Attenborough, the voice of television natural history programs for more than 50 years, said most children now grew up with "very little" direct contact with the natural world and were "estranged" from non-human forms of life.
The 84-year-old naturalist said learning about nature should be "on a par" with lessons in maths and English in schools. "As our children's world is changing, our planet is also in increasing peril," Attenborough said.
"Climate change and habitat destruction are problems facing our generation and those of our children. In order to equip the next generation to face these problems, it is crucial that children grow up with an understanding and respect for our planet. Human beings depend on the natural world for everything. We are going to have to make increasing demands on people to care for the natural world."He said teachers had "enormous power" to influence the thoughts and actions of their pupils. "Bringing nature into the classroom can kindle a fascination and passion for the diversity of life on earth and can motivate a sense of responsibility to safeguard it."
Many children used to get to know the natural world in the countryside, but now many learn about nature at school, he said. "School grounds are absolutely invaluable if they can be used to give children things like ponds, places where children can grow their own plants and see animals." But, he said, unfortunately some urban schools had playgrounds that were just tarmac.
Attenborough yesterday told teachers how the national curriculum could be used to inspire children to learn with nature. He was speaking at the Association for Science Education Conference, held at Reading University, where he launched an encyclopedia about life on land to be used in schools and universities.
The Association for Science Education (ASE) is the largest subject association in the UK. Members include teachers, technicians and others involved in science education. The Association plays a significant role in promoting excellence in teaching and learning of science in schools and colleges. Working closely with the science professional bodies, industry and business, ASE provides a UK-wide network bringing together individuals and organizations to share ideas and tackle challenges in science teaching, develop resources and foster high quality Continuing Professional Development. The Association for Science Education can trace its origins back to 1900.
The Guardian, "Lessons on environment as important as the three Rs, says Attenborough", accessed January 10, 2011