Poland provides many resources to help advance environmental education (EE). National policies require educators in preschool and K-12 to cover subjects about the environment, sustainable development, and connection with nature. The federal government provides online tools and materials that children, teachers, and communities can use to learn about EE. In addition, Poland is home to multiple organizations that promote EE, sustainable living, and eco-friendly solutions. The target audience for these materials is young people up to age 17. Such organizations aim to provide awareness of current environmental issues and ways of living more sustainably. To elevate the importance of EE, the Polish government partners with additional organizations to hold National Olympiad exams in geography and ecological knowledge, and awards eco-friendly certificates. Poland also partners with international environmental organizations, especially those within the European Union.
Policy & Practice
Children in Poland learn about the environment and sustainability starting in preschool and continuing through high school. The topics covered include ecology, climate change, waste segregation, and recycling. To emphasize the importance of EE, in 2020, the Polish Ministry of Education and Science introduced a policy that obligates teachers to discuss the most critical environmental and climate issues. The policy states that discussions should start from the very first day of each school year.
In addition to compulsory classes in various subjects regarding the environment, ecology, and sustainability, the Ministry of Education and Science offers various activities that promote EE. For example, the government finances the National Olympiad exams in geography and ecology. The National Olympiad exams are organized for high school students and include three stages: internal school qualifying rounds, district qualifying rounds, and national qualifiers. The finalists are entitled to exemption from the enrollment procedures for over 60 Polish universities. The Ecological National Olympiad exam took place for the first time in 1985, and since then, over one and a half million students have participated. In 2019, almost 26,000 students took the exam.
Lastly, educational policies allow schools to hold additional activities on ecological and environmental issues. A principal of each school is permitted to designate hours to carry out additional EE activities.
The 2030 National Environmental Policy Brochure of Poland explains the plans of the country’s strategy for climate and environmental protection. Along with many other goals included in this strategy, it has a section on EE. Briefly, it states that the government will designate funds for EE, develop strategies for EE, make relations with NGOs, local communities, and academia to advance EE, and deliver updated information on the environment and its current state. Examples of interventions: developing the environmental competencies of the public (knowledge, skills, and attitudes), including the shaping of sustainable consumption patterns.
EE in K–12 Education
Children learn about the environment beginning in preschool, where their curriculum centers around learning to respect the environment and that the planet's future is everyone's responsibility. Children also learn environmentally friendly habits and have a designated time outside with nature, which is also part of the curriculum. According to the core curriculum for preschool education, under the Recommended conditions and the manner of implementation, children are required to spend at least 1/5 of the week in gardens, playgrounds, parks, and other outdoor spaces. Educators have to create time for physical games, activities, nature observation, farm work, cleaning, and gardening, among other activities.
In primary and secondary school, EE is part of the curricula of several subjects.
The following are examples of EE from Primary Schools:
- Technique – Responsibilities of the current and future state of the environment, abilities to segregate and reuse waste, techniques of environmental protection, ecological handling of technical products.
- Geography – Human impact on the atmosphere (smog, agriculture, mining, tourism), conflict of human-environment interests, pro-ecological activities.
- Biology – Air pollution, renewable and non-renewable natural resources.
- Chemistry –Ozone concentration in the Earth's stratosphere, "ozone hole," the cycle of oxygen and carbon in nature, air pollution, the methods of protecting the air against pollution.
The following are examples of EE from Middle and High Schools:
- Biology – Explanation of ecological tolerance, various forms of nature protection, the importance of international cooperation (CITIES, Convection on Biological Diversity), protection of biological diversity.
- Geography – Different types of water resources, current environmental problems: tropical cyclones, storms, floods, soil erosion, etc., climate change, geodiversity, and biodiversity.
- Chemistry – Basic types of air, water, and soil pollutants (heavy metals, nitrates, phosphates, orthophosphates, etc.), types of smog, the protection of the natural environment against pollution and degradation.
Zrodla is a non-profit organization that educates students, teachers, and the public about local environmental issues and expands their capacity to act for a more sustainable Poland. One of the recent projects they worked on included activities to improve the quality of global EE for children in many primary schools in Poland. In addition, they conducted teacher surveys on international education in early childhood education, analyzed textbooks and new core curriculum for grades 1–3, provided training for early childhood education teachers from smaller poviat towns, and published 18 educational packages on selected Sustainable Development Goals.
The Foundation for Environmental Education and Science connects the academic community and leaders to research, develop, and implement changes in sustainable development. In terms of education, they “implement innovative social and financial education programs for children and youth, train educators, and organize international events.”
The Foundation for Environmental Education, located in Cracow, has an "Eco-Schools" program that certifies eco-friendly schools within Poland. It offers opportunities to schools, kindergartens, school dormitories, educational centers, and other units to obtain the Green Flag Environmental certificate. The primary purpose of this certificate is to encourage schools, children, and educators to reduce their environmental footprint. Participation in the program leads to more sustainable and environmentally friendly actions within the schools. In addition, it connects communities (not only nationally but also internationally) by sharing their achievements and solutions. The Green Flag certificate is given for one year, but schools and other units can apply the following year again. The Foundation for Environmental Education provides guidelines and plans for schools to obtain the certificate.
The Association Eco-Initiative (a regional organization in Kwidzyn) is a non-governmental organization that operates in the fields of environmental education, nature protection, and civic engagement. The association has gained experience in education for sustainable development, among others, by implementing projects on the use of willow biomass as an alternative energy source, conducting ecological workshops in schools, and collaborating with the teachers. A comprehensive non-formal education program for residents of Kwidzyn has been implemented for five years and it’s based on the UN’s 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Strategy.
Ekoskop (a regional organization in Rzeszow) is an association of people who promote environmental protection and environmentally friendly, sustainable, and healthy lifestyle activities. Their main goal is to support young generations to coexist with nature and make responsible and wise decisions that might impact the environment.
EE in the National Government
The following Ministries support environmental education efforts in the country:
3. Ministry of the Climate and the Environment – The official government website of the Ministry of the Climate and the Environment provides a category "Environmental Education" that includes current events, activities, campaigns, and news. It also provides past research regarding awareness about EE.
National EE Campaigns and Funding
Environmental education is funded and sustained throughout Poland from various organizations and government ministries.
Playdo is a company that does research on environmental awareness of preschoolers as part of the national research program for children and adolescents. This privately funded campaign reports on children's awareness regarding environmental education. It runs through preschools in Poland and aims to determine current understanding, enrich ecological education, and inspire educators and parents to shape children's environmental awareness.
"Classes with the Environment" is an online platform funded by the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management and the Ministry of Climate and the Environment. It provides webinars, materials, videos, and packages for children in schools and their teachers. The theme of this platform is "Friends of the Climate." It aims to educate about the ongoing climate change issues, mitigation and adaptation activities, and it seeks to illustrate cause-and-effect dimensions of everyday decisions. Teachers and educators can use those educational materials in classrooms in primary and secondary schools. It includes climate, environmental, and energy problems and solutions.
In February 2022, the Chief Inspectorate for Environmental Protection started a nationwide campaign called "Road to a clean environment," which is an educational and promotional program to strengthen social awareness of environmental concerns. The campaign is co-financed by the European Union under the Infrastructure and Environment Operational Program 2014 – 2020.
Finally, the Ecological Association Etna deserves a special shout-out for participating in the Nature Without Barriers project dedicated to people with disabilities. It provides access to nature education and contact with nature for all people with disabilities, aiming to make the interaction accessible to everyone. Some activities include building places free from stairs, providing ramps, sign language, Braille boards, or voice information. It's funded by foreign partners and co-financed by the EU program Erasmus+.
Since 1994, Fundacja Nasza Ziemi (translated to "Foundation Our Planet" in English) has specialized in eco-education and civic education. They have various programs and platforms. For example, the eco-education program supports teachers and students with environmental education. Specialists and experts provide the methods and tools regarding ecological education in schools. Another program called "Cleaning the World," is a national movement where volunteers (children and adults) clean up the trash from woods/neighborhoods and learn about waste and recycling.
The Ecological Association "Etna" is an NGO established in 2001 that works on a comprehensive approach toward environmental protection. One of the issues they work on is ecological education. It represents Poland in the International Area, especially when it comes to conserving the ecosystems. In addition, it publishes educational books for kids about environmental protection and issues related to this subject. It cooperates with the European Union Funds (especially the Erasmus+) that provide EE tools and materials.
5. Ministry of the Climate and the Environment – The official government website of the Ministry of the Climate and the Environment provides a category "Environmental Education" that includes current events, activities, campaigns, and news. It also provides past research regarding awareness about EE.