3. Setting our priorities straight
If an opinion poll to identify the top priority issues for the 21st century were conducted among ordinary citizens of
Bangladesh, it is unlikely that the environment would top the list (Khalequzzaman, 1999). This is to be expected,
given the low level of environmental awareness and the minimal level of environmental education available to
people through schools and other institutions. I argue however that improvement of the state of the Bangladesh
environment through environmental education is a pre-requisite for prosperous economic development. See for
example the lack of educational policy in the Bangladesh Profile for the Johannesburg Summit, 2002 (United
Nations, 2002). Only a better balance between environmental stewardship and economic development can guarantee
a sustainable future and the well being of the country in the 21st century. The challenges of environmental issues in
Bangladesh and the urgent need for sustainable development options require the development of environmental
expertise capable of research, implementation and community education. This is only possible through effective
environmental education programs.
4. Importance of Environmental Education in Bangladesh
Environmental education is necessary not only to develop expertise which can contribute to policy making, but
also to create a civil society which demands environmental accountability of its government and works with
government in implementation. Government can easily draft and revise national plans for environment and
sustainable development, using local or imported expertise. The far greater challenge is to effectively integrate
communication and education both for the short and longer term outcomes. The general aim of environmental
education and communication is to encourage and empower the community to conserve the integrity and diversity of
nature, and to ensure that natural resources are used in an equitable and ecologically sustainable manner. Education
is commonly perceived as a one-way flow of information, usually in educational institutions, especially schools.
However, environmental education can be two-way communication with full participation and learning by people of
all ages. The educational process itself becomes sustainable when the participants take responsibility and lead the
process themselves. Environmental education should not be confined to schools, but is an important tool for
managers, civil servants, community groups and NGOs alike, enabling them to implement policies to protect the
environment (Van Hemert et al., 1995).
5. Existing Environmental Education Policies in Bangladesh
The Bangladesh government has several policy statements advocating widespread environmental education, but
there has never been a specific government policy for environmental education nor environmental professions in
Bangladesh. The Fourth Five Year Plan for Bangladesh (1996) states that â€œEnvironmental Education would be
imparted to the teachers and students at all levels of education and specific measures must be undertaken to ensure
participation of women at every level of education.â€ Furthermore, the Environment Policy, 1992 contains the
following specific statements on environmental education and public awareness:
â€¢ Eradicate illiteracy and create widespread mass awareness regarding protection of the environment and
utilisation of all national resources in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner.
â€¢ Ensure inclusion and dissemination of environmental knowledge and information in the formal and nonformal
systems of education and the media.
â€¢ Encourage spontaneous and active participation of people in all environmental activities.
â€¢ Incorporate environmental issues in all training programs for public and private sector officials and
employees including industrial and commercial workers.
â€¢ Encourage necessary research and evolve technology so as to ensure long term, sustainable and
environmentally sound utilisation of all resources.
â€¢ Ensure that environmental issues get due consideration in all research activities by research and
What is lacking in current government policy are clear goals and strategies for environmental education.
6. Present Status of Environmental Education in Bangladesh
Education services in Bangladesh fail to adequately service demand, due both to a growing population and limited
funding. Access to education has not increased relative to demand, even though levels of enrolment have increased
at the primary (Years 1-5), secondary (Years 6-10), college (Years 11-12) and university levels (Table 1). The
literacy rate in Bangladesh is 45.1% of the population (BBS, 1997). Literacy rates vary between urban centres
(57.7%) to rural areas (39.1%) and marked differences in are found between the sexes (Male 48.2% and female
39.6%) (BBS, 1997). Low levels of literacy impede dissemination and understanding of information on