The geographies of environmental education : narratives of high school learners' ecological awareness.
Rural areas in South Africa are one of the most fragile ecosystems, one in which the slightest imbalance in physical or social attributes or increased stress on the environment can result in ecological disruptions viz. the loss of biodiversity and land degradation. Thus the call for new trends and ideas where every individual regardless of age, level of education and economic status, would actively participate in protecting the environment from total collapse. Accordingly, the focus of this research was to delve into high school learners’ experiences, understanding and awareness of environmental issues in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The study sought to explore the learners’ knowledge and understanding of socio-spatial justice dimensions as spatial justice is often taken for granted if injustices are committed against the poor and socially marginalized. The concept of children’s geographies, an area of study in human geography that focuses on the experiential spaces and places of children’s lives guided this study. In order to gain a true understanding of learners’ knowledge on environmental issues, a qualitative approach was utilized and the study was a narrative inquiry. The study was done at a rural secondary school 80kilometres north-west of Durban at Mophela Area, a predominantly poor community. The participants were six students aged between 15-18 years in grades 10, 11 and 12. Data was generated through interviews and two participatory research methods viz. photo voice and a transect walk. The findings revealed that learners have been made aware of environmental issues through environmental education at school and that they were aware that these environmental problems would adversely affect their environment if left unchecked. The narratives of the study revealed that experiential learning was necessary to bring about a greater understanding of the environment and that people from impoverished communities found themselves exposed to unhealthy environments. In addition, the results revealed that local study group networks were available; augmenting the efforts of the school. The study also interestingly enough revealed that despite exposure to environmental dis-utilities and hazards, and what they perceive to be discrimination and alienation by the government participants successfully navigated these negatives and were able to forge ahead and aim for higher and better academic results.