How “Paryavaran Mitra” Reinforces ESD in schools in India: A Case Study

By Shalini Bhorkar

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Background

3. Practical Implementation of ESD Curriculum

4. Analysis

5. Conclusion

6. References

7. Notes

8. About the Author

1. Introduction

The importance India has always placed in the environment and its conservation can be seen in many of its age-old religious scriptures, traditions, and in the incorporation of environmental protection as a fundamental duty in the Indian constitution drafted in 1950 (NCERT). In 1972, at the United Nations’ first global conference on environment, the then Indian Prime Minister delivered a speech linking deteriorating environment with poverty (Toner & Meadowcroft, 2009). Following that, several programmes were planned as part of the government’s efforts toward spreading knowledge of Environmental Education (EE) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). EE has occupied a central focus in the Indian national curriculum from the time it was introduced in schools in 1986, leading up to its inclusion as a compulsory subject by the Supreme Court of India in 1991 (Banga Chhokar, 2010). However, like other subjects that follow an ‘examination-oriented curriculum’ and one-way ‘classroom teaching’ (Tilak, 2003, p. 375), EE lacked experiential learning. For a subject like EE, however, a more constructivist way of learning is paramount to bring about any actual results (CEE; Schweisfurth, 2011). In order to reinforce the EE curriculum with activity-based projects, Paryavaran Mitra (hereafter referred to as PM when referring to both the programme and the participants), meaning "Friends of Environment”, was launched in 2010 by a national-level institution, Centre for Environment Education (CEE) in partnership with the Indian government’s Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and a private organisation, ArcellorMittal. This entry chronicles the procedures undertaken by PM to make EE curriculum bring about actual change, and concludes with a discussion of the adherence of this programme to some prominent ESD theories.

2. Background

PM was established with the primary objective of providing a ‘local-specific, practical and activity-based’ (Bodzin, Klein, & Weaver, 2010, p.67) approach to give fruition to the EE and ESD curriculum prescribed by the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) of 2005. Envisaging the need for the practical implementation of EE and ESD topics beginning right at the grassroots level in India, PM set up an ambitious plan. Spread out over a period of three school years, this sustainability and climate change education programme aims to reach out to 20 million students from Grades 6 to 8, encompassing 200,000 schools in 626 districts across India. In order to ensure its reach to every part of this diverse country, the programme is offered in 15 different languages. CEE planned a hands-on approach involving the entire school community including educators, parents, and the local community, in not only raising awareness and building necessary skills but also by giving them a chance to bring about change originating in their own microcosm. The multi-pronged initiatives ensure effectiveness right from the stage of conception to execution by providing necessary technical and logistic support throughout the entire programme.

3. Practical Implementation of EE and ESD Curriculum

The implementation process kickstarts with the voluntary registration of the school as a “PM School”. This ensures that the school gets all the necessary support from CEE in the form of teacher handbooks, student booklets, and continuous guidance. The teacher handbook has ideas for projects based on the NCF syllabus to help teachers supplement their lessons with action projects. The handbook explains the paramount role of the teacher as a facilitator in bringing about a change in the mindsets, which is essential for the successful implementation of the projects. The handbook provides step-by-step instructions right from identification of an issue, to planning the process and achieving the outcomes. Teachers and students act collectively in choosing a topic most suitable to their social, economic, topographical, ecological, and cultural context. Detailed case studies have been included in the handbook for the teachers to get a complete picture of how the projects may be executed. The student booklets provide a menu of “Action Ideas” and offer guidance on gaining practical knowledge relevant to the local surroundings and enlisting help from the local community. They also help in evaluating the changes at the end of the project and preparing “PM report cards”.

Keeping in mind the regional diversity of India, the projects are classified into five themes for PMs to meet the challenges of environmental sustainability in their own spheres of influence. They act through class activities and action projects on the topic chosen from one of these themes. While class activities involve the entire class in activities such as growing plants in the school garden and saving electricity in the classroom, action projects require planned and concerted efforts and involve more comprehensive planning for implementation of projects over a period of time. Table 1 gives a broad idea of the themes and a few examples of related class activities and actions projects that have been carried out.

Table 1  Class Activities and Action Projects

Table 1 Class Activities and Action Projects

CEE also has tie-ups with several NGOs across India. These NGOs and the local CEE office offer guidance and assistance to the educators and students during the projects. The projects are well-documented by way of photographs, videos, scrapbooks, and interviews with the people involved. The actual changes to the environment are recorded and reports are generated to be later submitted to the local CEE agency for evaluations. Best practices and lesson plans are shared in the PM newsletter and learning materials and videos are uploaded on the website for use as references. This includes materials on the five themes stated above as well as other specific themes such as climate change and low-carbon lifestyles. CEE also organises campaigns and contests to commemorate events such as Earth Day, World Water Day, and International Biodiversity Day. Regular workshops are held for training teachers and sharing action ideas. Awards are given out annually to students, teachers and schools for exemplary work across the various themes and for introducing sustainability as a way of life in the community.

4. Analysis

As discussed above, PM’s work in India’s schools aligns well with some prominent theories for ESD and EE. These include Vare and Scott’s (2007) ESD1/ESD2 framework, critical pedagogy of place, and action theory. Based on Vare and Scott’s (2007) approaches towards ESD, ESD1 is a type of education that leads to immediate changes in the environment resulting from one’s learning and actions, whereas ESD2 stresses the importance of critical thinking leading to lifelong learning. While most of the tangible results of the PM projects fall under the category of ESD1, the learning that it generates is not limited to the participants but includes the people impacted by the changes brought upon them as a consequence of the projects. This leads to new perspectives that could be categorised as ESD2 and are likely to result in further changes in the environment even after the cessation of the projects. Moreover, the teacher’s handbook produced by the environmentalists, when used in conjunction with the EE syllabus prepared by the educationists, enable the teachers to think critically and identify issues in their local environment. The steps in the process towards implementation of the PM projects necessitate navigating through the challenges in the path leading to the desired outcomes, thereby utilizing both ESD1 and ESD2 knowledge and experience.  In this sense, the roles played by ESD1 and ESD2 in the PM programme are truly interdependent and complementary (Vare & Scott, 2007).

Critical pedagogy of place emphasises the links between ‘environment, education and culture’ and the essentiality of considering the ‘social and ecological contexts’ (Gruenewald, 2003, p. 10) in EE. The Indian curriculum, though detailed in content, prescribes the same standard syllabus for students across the length and the breadth of a country as diverse as India (NCERT). The PM programme strives to accentuate the ‘local knowledge’ (Dyer et al., 2004, p. 45) of educators. It fulfils the aims of critical pedagogy of place by guiding school communities to think about place-specific issues pertaining to the local context. PM endeavours to complement EE by advocating students to study their local environment, build relationships with the communities and revive traditional practices that help in conserving and transforming the environments. As a result of the awareness created amongst the PMs of their own ecological surroundings and actions required towards betterment of these surroundings, their objectives go much beyond achieving the curricular targets. The PM programme has successfully identified the need of developing EE that is entirely dependent ‘on one’s social and geographical position’ (Gruenewald, 2003, p. 6).

Activity theory propounds that as individuals take part in an activity to bring about a change in their environment, they themselves undergo changes in the process of their learning and working together (Krasny & Roth, 2010). While the focus of PM programme is to bring about a change in their immediate environment, the magnitude of their projects often involves the collective efforts of people within and outside the school community. The PMs need to interact with each other and their peers and elders in the school as well as with the community, government bodies and NGOs. Activity theory highlights these interrelationships during the entire period of their collaboration and the simultaneous changes occurring in the stakeholders and their surroundings. As the PMs continue to get involved in more and more projects, they also come to understand the correlations between the themes under which they categorise their projects, bringing about a deeper understanding of their activities.

5. Conclusion

This entry has focused on the constructivist learning methods of the PM programme in increasing the effectiveness of EE/ESD learning in India, a country that still predominantly follows the “chalk and talk” method of pedagogy. Activity based learning itself is currently at a very nascent stage in India and the issue of evaluation of impact and success of this programme requires much further discussion and analysis. However, the way the PM programme connects with the various dominant theories in the field of ESD is a clear indication of the robustness and strength of this programme. The role of PM in making communities “environmentally literate” (Bodzin et al., 2010, p. 13) across the whole of India by helping them understand their local ecosystem better is irrefutable. Their multipronged approaches begin with facilitating an understanding of the geological terrain, biosphere, culture and traditions and the interrelationships between the different components of the ecosystem and finally learning to make these components sustainable. They extend their learning to distinguish between good and bad practices and thereby initiate environmentally friendly ways of living. The PM programme thus strives to provide a holistic learning experience to the network of 20 million young leaders from schools, thereby building the commitment and potential to meet the challenges of environmental sustainability in their spheres of influence in the coming years.

6. References

Banga Chhokar, K. (2010). Higher Education and Curriculum Innovation for Sustainable Development in India. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education11(2), 141-152.

Bodzin, A., Klein, B. S., & Weaver, S. (Eds.). (2010). The Inclusion of Environmental Education in Science Teacher Education. Springer Science & Business Media.

Centre for Environment Education. (2011). Paryavaran Mitra Action towards Sustainability: Teacher’s Handbook. India: Centre for Environment Education.

CEE : Centre for Environment Education (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2016, from

Dyer, C., Choksi, A., Awasty, V., Iyer, U., Moyade, R., Nigam, N., Purohit, N., Shah, S., & Sheth, S. (2004). Knowledge for Teacher Development in India: The Importance of ‘Local Knowledge’ for In-service Education. International Journal of Educational Development 24(1), 39–52.

Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). The Best of Both Worlds: A Critical Pedagogy of Place. Educational Researcher32(4), 3-12.

Krasny, M. E., & Roth, W. M. (2010). Environmental Education for Social–Ecological System Resilience: A Perspective from Activity Theory. Environmental Education Research16(5-6), 545-558.

NCERT: National Council Of Educational Research and Training.  (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2016, from

Paryavaran Mitra: Friends of Environment. (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2016, from

Schweisfurth, M. (2011). Learner-Centred Education in Developing Country Contexts: From Solution to Problem? International Journal of Educational Development31(5), 425-432.

Toner, G., & Meadowcroft, J. (Eds.). (2009). Innovation, Science, Environment 1987-2007: Special Edition: Charting Sustainable Development in Canada, 1987-2007. McGill-Queen's University Press. Retrieved from

Tilak, J. B. (2003). Education, Society, and Development: National and International Perspectives. New Delhi: APH Publishing.

Vare, P., & Scott, W. (2007). Learning for a Change: Exploring the Relationship between Education and Sustainable Development. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development1(2), 191-198.

7. Notes

1. The information provided in the first three sections of this entry have been obtained from the website of Paryavaran Mitra and from the CEE “Teacher’s Handbook”. It also draws on information from the videos uploaded on their website, including interviews with the director of Centre for Environment Education, India, Mr.Kartikeya Sarabhai. The author of this entry wishes to thank Mr.Prashant Moon, CEE India, for sending a copy of the “Teacher’s Handbook”, a resource which is available only to PM schools.

2. Although this PM programme was started almost 6 years ago, there is no record on their website of any comprehensive evaluation other than the preparation of the PM reports and recognition of exemplary work with awards. Therefore, this entry does not comment on the actual results of this programme so far. The activities of the PM, exemplary methods employed and the implications therein, especially against the backdrop of an educational system still largely lacking in activity-based learning, form the main focus of this entry.

3. Given the limited scope of the paper, the terms “ESD1”, “ESD2”, “critical pedagogy of place” and “activity theory” have only been broadly defined in section 3 of this entry.

About the Author

Shalini Bhorkar

MEd Student, The University of Hong Kong


Education for Sustainable Diet in Hong Kong

By Joseph Hung

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Background

1. Food Production in the Modern World

2. Definition of a Sustainable Diet

3. Factors that Affect Food Choices

3. Education for Sustainable Diet in Hong Kong

1.  The Hong Kong Context: Cultural, Socio-historical, and Economic Background 

2. Formal Curriculum

3. Liberal Studies

4. Conclusion

5. References

6. Key Terms and Definitions

7. Appendix

8. About the Author

1. Introduction

Food is an important topic in early childhood education. At this very early stage children receive messages about food culture, nutrition, and hygiene. In secondary school, students study biochemistry and explore different components of food. Recently the environmental aspect of food production and consumption has been introduced into the curriculum in Hong Kong. However, to achieve sustainable development for the society, it is important to not only include aspects of environmental conservation in food and diet education, but also such issues as equity, poverty reduction, food security, and cultural relevance, among others. Senior Secondary Liberal Studies in the core curriculum of Hong Kong has the potential to incorporate these elements. This entry discusses food literacy education in Hong Kong, and in particular, how Liberal Studies approaches the topic of sustainable diet and may affect people’s dietary choices.

2. Background

2.1. Food Production in the Modern World

Food is important for human life as it is the main source of energy and raw material for our survival and growth. It is also one of the critical economic products that people produce, exchange, and consume. Humans shifted from the hunter-gatherer model of food production to an agrarian one to support a larger population in the period of the Neolithic revolution. Food also evolved with the development of agricultural technology and the eco-geographical setting.

Since World War II, industrialised countries have revolutionised agriculture by increased mechanisation and the widespread use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides. There has also been an increased specialisation of crops and enlargement of farm size and related developments in livestock, followed more recently by the use of biotechnology in modifying plant genetics (Clunies-Ross & Hildyard, 1992). Not all of this development is ideal, however. According to an Oxfam report of 2013, 450 million people, originally farmers, now work as wageworkers in industrialised agricultural settings, of which 60% live in poverty and are facing starvation (Hoffman, 2013).

In addition, industrialised farms have increased pressure on the environment by using chemicals that transform land and machines that emit a large amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Vermeulen et al. (2012) calculated that food systems contribute 19%-29% of the world’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. One particularly important aspect is the global production of meat, which is projected to more than double, from 229 million tonnes in 1999 to 465 million tonnes in 2050 (Steinfeld et al, 2006). The expansion of livestock production causes land degradation, increase of fresh water usage, and higher levels of greenhouse gas emission. It has also worsened the food shortage problem worldwide as crops are fed to animals to boost their growth.

2.2. Definition of a Sustainable Diet

Gussow and Clancy (1986) proposed the term “sustainable diet” to “describe recommendations for food choices that support life and health within natural system limits into the foreseeable future”. They stressed the importance of understanding the effects of food choices on food supply, global resources (agricultural, economic, and natural), long-term stability of the food system, and individual nutrition and health (Gussow & Clancy, 1986). Since that time, there have been discussions and applications of the term in the areas of nutrition studies, development studies, and environmental studies, which complicated the term in connection with other concepts.

There is currently no universally agreed definition of a “sustainable diet” (He, 2012).  However, He, the Deputy Director-General of the FAO, proposed that a definition of a sustainable diet should “address sustainability of the whole food supply chain and thus provide guidance on promoting and applying the concept in different agro-ecological zones” (He, 2012). Hence, sustainable diet is informed by a multitude of issues in the production and consumption of food, including environmental, agro-economic, and human nutrition needs. Lairon (2012) lists the following components of a sustainable diet:

             food and nutrient needs, food security and accessibility;

             well-being and health;

             biodiversity, environment and climate;

             equity and fair trade;

             eco-friendly, local and seasonal food; and

             cultural heritage and skills.

2.3. Factors that Affect Food Choices

According to the European Food Information Council (2005), biological, economic, physical, social, and psychological factors, as well as attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge about food influence the way people choose what they eat. These determining factors can be grouped into three categories. First, formal and informal education plays a vital role in promoting food literacy as it shapes citizens’ attitudes and beliefs about food, and transfers necessary knowledge for making sound decisions in choosing it. In Hong Kong, for example, children receive knowledge and develop attitudes about food in formal school settings and at home. Second, social and cultural habits of a place have a big influence on how its people choose their food. These factors include cultural heritage (culinary style), religious rules and the effect of commercial culture. Third, economic forces behind the food supply chain are manifested in the availability and affordability of certain products. Hong Kong, as a city influenced both by the Chinese cultural background and a globalised economy, provides a great diversity of food choices.

3. Education for Sustainable Diet in Hong Kong

3.1. The Hong Kong Context: Cultural, Socio-historical, and Economic Background

Hong Kong is a city in South China that used to be a British colony. It is one of the world’s financial centres, and its per capita GDP is in the world’s top ten (World Bank, 2014). However, it was not a prosperous place in the past. Historically Hong Kong was a popular refuge for Chinese nationals when Mainland China was at war or during political movements. Poor Chinese immigrants had to struggle for life in the city. The experience of World War II and the Chinese civil war as well as starvation in China put an emphasis on food security and food safety over other things in the view of Hong Kong’s older generation. Currently, Hong Kong imports over 95% of its food from all over the world.

However, in good times, Hong Kong people consume the best of food products and enjoy a great variety of culinary styles. The mainstream home-cooked food is southern Chinese style, or the ‘Guangdong’ style. There are few taboos in food choice. Hong Kong people eat different types of meat (including internal organs), fish, and vegetables. Most people think that eating meat is essential for potency and nutrition. In banquets, rare and valuable food products, such as shark fin soup, abalone, groupers, and others are offered to show generosity to the guests and show off one’s wealth.

Culturally, Hong Kong is also influenced by its colonial past and the openness of the economy. Western-style food is seen as sophisticated and is served in most restaurants, along with Chinese-style food. The city is also rich in restaurants with Japanese, Korean, and Indian cuisines as well as transnational fast food chains. This variety affects the dietary choices of young people.

The Hong Kong Department of Health has been promoting a healthy diet for years, recommending particularly that residents of Hong Kong reduce fat and salt consumption. Such a diet can lower the risks of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. A committee for reduction of salt and sugar in food was established by the Hong Kong government in 2015. However, since food has long been seen as an area the Department of Health should be responsible for, little emphasis has been placed on other aspects of diet such as those related to the environment.

In 2012, Green Monday, as part of a global movement, was established in Hong Kong to promote a vegetarian diet. The movement made a very strong media statement about the environmental problems that may arise due to the great increase in meat production. At the same time, the issue of food waste has become a concern in the city, as the landfills have started reaching their limits. Hong Kong people have thus only started to pay attention to the environmental issues surrounding food production and consumption. With the launch of Liberal Studies in 2009, teaching and learning about food can be revitalised.

3.2. Formal Curriculum

In Hong Kong, issues related to food are taught in general studies (primary school), integrated science and integrated humanities (junior secondary), and Liberal Studies (senior secondary). There have been studies carried out about food and health education in Hong Kong in the past (such as Chan et al., 2009), but no research has been done about sustainability in food systems (i.e., the whole process of food production and distribution). Students study basic knowledge about nutrition, hygiene, balanced diet, and malnutrition/obesity in the primary years (Education Bureau (EDB), 2002a). In junior secondary years, they learn about food in geography (farmland), economics (modes of production), and biology (the digestive system and human nutrition). Although the curriculum encourages project learning and other integrated teaching approaches (EDB, 2002b; EDB, 2002c), different schools choose issues they teach, and food is not always a popular choice in their project learning exercises. In the curriculum, the production of food is barely touched upon.

3.3. Liberal Studies

In senior secondary schools, all students study Liberal Studies as a compulsory subject. Liberal Studies has sustainability as one of the main concepts in Module 6 of the syllabus, and food production and consumption are popular topics in teaching and assessment. The DSE examination, for example, has a number of questions about food (see Appendix 1 for a list of all topics in the DSE LS examination about food since 2012). The examination assesses students’ knowledge about food safety, food and health, food culture, starvation, free trade and globalisation, as well as vegetarianism and human choice of food. It is likely that students gain a good understanding of the relationship between food and sustainability after studying the subject. However, this is not guaranteed, because teachers can choose other issues in their teaching to illustrate issues of sustainability.

Besides knowledge, development of specific attitudes and values are also key goals in Liberal Studies teaching and learning. Students, through their critical study of different issues and concepts from various perspectives, develop their own belief systems. The expected learning outcome of the subject includes an “appreciation for the values of [students’] own and other cultures, and for universal values, and [commitment] to becoming responsible and conscientious citizens” (EDB, 2014).

In most of the above educational initiatives, an “ESD1” approach is employed, as students study specific knowledge about the subject and develop “informed [and] skilled behaviour and ways of thinking” (Vare and Scott, 2007). However, “ESD2” is critical in the long-term as it builds the capacity to think, test ideas, and explore dilemmas and contradictions. In a fast-paced society such as Hong Kong, ESD2 is a much-needed approach to complement ESD1 in order to effect changes. Current and future residents of Hong Kong should learn how to make responsible choices in food products through education for sustainable diet. The spirit of the Liberal Studies curriculum should then include an ESD2 approach.

An obstacle to the shift in teaching for sustainable diet relates to implementation of the Liberal Studies curriculum. Teachers training still lags behind the curriculum changes of 2009, as teachers are not all prepared to teach such varied issues. Yet the way teachers make sense of the curriculum and choose their teaching strategies has a strong influence on the learning outcome (Mak, 2011). Furthermore, since education is only one of the factors that affect food choice, the strong cultural factor still dominates the decision-making processes of people. In addition, even though students pay attention to food mileage or sustainability, the shortage of locally produced food and the relatively high price of environmentally friendly food is a major problem that affects their choice.

4. Conclusion

Education is one of the major factors that affects the sustainable choice of diet. In Hong Kong, like many other places, students learn about food with a focus on its nutritional value. The environmental issues in food choices and sustainability are a novelty. The formal schooling system is fast in responding to global demands, with the introduction of Liberal Studies in 2009. However, improvement in teacher training is critical to achieve desired learning outcomes. Since cultural and economic influences are also strong, whether Hong Kong people can adopt a more sustainable diet depends on education.


Clunies-Ross, T. & Hildyard, N. (1992). The Politics of Industrial Agriculture. London: Earthscan Publications.

Education Bureau (EDB). (2002a). General Studies for Primary Schools Curriculum Guide. The Government of HKSAR.

Education Bureau (EDB). (2002b). Science Education: Key Learning Area Curriculum Guide (Primary 1 - Secondary 3). The Government of HKSAR.

Education Bureau (EDB). (2002c). Personal, Social and Humanities Education: Key Learning Area Curriculum Guide (Primary 1 - Secondary 3). The Government of HKSAR.

Education Bureau (EDB). (2014). Liberal Studies: Curriculum and Assessment Guide (Secondary 4-6). The Government of HKSAR.

European Food Information Council (EUFIC). (2005). The determinants of food choice. EUFIC Review, 4/2005. Retrieved October 26, 2015, from

Gussow, J. D. & Clancy, K. L. (1986). Dietary guidelines for sustainability. Journal of Nutrition Education, 18, 1-5.

He, C. C. (2012). Opening addresses. Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity: Directions and Solutions for Policy, Research and Action. FAO. Retrieved October 27, 2015, from

Hoffman, B. (2012). Behind the Brands: Food Justice and the Big 10 Food and Beverage Companies. Oxfam. Retrieved October 27, 2015, from

Lairon, D. (2012). Biodiversity and sustainable nutrition with a food-based approach. Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity: Directions and Solutions for Policy, Research and Action. FAO. Retrieved October 27, 2015, from

Mak, K. W. (2011). Making Sense of New Senior Secondary Liberal Studies in Hong Kong Curriculum Reform: Teacher Perspectives. The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Steinfeld, H., Gerber, P. J., Wassenaar, T., Castel, V., Rosales, M. & de Haan, C. (2006). Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from

Vare, P. & Scott, W. (2007). Learning for Change: Exploring the Relationship between Education and Sustainable Development. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 1(2). Doi: 10.1177/097340820700100209

Vermeulen, S. J, Campbell, B. M. & Ingram J. S. I. (2012). Climate Change and Food Systems. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 37, 195-222. Retrieved October 27, 2015, from

World Bank, The (WB). (2014). 2014 World Development Indicators. Washington, D.C.: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank.

Key Terms and Definitions

Sustainable Diet: food choices that support life and health within natural system limits into the foreseeable future. There is no universally agreed definition, but for a diet to be recognised as sustainable, it usually prioritises the following components: nutrition needs, food security, health and well-being, biodiversity and the environment, fair trade, and cultural heritage.

Food System: the whole process in which food is produced, distributed and consumed. Industrialised agriculture with giant transnational food companies distributing food products globally is the dominant food system in the modern world.

Food Literacy: The knowledge, skills and attitudes about food. Traditionally it has been composed of knowledge related to food choice and processing (nutrition and cookery), but is moving toward understanding of food systems and the environmental and social impacts of food production and consumption.

Appendix 1 A List of HKEAA Liberal Studies question papers with “food” topics since 2012


About the Author

Joseph Hung

MEd, The University of Hong Kong


Environmental Education in the Liberal Studies Curriculum in Hong Kong

By Chiu Wing-yin (Bernice)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Introduction and Definition of Environmental Education

3. Environmental Education in Hong Kong Secondary Schools

4. Environmental Education in Liberal Studies Curriculum

1. Liberal Studies Curriculum

2. Liberal Studies Curriculum and Environmental Education

5. Recommendations

6. References

7. Appendix

8. About the Author

1. Introduction

The growing awareness about environmental degradation makes educators see Environmental Education (EE) as an essential strategy. However, many are concerned with the effectiveness of EE in schools (e.g. Fien & Yencken, 2003;  Lee, 1995; Stimpson, 1997; Tsang & Lee, 2014). This entry seeks to explore the development of EE in Hong Kong and analyze the Liberal Studies curriculum to determine its effectiveness. It starts by defining environmental education and giving its historical overview. After that, the entry introduces the Liberal Studies curriculum in Hong Kong and the place of EE in it.  

2. Introduction and Definition of Environmental Education

Tsang (2003) defines Environmental Education as  

the process of developing an environmentally literate, competent, and dedicated citizenry which actively strives to resolve value conflicts in the man-environment relationship, in a manner which is ecologically and humanistically sound in order to reach the superordinate goal of a homeostasis between quality of life and quality of environment.

The major components of EE include “information”, “awareness”, “concern”, “attitude and beliefs”, “education and training” which, according to Hawthorne (1999), are interconnected with each other.

The European Commission (1997) and the United Nations (1993) highlight the importance of environmental education to environmental sustainability. The European Commission (1997) states that environmental education is ‘essential to enhance levels of awareness and understanding of the key issues at the core of the sustainability imperative, promote attitude change, and modify pattern of behavior.’  Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 (UN, 1993) points out that

Education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues…..Both formal and non-formal education are indispensable to changing people’s attitudes so that they have the capacity to assess and address their sustainable development concerns.

In December 2002, the United Nations proclaimed the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, 2005-2014. It emphasized that ‘education is an indispensable element for achieving sustainable development’ (UN, 2002). Environmental education can be one of the ways to address environmental problems.

It is, however, not common for countries to make environmental education a core and compulsory subject in the curricula. Instead, only elements of environmental education are incorporated into different subjects. Hong Kong is a typical case. The rest of the paper discusses environmental education in Hong Kong and analyzes its Liberal Studies curriculum.

3. Environmental Education in Hong Kong Secondary Schools

The Education Bureau (EDB) implemented environmental education in the school curriculum for the first time in 1999. The Guidelines on Environmental Education in Schools are used to promote the concept of sustainable development in schools.

The EDB’s plan for education for sustainable development (ESD) focuses on three major aspects: awareness, action, and attitudes. The EDB suggests the schools in Hong Kong adopt a cross-curricular, whole school, and action-oriented approach in the promotion of ESD. Instead of introducing an individual subject on environmental education, the EDB chose to gradually incorporate the elements of sustainable development and environmental education into different subjects. With the guidelines from the government, Hong Kong schools were able to implement environmental education in different ways and with different styles.

Some environmentalists and concerned groups found that the effectiveness of environmental education was questionable due to the variation in the approaches, however. For example, Fien and Yencken (2003) conclude that ‘there is a tendency for environmental education to be marginalized by most teachers and its practice is piecemeal.’ They describe the present pattern of environmental education as ‘short-term, often ill-conceived and unsystematic.’ 

Liberal Studies, introduced in 2009 as a compulsory subject, is one of the most relevant to environmental education in Hong Kong. John Lee (as cited in McBeath, McBeath, Qing, & Yu, 2014) claims that in Hong Kong

          the emphasis has been on school-based activities, in the nature of civic education....The guiding objective was merger of environmental education into the curriculum....There’s no requirement to teach it as an integrated subject...Some environmental education is included in Liberal Studies, and is taught along with energy, climate change, and sustainable development; energy is the focus.

Liberal Studies is a core subject for senior secondary students who take the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education. It includes six modules that cover local, Mainland Chinese, and global issues, and has a high degree of flexibility in the design and use of learning materials. It is important to analyze whether the curriculum can incorporate EE, and whether teachers put enough emphasis on the parts relevant to the subject.

4. Environmental Education and Liberal Studies Curriculum

4.1. Liberal Studies Curriculum

Liberal Studies curriculum was introduced in 1992 as an Advanced Supplementary Level (ASL) subject for grades 6 and 7. The Curriculum and Assessment Guide (S4-S6) states that the design and assessment framework of the Liberal Studies curriculum are in line with contemporary views on knowledge and learning styles. The curriculum aims to encourage students to explore issues that are related to sustainability, the physical environment, and the relationship between humans and nature. Since 2009, it has become a core subject in senior secondary school. Liberal Studies comprises three areas of study: “Self and Personal Development”, “Society and Culture,” and “Science, Technology, and the Environment.” These three areas aim to help students develop an understanding of themselves, their society, and the world.

There are six modules under the three areas of study: “Personal Development and Interpersonal Relationships”, “Hong Kong Today”, “Modern China”, “Globalization”, “Public Health,” and “Energy, Technology, and the Environment.” Each module provides a list of Enquiry Questions to teachers. These questions should guide teachers when discussing controversial events and issues. As part of their studies, students conduct an Independent Enquiry Study (IES). They are required to use the knowledge and perspectives gained from the three areas of study. Students can choose their own topic based on their interest.

“Energy Technology and the Environment” is the most relevant module to environmental education. The Curriculum Development Institute and the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (2007, p. 49) states that this module

seeks to analyse how we use energy, and discuss how this has a significant impact on our lives and environment, and how the development of energy technology relates to sustainable development.

The module is divided into 2 themes. “The influences of energy technology” investigates the relationship between energy technology and environmental problems such as climate change, acid rain, and smog. “The environment and sustainable development” explores the importance of sustainable development and its relationship with development of science and technology.

Apart from this module, teachers can teach environmental issues by adopting a cross-modular approach. For example, it is common for Liberal Studies teachers to connect environmental issues such as pollution in Modern China to explain how the rapid urbanization of the country has caused environmental problems.

4.2. Liberal Studies Curriculum and Environmental Education

Hong Kong has an exam-oriented education system that may have a negative backwash effect on Environmental Education. Backwash effect is a term used by the EDB, the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, and Hong Kong teachers (e.g. Ho, 2015; HKSAR Government, 2014). It means that testing potentially has a negative effect on learning and teaching. Students’ understanding of the subject is affected as teachers concentrate on teaching examination skills and on the content that is needed for the examination.

Teachers also tend to pay less attention to global environmental issues due to the focus of examination questions on the local context. 2014 DSE Paper 1 contained a question about ‘wind power and renewable energy.’ Other questions on environmental issues were limited to the local and mainland context (see Appendix A). However, environmental problems are global problems; thus EE should not be limited to a single country. Schools should educate students to be responsible global citizens that have knowledge and skills to protect the environment.

Another problem with EE is that teachers of Liberal Studies may not have enough knowledge about environmental issues. There are no compulsory courses on environmental issues for prospective or in-service Liberal Studies teachers. As a result, teachers do not have comprehensive knowledge about environmental issues, and this affects the quality of EE they provide.

Additionally, the EDB recommends to allocate approximately 250 hours of lesson time to Liberal studies. About 168 hours are allocated to the six modules, and 82 hours are reserved for the IES (CDC, 2014). Schools are able to arrange lesson time flexibly throughout the three years. Also, the EDB gives schools freedom to choose textbooks and materials for different modules. Schools then decide whether it is necessary to include EE. In view of this, it is difficult to measure how many hours are allocated to the teaching of environmental issues, and whether or not students have exposure to EE through Liberal Studies.

The EDB states that Liberal Studies is not designed to promote Environmental Education. However, according to a survey conducted among 458 secondary schools, more than 98% of the respondents agreed that Liberal Studies was able to ‘enhance students’ understanding of themselves, their society, their nation, the human world and the physical environment.’ 93% of the Liberal Studies Panel Heads agreed that the subject can ‘help students develop positive values and attitudes towards life, so that they can become informed and responsible citizens of society, the country and the world’ (Education Bureau, 2015). This shows that Liberal Studies’ interdisciplinary nature can help students connect knowledge gained from other areas that are included in the subject (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Liberal Studies and the Three-year Senior Secondary Curriculum (CDI&HKEAA, 2007, p.3)

Figure 1: Liberal Studies and the Three-year Senior Secondary Curriculum (CDI&HKEAA, 2007, p.3)

5. Recommendations

Liberal Studies curriculum has potential to help schools teach environmental issues in a more systematic way. However, the unique nature and characteristics of the subject, the flexible use of lesson time and materials, as well as the lack of teacher training cannot guarantee the effectiveness of teaching EE in Liberal Studies classes. The EDB can play a bigger role in promoting the importance of EE in Hong Kong (White, 2013). It is recommended that the EDB give guidance to schools that is more concrete. The EDB should also develop compulsory training schemes for teachers on ESD and EE, with a focus on the implementation of cross-curricular and cross-modular methods.

UNESCO suggests that the tendency to prioritize examination performance may lead to a decline in ESD due to a decrease in available student school hours (White, 2013). Students do not understand the importance of environmental protection if their purpose in studying environmental education is to pass the examination. To successfully implement the EE program in Hong Kong, a whole school approach should be developed. This means that elements of EE should be integrated into the school curriculum, policies, and extra-curricular activities.


Curriculum Development Institute and the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (CDI&HKEAA). (2007). Liberal Studies Curriculum and Assessment Guide (Secondary 4 -6) (with updates in October 2015). Hong Kong: Education Bureau.

Education Bureau (EDB). (2015). Report on New Academic Structure Medium-term Review and Beyond – Continual Renewal from Strength to Strength. Retrieved from for the report (English only).

European Commission (EC). (1997). Environmental Education in the European Union. Brussels: European Commission.

Fien, J., Sykes, H., & Yencken, D. (2003). Environment, Education and Society in the Asia-Pacific: Local Traditions and Global Discourses. Routledge.

Hawthorne, M., & Alabaster, T. (1999). Citizen 2000: Development of a Model of Environmental Citizenship. Global Environmental Change, 9(1), 25-43.

Ho, K.K. (2015). Politicization of the Liberal Studies in Hong Kong. HKU Scholars Hub. The University of Hong Kong.

HKSAR Government. (2014). LCQ2: Curricula of Senior Secondary Subjects. Hong Kong.

Lee, J. C. K. (1995). Environmental Education in Schools in Hong Kong. Environmental Education Research, 3(3), 359-371.

McBeath, G.A, McBeath, J. H., Qing, T., & Yu, H. (2014). Environmental Education in China. Maryland: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Stimpson, P. G. (1997). Environmental Challenge and Curricular Responses in Hong Kong. Environmental Education Research, 3, 345-357.

Tsang, E.P-K. & Lee, J.C.-K. (2014). ESD Projects, Initiatives and Research in Hong Kong and Mainland China. In J. Chi-Kin Lee & R. Efird. (Eds.). Schooling for Sustainable Development across the Pacific. Dordrecht: Springer.

Tsang, P. K. (2003). Heading Towards Environmental Citizenship: The Case of Green School Initiative. In P. Hills & C.S. Man. (2003). New Directions in Environmental Education. Hong Kong: The Centre of Urban Planning and Environmental Management.

United Nations (UN). (1993). Agenda 21: The United Nations Programme of Action from Rio. New York: United Nations.

White, L. (2013). NGOs and Education for Sustainable Development: A Comparison of the provision of education opportunities for secondary schools in Hong Kong by UNESCO and WWF (Unpublished Master’s thesis). The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Wong, K.K. (2011). Towards a Light‐Green Society for Hong Kong, China: Citizen Perceptions. In International Journal of Environmental Studies, 68(2), 209-227.

Appendix 1


About the Author

Chiu Wing-yin (Bernice)

MEd, The University of Hong Kong