critic for the Greater Toronto Area, and Rosario Marchese (NDP – Trinity-Spadina), education critic.

Joe Sheridan (below, left), a professor in the faculties of Environmental Studies and Education, and one of the forum”s organizers, says that Ontario is rapidly falling behind other provinces in environmental education.

“In addition to recent cuts to outdoor education at the elementary school level, environmental science is no longer taught as a single-focus subject in the secondary school curriculum, and geography and science teachers are giving very little time to teaching ecological concepts. This strengthens the impression that environmental and sustainability education have become increasingly marginal within the current curriculum guidelines.”

He adds that growing ecological illiteracy within the province”s school system is reinforced by the absence of environmental and sustainability teaching in the education of  provincial teacher candidates.

William Wong (right), a grade 12 student from A.Y. Jackson Secondary School in North York gave the closing presentation, “The Need for Environmental Education in Ontario”s Curriculum: A Student”s Perspective”, which examined how environmental education is vital for fostering future generations of environmentally conscious citizens.

The forum was hosted by York”s faculties of Environmental Studies and Education in association with the Transformative Learning Centre, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and Green Teacher Magazine.

You can watch the archived Web cast of the event at http://www.yorku.ca/fes/eforum/eforum.ram.