Nonformal environmental education – an evaluation of quality in selected organizations and institutions conducting educational activities in Poland
Can refugees benefit from nature-based environmental education?
16. October 2017
Forest pedagogy activities in Croatia: project “School in the Forest and a Forest in the School”
1. November 2017

Nonformal environmental education – an evaluation of quality in selected organizations and institutions conducting educational activities in Poland

Poland, August - September 2017
Author: Aleksandra Piasecka, Forest Educators Association, Poland

T he main aim of my research was to describe the current state of informal environmental education in several selected organizations and institutions in Poland and to indicate some areas that require improvement. Research covered selected entities engaged in nonformal education: Lasy Panstwowe (State Forests), municipal forests, national parks, landscape park and Forestry Education Chamber at The Forest Research Institute (IBL). An analysis of the information gathered, among other things, provided answers to the question whether the need to improve quality is recognized in the studied organizations and institutions. This research accommodates a tool for testing the quality of environmental education developed by the Swiss Foundation for Environmental Education (SUB) and SILVIVA Foundation consisting of two checklists and a manual. These tools allow a detailed self-assessment of the organization and of the ecological education it provides.

Research Organization

The distribution of the lists and manual, and collection of the data took place between August 2016 and June 2017. In the first phase, the checklists and instruction manual were sent to 65 people from various organizations. Some of the potential respondents declared the tool to be too complicated.

Ultimately, 18 people from 15 organizations and institutions dealing with nonformal ecological education took part in the research.

The selection of the organization and institution reflects the types of organization dealing with nonformal ecological education on Poland, as described in the legislation governing ecological education. Various places around Poland were chosen. The designated centres have a varied infrastructural background, and they represent a variety of organizational forms, sources of funding and educational programs. These centres offer a wide range of methods, not only expository methods, (lectures, tours of exhibitions), but also active methods. However, the organizations and institutions mentioned above have one thing in common: a common goal – the popularization of knowledge about nature, the environment and also the principles of sustainable development.

The study answered the question of whether and in what areas do the organizations and institutions providing ecological education see a need to improve quality and what indicators were recognised as being important from the point of view of the entities researched, and whether a need for action was observed and to propose corrective measures.

Results

The study, conducted by analysing good and very good assessments of the current situation and areas not requiring action, allowed the strengths of the teaching to be highlighted, i.e. ‘Choice and quality of content’ and ‘Implementation’. The need for action was lowest in these areas.

Ultimately, 18 people from 15 organizations and institutions dealing with nonformal ecological education took part in the research.

The respondents also indicated those areas requiring the greatest action: ‘Reflection and quality awareness’ and ‘Evaluation’ (the assessment of the current situation in these areas was also the lowest) and also ‘Flow of information within the organization.’

Conclusions

  • 1. The quality assessment tool, consisting of 150 indicators in the first phase of the study, was considered too complicated or not applicable in their work by a large part of potential respondents. This may be caused by a lack of time (educators often combine educational duties with other tasks), or by a lack of understanding of the necessity of studying the quality of the organization and education. It can be concluded, on the basis of the research results, that the respondents who decided to complete the tool recognised the necessity of evaluating and controlling quality, indicating at the same time a willingness to introduce change and development.
  • 2. The correlations studied between the assessment in particular areas of the checklists and the need for action showed that the higher the educational activity was assessed, the lower the need for corrective action. The areas requiring the greatest need for action were the checklist indicators relating to ‘organization.’ In a frequency analysis of one hundred and fifty indicators, the respondents gave the most points, 8, to ‘education’ from the checklist, which conforms the high assessment of the educational activity of the institution among respondents. The respondents observed a greater need for corrective actions in the activities of the ‘organization’ than in the educational activity. This can be interpreted as the respondents giving a higher assessment to activities relating to the educational classes, i.e., the area over which they had more influence.
  • 3. The results of the frequency analysis (150 separate indicators) showed that there is greater need for action in the ‘communication within the team’ section, and the sphere requiring the greatest improvement is the ‘flow of information within the organization’ area. This is an area that is failing in many contemporary organizations.
  • 4. In turn, the highest rated indicator in the ‘organization’ sphere was ‘Portfolio of offers,’ which included information on the offer and services, market orientation, selection of the target groups, discussion of content, quarterly and annual planning (long lead time for planned activities), and this may be because this area is formalised to a large extent and presented within the framework of an organizationally efficient planning system.
  • 5. The respondents gave the lowest assessment in the ‘organization’ checklist: ‘Reflections and quality awareness’ and ‘Assessment of offers and services and further development.’ These categories mainly refer to an awareness of the significance of quality, the definition of the criteria necessary for a further improvement of quality, the definition of quality standards, the selection and implementation of quality improvement tools, the preparation of procedures ensuring an improvement in work. In the ‘education’ sphere, the ‘evaluation’ sector fared worst, that is those areas connected to quality assessment, which in this case in particular referred to a regular assessment of classes. It is believed that the quality criteria have not so far been taken into account in a formalised and systematic way during the planning and fulfilment of activities. It is worth noting that this criterion obtained the lowest assessment regarding the current situation.
  • 6. The most commonly applied methods of evaluating activities in the institutions and organizations studied, consisting of informal conversations, email correspondence or the observation of the commitment of the participants, proved insufficient in the opinions of the respondents. This indicates a need to create a quality assessment and improvement system and specific tools to be used in various centres dealing with ecological education.
  • 7. One important question raised by respondents was an increase in the possibility of participation in training and the personal development of the educators, despite the fact that the qualifications of the educators were assessed quite highly. It is possible to conclude that this is a consequence of the need for educators to constantly improve their qualifications, as well as the awareness that is brought by the human factor in the education process. The preparation and introduction of a personal development system, enabling participation in training, conferences, together with a defined career path may be an answer to meet expectations in this area, along with an increase in competence and effectiveness. The reinforcement of the training system is one of the recommendations flowing from this conclusion.

To summarise, the regular application of the checklists by the representatives of the organizations may enhance the quality improvement process by supporting organizations in performing self-assessment and defining directions of development. It is considered that it will be possible to repeat the study in subsequent years, and to compare the results and any changes that have been implemented in the organizations thanks to the application of the education quality assessment tool.

A short and a long version of testimonials of Polish forest pedagoges who used the tool