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Field Ecology Education in Russia

The Main Trends of the Environmental education in Russia.

by Alexander S. Bogolubov

Russia has recently become a state of the "general ecologization". Moreover the importance of this sphere of human knowledge and the necessity of the environmental education are admitted by everybody including teachers and ministers. The final aim of the environmental education is the formation of a "healthy environment community" that lives in harmony with nature. Mixing concepts, terms and theories gives a negative phenomenon - representatives of different trends can not speak the same language in spite of the only and identical aim - educating a generation of people who would thinks "ecologically" (in an environment way).

The analysis of the environmental education in Russian schools for the last 10 years helps to come to the conclusion that the environmental education includes at least 5 trends: "school (theoretical) ecology", "technical (industrial) ecology", "socio-political ecology", "playing ecology", 'field ecology". The present classification is rather symbolic and thus we may speak of different ecology, using these word-combinations only in quotation marks and bearing in mind that we don't speak of ecology as a whole but only of some trends of the environmental education. All these trends are characterized by different approaches to the education of children, a quite different substance forms of work and direct ways of communication with children. Moreover, each of these trends has got its own authors, its own means of communication and its own audience.

The "school (theoretical) ecology trend of the environmental education" is mainly based on studying general environment objective laws and global environmental problems. Textbooks that educators use in their teaching are written in a very "dull" and "global" manner.

The "technical" trend in the environment education is based on studying the results of the industrial influence on the environment and the ways of struggle with pollution by various technical means. As a part of professional education this sphere is certainly very important but is not the main one in forming a correct attitude of a person to the Nature.

The "sociopolitical" ecology is nature preservation through the adoption of "Reduce-Reuse-Recycle" philosophy, and its implementation in industry and everyday life. This trend though spreading quickly throughout the country is inefficient because it causes fear for the future and a social tensions as a result of searching for scapegoats. Positive aspect  sociopolitical ecology is that many people start to support the idea of preserving nature and thus can attract the attention of "powerful people of the world" to the ecological problems.

The "playing" trend in education is something new for our country and is spreading fast among educators (especially in schools). Any game including an ecological one is a fine occupation for children that aids to their maturity and an easy way of acquiring useful knowledge for adults. A foreign influence in this field contributes to an active development of the "playing" ecology in our country as our foreign colleagues have gained an enormous experience for many years and it is deprived of national peculiarities and need only a translation.

Nowadays the sphere of the "field" ecology turned out to be a less developed and less simple form of the environmental education in Russia. And it is quite evident: the teachers who have got a special natural sciences education are engaged in the sphere of the "school" ecology. The former engineers and educators of technical colleges are engaged in the "technical" ecology. Everybody can be engaged in the "socio-political" and "playing" ecology including former active members of youth communist movement. But everything mentioned above is insufficient for a "field" ecology educator. The person must combine the qualities of a scientist, an outdoor guide and an entrepreneur to successfully teach "field" ecology.

The Field Ecology and a Naturalistic Approach in Russian Education

The term "field ecology" is not generally accepted in the Russian environmental education and was introduced into the educational practice by us (Association "Ecosystem") in the early 90s. By "field ecology" we mean the forms and methods of the environmental education that help students to investigate nature through real nature objects - animals, plants, nature communities (ecosystems) in their natural form of existence. This approach predetermines that the main forms of children's education are outdoor lessons - excursions, a "field" practices, outdoor lessons, expeditions. Our approach is not new, it has existed in various forms for many years for example in the sphere of the additional (out-of-school) education. In this aspect our country has no analogies in the world, nowhere but in Russia there is such a broad scale state system of the environment (eco-biological) education that is based on the out-of-school work.

The "naturalistic" approach in teaching biology and educating children was used in the first years of the Soviet period. "The Biostation for young naturalists" was founded in Moscow in 1918 and young naturalist movement started at the same time. Such educators as B.V.Vsesvyatsky and P.P.Smolin stood at the roots of it. They could unite an inborn children's aspiration for the study of nature and scientists' possibilities in investigating nature. One of the founders of the Russian young naturalist movement and the "author" of the naturalistic approach in the Russian out-of-school education P.P.Smolin attributed the success of the young naturalist movement by a close contact of children with nature and an investigative approach in their studies of nature. The first Russian young naturalist groups were naturalistic in the full meaning of the word - children lived, studied in nature (lessons in the woods), and carried out research work in the woods on the specially arranged areas (camps). The first experience of combining studies and original research work in nature proved to be successful and began to extend fast throughout the country.

In the 1930s the naturalistic approach was changed into the "socialistic" one, i.e. it was necessary to develop agriculture, "to overtake and leave somebody or something behind".  The young naturalist movement was combined with the pioneer movement and had lost its unique character for many years. Only few enthusiasts kept developing naturalistic approach. They founded a network of  "naturalistic" groups of children in Moscow that continue to exist up to nowadays. They are "The Club of Young Zoo-Friends" and "The Biology Club". Second one was a branch of All-Russian Society for Nature Preservation and later and up to now - of the State Darwin Museum. "The Biology Club" is also a branch of the Moscow Society of Nature Investigators. After the Second World War the young naturalist movement spread all over the country - the "stations for young naturalists" began to appear everywhere . It's a pity but they were characterized by an "agricultural" approach though there had been a tendency to increasing the number of groups of the naturalistic approach since 1970s.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s there appeared a real boom of the naturalistic approach that coincided with the disappearing of the agricultural one. By that time the social idea of man's place and role in nature had changed greatly - the appeal for conquering nature had been replaced by one for preserving it. The regeneration of the roots of the environmental education coincided with the "changing course" of the whole country and falling into an economic decay - all these events were reflected in shattering the establishments of the additional education. At the same time there appeared an important problem of looking for ways of attracting young generation's attention to investigating and preserving the Nature.

The idea was not a simple one to implement. First, for many years of the pioneer domination in the young naturalist movement the educational culture itself and the ways of the environmental education of children had been lost. Second, young biology teacher succeeded naturalistic biologists of the "old school". These new educators studied biology and geography only through books, they didn't know real nature and some of them never took part in the field work (owing to various circumstances). The third reason for this was a rapid development of ecological science, nature-preservation methods and monitoring research. Research methods had made a great progress but almost nobody tried to put them into the educational practice. Fourth, the early 1990s were marked by a great deal of foreign influence in the environmental education that was showered on "unprepared heads" of Russian environment teachers. An insufficient development of a "naturalistic" trend in the Russian environmental education can finally be explained by these factors. The last reason had played a very important role in the present correlation of trends of the environmental education.

All-Russian Environmental Educational  Association "ECOSYSTEM" started its work in 1995. It is one of the first educational organizations that teaches "naturalistic" ecology to school children. "Ecosystem's" ultimate goal is to introduce "naturalistic" ecology into school environmental education. "Ecosystem's" Field Center helps to reach this goal through a variety of outdoor ecology courses.

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