It’s all about the L-EA-rning Process

In 2005, the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education published an article by Stelmack et al. entitled “An overview of the state of environmental assessment education at Canadian Universities”.  Several years later, in 2007 and 2008 respectively, Sánchez documented the teaching of EIA in the University of São Paolo, and Gazzola conducted a review of 64 Master’s level programs relating the environmental assessment within nine European countries. Although these papers help to provide some insight into EIA education at the international level, they do not provide a true means for cross-comparison. As such, at the IAIA08 and IAIA09 conferences of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA), a questionnaire was distributed to those academics present who were involved in impact assessment education (Sánchez and Morrison-Saunders, 2010). The purpose of this survey was to determine an overview of the teaching methods employed by these academics, and the type of content their courses contained in order to establish whether it would be possible to develop a common curriculum for impact assessment (IA) at the international level (Sánchez and Morrison-Saunders, 2010).

Some of the most interesting findings from this study, in my opinion, concern the topics covered in these various courses (Table 1). It was noted that all courses dealing with IA gave some overview of the general steps of the EIA process (i.e. screening, scoping, etc), but that not all of these individual steps were necessarily thoroughly covered. For example, the most frequently covered component was public involvement (explored in 82% of the courses) whereas, in contrast, follow-up was the topic the least frequently taught (in only 58% of courses) (Sánchez and Morrison-Saunders, 2010). I find this to be very interesting primarily because follow-up is one of the areas of EIA that is also the least employed in practice. Perhaps it is not taught as often because for the most part it is only a voluntary step, but what if it is actually the opposite? Perhaps the reason we see so little follow-up done is because it is not engrained in the teaching of IA. It could also be a combination of both scenarios, entrenched in a vicious feedback cycle . At any rate, it is my personal opinion that more emphasis should be placed on follow-up procedures in the education process since, as practitioners, we are more likely to implement a step if we truly understand its importance and value.

Table 1. Content Topics of IA courses. From Sánchez and Morrison-Saunders (2010).

In general, this survey had very similar conclusions to those found by Stelmack at el. (2005) (Sánchez and Morrison-Saunders, 2010). This, in my opinion, is an indication that an international curriculum pertaining to IA could indeed be developed considering so much overlap already exists throughout these various countries. Now, obviously this study may have been biased as the only respondents were those attending the conference. All the same, it provides a good start to understanding the EIA learning process at the international level. Also, in all honesty, developing an international curriculum for EIA sounds like a great idea, and I think it could really help in international relations, especially as they pertain to project developments. However, even if we could implement such a widespread curriculum the fact remains that each country has its own laws and regulations which will always make transboundary projects difficult. Perhaps the next step then is to develop a set of international rules and regulations pertaining to EIA such that we could all work together in harmony… but that may well be wishful thinking.

 

References

Gazzola, P. (2008). Trends in education in environmental assessment: a comparative analysis of European EA-related Master Programmes. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 26: 148-158.

Sánchez, L.E. (2007). Environmental impact assessment teaching in environmental engineering. Presented at ICEE 2007, International Conference on Engineering Education, Coimbra, Portugal, 3-7 September 2007.

Sánchez, L. E. and Morrison-Saunders, A. (2010). Survey of impact assessment education. From IAIA10, Transitioning to the Green Economy, 30th Annual Conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment, Geneva, Switzerland,  6-11 April 2010.

Stelmack, C.M., Sinclair, A.J., & Fitzpatrick, P. (2005). An overview of the state of environmental assessment education at Canadian Universities. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 6(1), 36-53.

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