The issue of sustainable living has become an increasingly important theme in public
discourse. Particularly in the last decade educators and researchers have paid much
attention to people's relationships with the environment under the theme. 'Western'
advocates of education for sustainability generally present as models the traditional
approaches of indigenous peoples. However, contemporary attempts by indigenous
peoples to 'bond' young people with the land have not been extensively investigated.
Following a careful selection process a total of seven educational programmes in the
UK and North America were chosen to explore participants' core values and
concerns regarding the environment. The research design was 'mixed' and based
primarily on participant observation, supported by interviews and written surveys.
For the indigenous groups in North America, being 'on the land' was 'life' itself, and
was tied strongly to their identity and well-being. Aspects of their culture and
history were inseparable from the programmes, whereas for the groups in the UK,
people visited 'wild places' primarily for personal enjoyment. The UK
programmes studied aimed to cultivate a caring attitude towards the environment
chiefly through conservation work. However, in contrast to the North American
cases the experience was largely divorced from daily life and paid little attention to
cultural and historical heritage.
The present study has made three significant contributions to the education literature
concerning people's relationships with the environment. First, the nature of these
relationships varies depending on cultural and social setting and the local context
plays a vital role in developing the relationships. Second, a fundamental change in
people's relationships with nature requires ontological transformation. Third, while
it may be beneficial to adopt certain elements from North American programmes in
the UK or vice versa, educators cannot simply duplicate cultural models as education
needs to be culturally and locally appropriate.
These programmes were experimental and evolving. Further research is required to
investigate models of education for sustainability that are culturally and locally
appropriate to each place.