This qualitative study analyzes the Environmental Sciences curriculum, specifically, the coastal water quality area. Content analysis is the design method utilized in this study because it analyzes human communications contained in books, magazines, newspapers, recordings, manuscripts, and other documents.
In this study, curricular documents were analyzed and triangulation was made by interviewing a Curriculum Specialist, Elementary and Secondary School Environmental Sciences teachers and Secondary level students. Data collection involved the use of the following instruments: structured and profound interview, document analysis and focal groups. Harry F. Wolcott's model was used for data analysis.
Objectives. This research examines the implications of environmental values, environmental justice, water quality programs, teaching strategies, environmental and ecological consciousness, etc. In terms of objectives, this study analyzes the Department of Education's Elementary and Secondary Environmental Sciences curriculum concerning coastal water pollution. Secondly, it analyzes the adequacy of the Elementary and Secondary Environmental Sciences curriculum of the Department of Education to facilitate the formation of an ecological consciousness in students and recognize how this curriculum is suited to prepare students in scientific content and attitudes for the prevention of beach pollution. Thirdly, it analyzes curricular implications of the Environmental Education Program for the Elementary and Secondary levels of Puerto Rico's Department of Education concerning maintenance and prevention of beach pollution.
Problem. The handling of environmental disasters around the world like the one provoked by the supertanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska and the struggle against beach pollution in other places serves us as an example of how to confront future crisis and the actual condition of our beaches. The oil spill in Alaska not only polluted beaches, but also killed thousands of birds and marine organisms, affected national parks, archeological sites and also impacted local economy (Kurtz, 2004, p.1).
Although these experiences were dramatic, we still lack adequate measures to promote the prevention of beach pollution. In 1993, alone, beaches were closed or declared unsanitary in 2,400 occasions in the United States and its territories, including Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (Frankel, 1994, p. 1). Nevertheless, the public is not consistently alerted about the condition of beaches.
Data analysis Elementary school teachers' responses were slightly different in many aspects. For example, Luquillo's teacher affirms that the curriculum teaches effective conservation measures and how to avoid the contamination of those areas. She also says that in her school, students are one hundred percent ecologically conscious about the environment.
Vega Baja's teacher considers that the curriculum emphasizes mostly on solid waste disposal. He explains that every effort is made so that students understand the importance of Environmental Education and the results are evident.
High school teachers interviewed expressed their concern about the Environmental Sciences curriculum. According to them, it is not fulfilling its objective in terms of the formation of an ecological consciousness in students. For them, the curriculum promotes this formation superficially. One of them insists that students lack a sense of ownership because the Department of Education does not promote it. They also affirm that the Environmental Sciences course is only offered to students with low average and those belonging to Vocational Programs. Therefore, this situation leaves many students excluded, without the opportunity to develop an ecological consciousness.
The perception of the Curriculum Specialist is that the Environmental Sciences curriculum is promoting this consciousness through Environment Clubs, emphasizing on student creativity, lifelong education, not to form specialists, respect for nature, but most of all, through action. She also stresses the fact that teachers are improving their skills through the “Carrera Magisterial”, a program aimed to produce highly qualified teachers. Nevertheless, she admits that, in terms of the curriculum, we are behind other countries like Cuba and Costa Rica, and there's much work to do.
Conclusion. The findings of this study show the existence of seven areas of necessity that should be attended to develop an ecological consciousness in students. These seven areas of necessity refer to supplying specific curriculum materials; funds for excursions; teacher qualification programs; the approval of proposals; the adoption of ecological initiatives in schools and the approval of permits to conduct studies near water bodies, which are presently denied.
Another recommendation we propose in this study is to hire Zone Supervisors, whose role would be to give support to teachers in terms of themes and curricular activities. These supervisors would be responsible to make sure that curriculum materials reach the schools and teachers that need them.