Social, environmental and scientific education (SESE) provides opportunities for the child to explore, investigate and develop an understanding of the natural, human, social and cultural dimensions of local and wider environments; to learn and practise a wide range of skills; and to acquire open, critical and responsible attitudes. SESE enables the child to live as an informed and caring member of local, national, European and global communities.
SESE takes place within, and contributes to, many areas of the curriculum. It thus contributes significantly to many aspects of the child's development. Within this curriculum, SESE is presented under three subject headings: history, geography and science. Each of these areas has a distinctive role to play in enabling the child to explore and understand the natural, human, social and cultural environments in which he/she lives.
The SESE curriculum
Understanding the term 'environment'
An agreed definition of the term 'environment' is fundamental to an understanding of the nature of social, environmental and scientific education. The word 'environment' is used in this curriculum to denote the surroundings or external conditions with which an individual (human or other living organism) or community interacts.
Environments may be categorised in two broad groupings. Natural environments are formed largely through the interaction of the Earth's physical features and processes, its flora and fauna. A tropical rainforest, a peatland or a rocky seashore may be examples of natural environments.
In Ireland, human activity over thousands of years has shaped and changed the landscape considerably. Environments that have been modified in this way are termed human environments. Areas that have been altered by the presence of people, farming activities, the extraction of resources, the provision of roads and other communication links and the construction of buildings are all examples of human environments.
Some human environments, such as urban areas, are predominantly the constructions of people and are termed built environments. Other human environments result from social and cultural activities and are entirely human creations. As people live and work together, social patterns, relationships, systems and institutions are evolved, while human experience, knowledge, values and beliefs are expressed, developed and perpetuated through a range of cultural activities. Patterns of human behaviour, the social institutions developed by people and the political and economic systems that they utilise are aspects of social environments; artistic, religious, scientific, technological and recreational activities are aspects of cultural environments.
Exploration and investigation
A key characteristic of learning within SESE is the involvement of the child in the active exploration and investigation of all these environments.
Science education enhances children's knowledge and understanding of themselves and the world in which they live. It involves children in the active construction of their own understanding. This understanding changes in response to the children's broadening experience. A scientific approach to investigations fosters the development of important skills, concepts and knowledge through which children can observe, question, investigate, understand and think logically about living things and their environments, materials, forces, everyday events and problems. The knowledge and skills acquired may be applied in designing and making activities in which children perceive a need to create or modify elements of their environments.
In geographical education, children explore and learn about features in the natural and human environments, especially those in the immediate locality. They investigate the processes that create, sustain or change physical features and the interactions of people with each other and their environments in the locality and wider contexts.
Historical education enables children to investigate and critically examine significant events in their own immediate past, the past of their families and local communities and the histories of people in Ireland and other parts of the world. History develops an understanding of the actions, beliefs and motivations of people in the past and is fundamental to an informed appreciation of contemporary society and environments.
Values, attitudes and responsibilities
SESE is also concerned with the cultivation of important values and attitudes. It fosters an appreciation of the interrelationships of all living things and their environments and encourages children to become active agents in the conservation of environments for future generations. Through their investigations, children develop informed, critical and scientific perspectives that acknowledge the importance of founding judgements on a respect for facts, accuracy and reason. SESE seeks to generate an appreciation of cultural and historical inheritance, and cultivates an atmosphere of equality and opportunity where cultural diversity, minorities and special needs are respected and valued. Prejudice and discrimination are challenged, while respect and mutual understanding are promoted.
Throughout the primary school years, the environments of the child, particularly those of a local nature, provide ideal contexts and a compelling impetus for the integration of learning. The subject headings history, geography and science are used to aid presentation of the curriculum, and an awareness of them is an important part of the child's cultural and intellectual inheritance. Each subject offers a distinctive perspective on the world and equips children with a particular range of skills. However, the use of subject divisions must not negate the effective implementation of an integrated curriculum. The use of well-planned integrated approaches, both within SESE and between SESE and other curricular areas, will have an important part to play in the teaching of the primary curriculum at all levels. Systematically planned integrated topics can provide contexts in which knowledge and skills may be developed in a range of areas. Many elements from the history, science and geography curricula may be explored concurrently, and much of the work involved will contribute to the development of the child's oral language, literacy, numeracy and communication skills.
A number of features have been incorporated in the curriculum in order to facilitate effective integration. SESE is best approached in a holistic manner with younger children as this respects the wholeness of their view of the world. Accordingly, a considerable degree of overlap and similarity has been embodied within the content suggested in the strands and strand units of the three curricular statements for the infant and junior classes. Further suggestions for integrated studies are included in the accompanying guidelines for teachers.
As children grow older they begin to recognise that there are different ways or modes of looking at the world and of organising human knowledge, so teaching strategies may vary to include a holistic approach, some cross-curricular integration and a subject-centred focus. Possible cross-curricular links and integrated studies are noted within the content of the curricular statements for third to sixth classes. These should be regarded as suggestions only: people and their activities, other living things, features, materials, events and processes to be found in local and wider environments provide many other opportunities for a unified approach to learning. Such an approach utilises teaching and learning time efficiently and acknowledges that the social, emotional, attitudinal and moral development of the child is interwoven with the acquisition of knowledge and skills.
The aims of social, environmental and scientific education are:
- to enable the child to acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes so as to develop an informed and critical understanding of social, environmental and scientific issues
- to reinforce and stimulate curiosity and imagination about local and wider environments
- to enable the child to play a responsible role as an individual, as a family member and as a member of local, regional, national, European and global communities
- to foster an understanding of, and concern for, the total interdependence of all humans, all living things and the Earth on which they live
- to foster a sense of responsibility for the long-term care of the environment and a commitment to promote the sustainable use of the Earth's resources through personal life-style and participation in collective environmental decision-making
- to cultivate humane and responsible attitudes and an appreciation of the world in accordance with beliefs and values.