Developing ecoliteracy in an Afrikaans reading series

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This article is an appreciative reflection on a particular reading series that was specifically designed to develop ecological education. The texts in this series have the potential to develop a deeper knowledge of ecosystems. Through knowledge of the natural systems and an understanding of the intertwinement of all things in the cycle of life, the child reader may be empowered to engage in talking about the natural environment and environmental issues in an informed and critical way.

The Flixie series (Schreuder 2010) was chosen because of its educational potential. The series manifests a discourse on mutual dependence, on balance and harmony in nature, but also on caring for and tending the natural environment. Characteristic of this series, is the presence of, what Holton and Rogers (in Dobrin and Kidd 2004:151) call “the authoritative discourse of science”, and here specifically the life sciences. With the Flixie series, Schreuder conveys subject-specific ecological information to the reader. By combining fact with fiction, she makes complex concepts accessible for the young child.

The development of environmental education in general will be discussed as background to the study. The main focus will be on the promotion of ecoliteracy through the texts in the series. Two major research questions are posed: (1) What is the nature of an ecotext and which criteria should it meet to promote ecoliteracy and a better understanding of the natural environment? (2) How does the series meet these criteria?

The ecological education of children can lead to the development of a deep appreciation of nature and a sense of place. Ecoliteracy can equip the young child to understand the interaction as well as the intertwinement and networks of living and non-living things better. Kriesberg (1999:xiii) states that ecoliteracy is the best way to make a young child aware of her/his place in the web of life.

Iovino, Marchesini and Adorni (2016:7) note that human beings – our entire species – exist in close intertwinement with the non-human. For these post-humanistic thinkers the reality of human and non-human coexistence is one of merging. The human and non-human define one another in their interrelationships. This natural fusion of the human and non-human should be decisive in the depiction of what humankind needs now, namely courage and willingness to risk going beyond the boundaries of our species (2016:9). In order to better understand the web of life, the connection of living and non-living systems in an ecological whole, it is necessary to educate children ecologically from an early age.

In a recent article Meyer (2017:8) comments on this post-humanistic notion which conveys new perspectives on the human-non-human relationship: “to form a wider image of the universe and to trump man’s self-conceit by the study of, for example, the strange symbiosis in the microbiome of our bodies”.

Sauvé (2002:1) argues that the objective of environmental education is to convert social dynamics into a network of solidarity, to cherish a cooperative and critical approach to socio-environmental realities, to get a creative grip on current difficulties, and to encourage the finding of possible solutions.

For Capra (2007:9), one of the biggest challenges that environmental educators face is to encourage learners to become ecologically sensible. This entails preparing learners to become active members of sustainable communities in an ecologically healthy world. Environmental issues such as global warming, the destruction of the rain forests, water scarcity, chronic shortage of resources, deterioration in soil quality, the extinction of species and the acidification of oceans and freshwater sources are realities. Rather than resorting to sackcloth and ashes as a response to this situation, or falling into despair, we should investigate the causes of the environmental problems.

According to David Orr (2004:213) it is necessary that an “affinity for life” should be cultivated by education. Education that is modelled on this high regard for life could eventually lead to an awakening of possibilities and potential that are largely dormant and forgotten in the “industrial-utilitarian mind” (Orr 2004:213). People’s souls must be opened up to what Orr (2004:213) calls “this glorious, lush and life-giving planet of ours”.

Richard Kahn (2010:xii) is an advocate for a relationship with the earth that is located in an integral order of knowledge. This is a sort of alliance that is inspired by physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual wisdom. In the context of an ecologically based epistemology, so Kahn argues, humans could have an organic relationship with the earth that is also intimately linked with our struggle for cultural self-determination, environmental sustainability, social and material justice, and world peace. This is therefore a plea for a critical pedagogy that explicitly studies ecological sustainability and biodiversity. This point of view emphasises the necessity for a critical ecopedagogy and ecoliteracy that questions Western civilisation.

In this article the learning process as well as the process of transformative learning will be briefly discussed as a background to promoting environmental literacy.

An ecoliterate person, claims Orr (in Stone and Barlow 2005:x), has a basic understanding of ecoliteracy, human ecology and the concepts of sustainability, as well as problem-solving skills. The root of the word ecology is the Greek word oikos, which means housekeeping. Iovino (2016:12) sees ecology as a synonym for “collective dwelling” in which all forms of existence “belong together”. Ecology, therefore, has to do with the earthly dwelling of living and non-living things, and to understand where human beings fit into this densely populated diverse “dwelling”, ecoliteracy is necessary.

Goleman, Bennett and Barlow (2012:4) argue that it is through the development of emotional, social and ecological intelligence that ecological issues may be successfully resolved. Ecological intelligence involves the application of social and emotional intelligence to understand natural ecosystems. It also implies a fusion of such intelligence with cognitive skills to develop empathy for all forms of life (Goleman, Bennett and Barlow 2012:6). The most logical time to start this development and awakening is when people are young.

According to Green (2015:207) the first years of a child’s life are critical for the active securing of environmental awareness. Furthermore, according to Clayton (2003:45–6) the potential of children as active agents of change should be recognised. In this type of identity there is a manifestation of

a sense of connection to some part of the non-human natural environment, based on history, emotional attachment, and/or similarity, that affects the ways in which we perceive and act toward the world; a belief that the environment is important to US and an important part of who we are.

Green (2015:209) views the child as an active role-player in the construction of her/his culture and her/his place in the world, and Green regards children as complete people whose behaviour can make a difference in communities. Therefore the child has a right to environmental education, as well as participation in the discourse about and the handling of environmental issues. Children’s interest in the natural environment ought to be encouraged to develop and strengthen their environmental identity (Tugurian and Carrier 2017:145).

The difference between educational texts and trade books will also be discussed in this article, as the value of the series lies in its potential as educational works.

Rigorous content analysis of the series will be done, reporting on some of the ecological themes and the way in which these themes are presented. The potential of this information to lead to a higher level of ecoliteracy will also be considered. The theoretical framework that will be used is based on the five core practices of emotional and socially engaged ecoliteracy, as identified by Goleman, Bennett and Barlow (2012:10–1). These are (1) the development of empathy with all forms of life; (2) the embracing of sustainability as community practice; (3) the making visible of the invisible; (4) the anticipation of unexpected outcomes; and (5) the understanding of the ways in which nature maintains/sustains life. Mayer’s (1995:18–9) criteria for choosing children’s literature for science education will be utilised during the study. This list contains all the criteria which children's literature for scientific learning opportunities should ideally meet, where applicable.

Keywords: Afrikaans readers; children’s literature; ecoliteracy; ecotexts; educational texts; environmental concepts; environmental education; Flixie series; language of nature; readers; trade books; transformative learning

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Die ontwikkeling van ekogeletterdheid deur middel van ’n Afrikaanse leesreeks

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