“Environmental education should be an integral part of a person’s education”

Educator Heike Freire has spent over 25 years studying how to transform education and human development using the values ​​of care and love for nature. And a pedagogical approach that she calls green pedagogy, which she explains in detail in her three books: Educar en verde, translated into six languages, ¡Estate quieto y atiende! and Living Patios. She also gives conferences, courses and workshops on the subject around the world. She recently visited UAB to inaugurate the 2022/23 academic year at the Faculty of Education.

“We need a cultural transformation to approach our relationship to the Earth in another way”

– What is green education and what is its purpose?

– It is an educational approach that looks at environmental issues from a human perspective. Green pedagogy is at the crossroads between environmental education and formal education, which I call life cycle. The proposal is to unify the two. Until now, environmental education has been dominated by a technocratic vision and very focused on changing habits. But there is a deeper way to educate about the environment, which is to help a person to build themselves as a subject connected to the Earth and to nature. This pedagogy aims to accompany the person in his integral development as a human being, since this is beneficial for each of us and it is the way for us to have a better and more respectful relationship with the nature.

– Is environmental education not enough?

– This is about realizing that environmental education should be an integral part of a person’s education. We are talking about a need for cultural transformation to approach our relationship to the Earth in another way. It’s not just about getting someone to recycle, for example, but how that person grows in relation to their world. Their awareness that their sense of fulfillment and happiness and that of other beings are all interdependent.

– You see environmental problems as human problems.

– These are not just technical problems, of course not. Gustav Speth, White House consultant on climate change, believed early in his career that the main environmental problems were climate change, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse. Thirty years later, he realized that the main problems were in fact selfishness, greed and apathy. This is not only a subject for scientists, but also for educators and pedagogues.

– Is Spain a place open to the pedagogical approach of a green pedagogy?

– There was an awareness of the need to connect with nature before the Franco dictatorship, with educators like Rosa Sensat and centers like the Institución Libre de Enseñanza. We were one of the first countries to have forestry schools and teachers came from abroad to learn more about this field. But then came an education and trades related to human relations that took place in closed spaces. Later, there has been a resurgence of relevant interest in recent decades. There is a desire to be in touch with nature again, especially now after the pandemic.

– What is the current situation?

– I think we are doing well in terms of education. Many schools have transformed their playgrounds into more natural environments and use them for learning. The idea that girls and boys need to grow up in constant contact with nature is quite widespread, and it is fundamental because it is the environment in which humans have evolved throughout their history. The same cannot be said for other areas, such as nursing homes, prisons or hospitals, and much remains to be done in these cases.

– What benefits does green pedagogy have on the values ​​and knowledge of children?

– I use in my lectures a diagram that summarizes the results of studies conducted from the mid-1970s to the present day in environmental psychology, both with adults and children, and which demonstrate the benefits of be in contact with nature. We know it improves physical development, health and emotional intelligence. It makes us more resilient, less stressed, we become more empathetic and we work together instead of competing, we are more creative and have a longer attention span and memory. And these benefits exist at all levels, which is why we say that a green pedagogy is a holistic pedagogy, targeting all dimensions of a human being.

– Is it preferable to encourage classes to be given outside?

– Yes, but the important thing is not to do the same thing outside as inside a class, but to do it in connection with nature and to change our way of being, of see and process our world. It’s not the natural environment per se, it’s how we are connected to that environment. In our western culture, we have a huge problem with the concept of nature as we see it. It’s very abstract, like we’re not part of it. In other cultures, human beings are an integral part of nature. If we work to be aware of our connection with nature, children will grow better and feel more integrated into it.

– What is your opinion on the use of digital technologies and how should they coexist with green pedagogy?

– I am quite critical of them. They affect brain development, nervous system, sensory and emotional development, intuition, etc. Since the first workshops I attended over twenty years ago, the world has gone against what I and other experts recommended for parents and educators. Digital is a reality we have to live with, but the question is how. It must be introduced gradually, according to the evolution of the person and the vital needs of each stage of life. It is obvious that a small child does not need screens to grow and interact with his world, on the contrary, screens make his learning more difficult.

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