Children and young people as environmental citizens - the environmental education perspective to participation

Children and young people as environmental citizens - the environmental education perspective to participation (In Finnish: Lapset ja nuoret ympäristökansalaisina)

Sanna Koskinen
Youth Research Network 2010

This doctoral thesis examines the participation of children and young people in developing their own environment at school, as a part of environmental education. The aim of the research is to assess and consider children and young people’s environmentally responsible participation and its effectiveness in relation to the participants’ own learning and the end results of the participation. The research combines the perspectives of environmental education and citizenship education through the concept of environmental citizenship. Environmental education, which enhances environmental citizenship, offers children and young people the possibility to be active citizens and learn about citizenship in their own lives by taking action themselves.

The research is made up of two parts which complement each other. The first part consists of an action research carried out in the Joensuu Lyseo Upper Secondary School, where an environmental education course with a traffic-related theme was planned, developed and evaluated. The second part is made up of an interview survey carried out in Helsinki. In the survey actors from schools and various city offices, who were involved in development projects of school environments, were interviewed.

According to the research results, all-round cooperation and more open relations with those outside of the school environment are important ways to support environmental citizenship in schools. Thus, environmentally responsible participation offers a chance to learn competence that an environmental citizen needs – the knowledge, skills and willingness to act that have not been successfully taught through traditional school education. The research introduces a model of environmentally responsible participation as a learning process, in which learning is studied through the development of competence, self-empowerment and social empowerment. The model makes the context of environmental education visible and puts emphasis on reflection in the learning process. A central factor in children and young people’s self-empowerment is the sense of being heard and taken into consideration.

At the moment children and young people’s rights to participate are strong, due to legislation, school curricula, and several national and international agreements. Despite this, involving them in developing their own immediate surroundings has not become a part of schools’ and planning organisations’ daily life and established methods. Reasons for this situation can be found in the lack of regard and resources for these matters, in the complex nature of planning and a long time frame, and the problems of ownership and of reaching each other. Central to overcoming these obstacles are a gradual change in conduct and mentalities and the strengthening of teachers and officials’ competence. Children and young people need different ways and methods of varying levels of involvement, structures and arenas which enable participation and in which environmental citizenship can be realized. 

Key words: environmental citizenship, environmental education, citizenship education, children and young people’s participation, social learning, self-empowerment, social empowerment, school, community planning