FRANKFORT, Ky. (April 20, 2015) – As Earth Day approaches, a new survey shows overwhelming support from Kentuckians for environmental education, but room for improvement in residents’ environmental literacy.
The Survey of Kentuckians’ Environmental Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviors from the Kentucky Environmental Education Council (KECC) reveals that while 96 percent of Kentuckians believed that environmental education should be taught in schools, some basic information, such as the primary source of water pollution in Kentucky, was unknown by the majority of survey respondents, according to KEEC Executive Director Elizabeth Schmitz.
“It’s encouraging to see the support of Kentuckians for environmental education in our classrooms,” said Schmitz. “It’s evident from the survey that Kentuckians are interested and concerned about issues like pollution and want to keep the Commonwealth beautiful, safe and clean now and for future generations.”
The survey involved randomized phone interviews with 680 people from across Kentucky. The results were released as part of Land, Legacy and Learning IV, a publication of the KEEC that also includes the Commonwealth’s 5-year Master Plan for Environmental Education.
The plan is a collaborative effort between the council, environmental education organizations and the public to increase the impact of environmental education statewide in schools and through informal learning opportunities for citizens of all ages. Land, Legacy and Learning IV is available on KEEC’s website at http://keec.ky.gov/publications.
“We know from the survey that people care about the natural beauty of our state and want to protect it but they don’t always know the facts about the environment, so we have to continue to do a better job of informing people,” said Schmitz. “That is why the 5-year plan is so important.”
KEEC serves more than 275 schools through Kentucky’s Green and Healthy Schools program, has nearly 200 graduates of the Professional Environmental Educator Certification program, and offers numerous resources, including EEinKentucky.org – a one-stop shop for resources, events and grants in Kentucky and the southeast.
The purpose of KEEC, created by the General Assembly in 1994, is to help Kentuckians develop the skills necessary to solve current environmental problems, prevent new ones, and maintain a balance between the economy and the environment for future generations.
Teaching students from an early age about nature and how they impact their surroundings is an important component of the council’s mission. It also helps students learn other skills.
“Environmental education is known to support critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork skills,” said Schmitz. “The real-world context of environmental education is documented to increase K-12 learning gains in multiple content areas, including science, math, technology, language arts and social studies.”
Schmitz, who received an Earth Day award from the Environmental Quality Commission last week for her work in Kentucky, said individuals often do not understand how their daily lives impact the environment and that if each person takes responsibility for his actions, it would have a ripple effect in the state.
For example, according to the survey, Kentuckians believe that water quality/pollution and water conservation is Kentucky’s most pressing environmental problem. Many, however, do not recognize that their own personal habits and decisions have an environmental impact.
“Although the primary polluter of waterways is from sources such as lawns, most Kentuckians believe that factories are the primary polluters,” said Schmitz. “In fact, industrial sources of water pollution are highly regulated, while individuals tend to over fertilize lawns, leading to increased levels of nitrates and phosphates in our water supply.”
The council’s partners in developing the master plan were the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education (http://kaee.org) and the Kentucky University Partnership for Environmental Education. Additionally, more than 175 individuals representing a mix of business, academia and environmental organizations attended over 13 regional meetings across Kentucky to give their input on the master plan and learn the survey results.
The four overarching goals in the master plan include 1) integrating environmental education into the lifelong learning of Kentuckians, 2) expanding Kentucky’s cohesive and diverse network of environmental providers, 3) increasing Kentuckians’ awareness of and support of environmental education, and 4) verifying the success of environmental education in Kentucky through research, development and evaluation of environmental efforts.
“Kentucky is recognized nationally as a leader in environmental education, in part due to the way that our state and local agencies and organizations collaborate to maximize resources and efficiency. And in part, because Kentuckians realize they have inherited a beautiful place to live and they are the caretakers of this legacy for their children and grandchildren,” said Schmitz.
For more information about KEEC, visit http://keec.ky.gov/Pages/default.aspx.