What is it about?

This Special Issue “Ecocentric education” contains articles focused on ecological values in environmental education (EE) and education for sustainable development (ESD). Ecocentric education is based on critical theory, originating from Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, and Paulo Freire, and on ecological pedagogy (ecopedagogy), developed by Richard Kahn. These critical theorists served as catalysts in the transformation of education towards the recognition of the “domination” of capitalist, corporate, and/or political power in shaping societies, challenging the broadly shared assumptions and practices

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Why is it important?

At an international political level, the realization of the negative side effects of industrial and economic development was discussed in 1972 at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and in The Limits to Growth report. The report outlined the need to address population growth, to limit the growth economy and industrial production in order to preserve natural resources for future generations. In 1975, responding to the Conferences’ and report’s outcomes, these aspirations were translated into educational guidelines. Participants in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) workshop proposed a global framework for environmental education, referred to as the Belgrade Charter, which stated: “The goal of environmental education is to develop a world population that is aware of, and concerned about, the environment and its associated problems, and which has the knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivations, and commitment to work individually and collectively toward solutions of current problems and the prevention of new ones”. This goal of environmental education, combined with the insights of Fromm, Marcuse, and Freire, inspired ecopedagogy, which supports an “earth democracy” and promotes the rights of all living organisms. Having in part evolved from critical pedagogy, ecopedagogy is less ideologically leftist or Marxist and more environment-centered [4]. What is significant in ecopedagogy is not its leftist origins, but a call for a radically different method of addressing the excesses of industrial development and anthropocentrism. Remaining socially critical, ecopedagogy supports deep ecology and ecocentrism in teaching theory and learning practice [10]. Inspiring this education, ideas addressing the human-centered (anthropocentric) treatment of the environment have been developed by, among others, Arne Naess. The ecology or ecosysytem-centered (ecocentric) alternatives to industrial development underlined, pragmatically, the restraint to growth, and, ethically, the importance of recognizing the intrinsic value, rather than instrumental, value of the environment, as Haydn Washington, one of the contributors to this collection of essays has underlined. As Kazuhito Nakamura, Akio Fujiwara, Hill Hiroki Kobayashi, and Kaoro Saito suggest in this Special Issue, ecocentric education does not “restrict human well-being to economic aspects”; rather, it makes “conventional sustainability education richer and profound” by “positioning human beings as part of nature”. Another contributor to this collection, Reingard Spannring, relates ecocentric education to ecological citizenship education, which “seeks to liberate human and nonhuman beings from predetermined behavioral results and functions, and opens the time and space for the subjectification of human and nonhuman citizens within the complex dynamics of a multi-species community” (p. 41). Thus, ecocentric education also includes individual care for animals, as Helena Pedersen, in this collection, reflects. Pedersen relates ecocentric education to the practice for critical animal pedagogies, offering a critical theory-based form of resistance against the conventionally framed “animal question” in education and beyond.


Contributors to this collection of essays reflect on this new type of environmental education, using case studies originating from Sweden, Spain, Scotland, Austria, Australia, and Japan. Their articles addressed the following questions: What are the prevalence and characteristics of ecocentric education? Does education positively influence environmental knowledge and attitudes at schools and help develop competencies and skills necessary for a transition to a sustainable society in higher education? What are the most effective forms of education taking environmental sustainability as an ultimate goal? How can context-specific studies of education contribute to the scholarship of social change that contributes to environmental sustainability? Ecocentric education discussed in this collection aids in understanding how complex variables such as national and institutional context, ideology, and ethics (e.g., ecocentric orientation) and pedagogical skills (e.g., didactic qualities) can ensure a sustainable future. Research focuses on nationally contextualized studies on the nexus between education, environment, and sustainable future. Contributors achieve this by examining how a wide range of educational programs have influenced students’ worldview and raised particular moral concerns in relation to the environment and our common future. Indeed, as opposed to the dominant forms of environmental education and education for sustainable development (ESD), ecocentric education reveals the lessons of environmentalism and engages with the underlying power structures of society As Washington has emphasized, sustainability and sustainable development are different concepts, and conventional ESD tends to be highly anthropocentric. Assuming that conventional environmental education and, particularly ESD are largely focused on social and economic issues, ecopedagogy and ecocentric education provide a counterweight with a focus on the “planet”. The “planet” in this case is not seen as harmoniously balanced with “people” and “profit” but as foundational for any social and economic activity to take place. In contrast to conventional education, ecocentric education and critical pedagogy are based on “method and process for liberation”, fighting for the oppressed and adopting a “critical methodology, and promote education as a non-violent form of radical social change”.

Dr Helen Kopnina
Northumbria University

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This page is a summary of: Ecocentric Education: Introduction to a Special Collection of Essays, Education Sciences, August 2020, MDPI AG, DOI: 10.3390/educsci10090217.
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