Education Environmental and Science Education: Overlaps and Issues
Justin Dillon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0303


While concern for the impact of humans on the environment dates back many centuries, modern environmentalism really began in the second half of the 20th century. We are now very aware of a number of “wicked problems” that are complex and impossible to solve. Such issues, which are interrelated at different levels, include climate change, biodiversity loss, water security, and poverty. These problems can be better understood with a knowledge of science, but they are not just “scientific” issues—they require knowledge from many other areas across the arts and humanities as well as the broad range of scientific disciplines. This article focuses on environmental and science education and, where relevant, suggests links to other cognate areas. One way of thinking about environmental and science education is as the place where environmental education and science education overlap. This is quite a fluid space, intellectually, partly because environmental education is itself conceptualized in many ways. It is important to point out that we are not simply concerned with environmental science, rather, this article identifies a growing need to reconceptualize the relationship between science education and environmental education.

General Overview

The relationship between environmental education and science education continues to evolve. Lucas 1980a and Lucas 1980b provide an excellent introduction to the area and identify several issues that are still current. Hungerford, et al. 1980 sets out a possible set of goals for environmental education that show extensive overlap with science education. Pedretti 2003, Hart 2002, and Littledyke 2008 critique attempts to integrate environmental issues into science education in very different contexts. Zeidler, et al. 2005 illustrates an important body of work that examines how and why socio-scientific issues provide opportunities to teach about environmental issues though science education. Gough 2002 and Wals, et al. 2014 take two different approaches to bringing science and environmental education together in ways that draw on the strengths of both areas of knowledge.

  • Gough, Annette. 2002. Mutualism: A different agenda for environmental and science education. International Journal of Science Education 24.11: 1201–1215.

    DOI: 10.1080/09500690210136611

    An important paper that argues for a reconceptualization of the relationship between science education and environmental education in the light of a need for education that supports sustainability.

  • Hart, Paul. 2002. Environment in the science curriculum: The politics of change in the Pan-Canadian science curriculum development process. International Journal of Science Education 24.11: 1239–1254.

    DOI: 10.1080/09500690210137728

    Based on an analysis of the Pan-Canadian science curriculum development process, which attempted to integrate science and environmental education, the author shows how and why it is difficult to incorporate social and environmental dimensions within a traditional science curriculum.

  • Hungerford, Harold, R. Ben Peyton, and Richard J. Wilke. 1980. Goals for curriculum development in environmental education. The Journal of Environmental Education 11.3: 42–47.

    DOI: 10.1080/00958964.1980.9941381

    This paper presents a set of Goals for Curriculum Development in Environmental Education. The goals are based on the premise that curriculum developers and practitioners need a set of intermediate or sub-goals that are more definitive than the general goals usually described for environmental education.

  • Littledyke, Michael. 2008. Science education for environmental awareness: Approaches to integrating cognitive and affective domains. Environmental Education Research 14.1: 1–17.

    DOI: 10.1080/13504620701843301

    A critical examination of the role that science education may play in helping students to learn about environmental issues. The author proposes radical shifts in how science is taught in schools.

  • Lucas, Arthur M. 1980a. The role of science education in education for the environment. The Journal of Environmental Education 12.2: 33–37.

    DOI: 10.1080/00958964.1981.10801898

    An early and important discussion of the relationship between science education and environmental education. The author problematizes the idea that environmental education needs input from other disciplines noting that that there is little evidence that science education is contributing much to helping preserve the environment.

  • Lucas, Arthur M. 1980b. Science and environmental education: Pious hopes, self-praise and disciplinary chauvinism. Studies in Science Education 7.1: 1–26.

    DOI: 10.1080/03057268308559903

    An exceptional scholarly paper that notes that too many science educators seem to believe that their discipline is the vehicle for environmental education. The author critiques and unpicks several claims that had been made in the literature in previous decades.

  • Pedretti, Erminia. 2003. Teaching science, technology, society and environment (STSE) education. In The role of moral reasoning on socioscientific issues and discourse in science education. Edited by Dana Zeidler and Lewis Zeidler, 219–239. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

    This chapter provides a framework for STSE education with social responsibility as the primary goal. The author describes how and why pre-service teachers became frustrated when they attempted to plan lessons using STSE approaches.

  • Wals, Arjen E., Michael Brody, Justin Dillon, and Robert B. Stevenson. 2014. Convergence between science and environmental education. Science 344.6184: 583–584.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.1250515

    This paper argues that science education and environmental education need to converge if urgent issues such as climate change, food scarcity, malnutrition, and loss of biodiversity are to be addressed adequately. The authors advocate a form of civic science with schools working in partnership with scientists, policymakers, etc. to address their local environmental issues.

  • Zeidler, Dana L., Troy D. Sadler, Michael L. Simmons, and Elaine V. Howes. 2005. Beyond STS: A research‐based framework for socioscientific issues education. Science Education 89.3: 357–377.

    DOI: 10.1002/sce.20048

    A key paper in the field that provides a framework of research and practice which identifies factors associated with reasoning about socio-scientific issues (SSI). Proposes a working model linking psychological, sociological, and developmental factors central to SSI and science education.

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