To at­tract the young to be vol­un­teers in con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes, there is a need to en­gage them in learn­ing about the en­vi­ron­ment and ecosys­tems in school

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer is a re­search fel­low at the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of Ad­vanced Is­lamic Stud­ies Malaysia DRADHA SHALER

IN the fu­ture, en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion will be in­creas­ingly im­por­tant as no one wants to see the jour­ney to sus­tain­able en­vi­ron­ment be­ing plagued by ig­no­rance, na­ture deficit, en­vi­ron­men­tal il­lit­er­acy and a self­ish at­ti­tude.

With the rise of en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues that have the po­ten­tial to com­pro­mise the needs of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, we will need young peo­ple to be the change-mak­ers, open to re­gional col­lab­o­ra­tions and pro­fi­cient bear­ers of so­cioe­co­log­i­cal knowl­edge. Young peo­ple to­day have to be in­volved in en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes that fos­ter car­ing com­mu­ni­ties while mak­ing a dif­fer­ence to our en­vi­ron­ment.

At the ba­sic level, this may in­volve vis­its to com­mu­nity-based gar­den­ing projects, field trips to na­tional parks and af­ter-school green clubs. But for a greater un­der­stand­ing of a spe­cific liv­ing land­scape, they need to learn about ecosys­tems. How do we go about this?

The de­vel­op­ment of in­tra-re­gional hu­man mo­bil­ity has cre­ated plat­forms for knowl­edge-driven pro­grammes, in­clud­ing vol­un­teer pro­grammes and field work in neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. In prin­ci­ple, these forms of out­door ac­tiv­i­ties in­ten­sify the learn­ing op­por­tu­nity of young peo­ple to de­velop knowl­edge that add value to the class­room ex­pe­ri­ence. For ex­am­ple, field work has its value in for­est ed­u­ca­tion in terms of gath­er­ing a plethora of facts with re­gard to the peo­ple and their for­est land­scape. De­pend­ing on the peren­nial fo­cus of field work and the time stu­dents spend in the for­est, they gain valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence from ac­cli­ma­tis­ing to a new en­vi­ron­ment and in­ter­act­ing with lo­cal peo­ple.

En­riched by a cor­pus of field knowl­edge about the Orang Asli Jakun in Pa­hang, this writer amassed valu­able en­vi­ron­men­tal wis­dom, which is deeply rooted in mean­ing­ful lo­cal per­spec­tives to­ward for­est con­ser­va­tion.

This writer ob­served that the tem­plates of so­cio-eco­log­i­cal wis­dom can be said to ex­ist in that so­ci­ety. For ex­am­ple, the qual­ity of the Orang Asli’s liveli­hood de­pend on their col­lec­tive ac­tions in pro­tect­ing the ecosys­tem. In this re­gard, there is a co-re­la­tion­ship that equates rich bio­di­ver­sity to in­dige­nous peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes to­ward na­ture, as they do not in­tend to ex­ploit na­ture. Re­garded by many Orang Asli as a norm, for­est con­ser­va­tion is a prac­tice em­bed­ded in com­mu­nal val­ues, a no­tion guided by en­vi­ron­men­tal wis­doms and at­ti­tudes em­bod­ied in en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship.

While the quest to de­velop young en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­ers starts with field work, in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teer pro­grammes prof­fer lead­er­ship skills to young peo­ple and close con­tact with a group of peo­ple to­wards a com­mon goal. Vol­un­teer­ing opens minds, ex­pos­ing vol­un­teers to mean­ing­ful com­mu­nity en­gage­ment ac­tiv­i­ties. This drives vol­un­teers to point out quin­tes­sen­tial lo­cal thoughts, liveli­hoods and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems as they en­gage the lo­cals.

For ex­am­ple, when vol­un­teer­ing in Mers­ing, Jo­hor, the writer and fel­low vol­un­teers en­thralled stu­dents by us­ing a story to ex­plain the func­tions of dif­fer­ent species in the marine ecosys­tem. To make it top­i­cal, many char­ac­ters re­sem­bled the lo­cal habi­tat, an­i­mals, and their ecosys­tems. It was a straight­for­ward com­mu­nity en­gage­ment method to draw stu­dents’ at­ten­tion to what causes pol­lu­tion. While the writer used the group’s think ef­forts and cre­ativ­ity to form syn­er­gis­tic ideas for the stu­dents, it was the en­vi­ron­men­tal les­son for the young gen­er­a­tion that un­der­pinned the over­all suc­cess of the project.

Field work and vol­un­teer­ing can have im­mense ed­u­ca­tional re­sults in the young. With the un­prece­dented pas­sion of young peo­ple to change the state of our en­vi­ron­ment and the ubiq­ui­tous op­por­tu­ni­ties for knowl­edge-driven ac­tiv­i­ties, there is a need for young en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­ers to em­brace so­cial eco­log­i­cal wis­dom and cul­tural di­ver­si­ties.

In this re­gard, and, as a prepa­ra­tion for stu­dents be­fore they take part in field work or vol­un­teer­ing pro­grammes, there is a need to de­velop a com­mu­nity en­gage­ment syl­labus in schools. The syl­labus does not nec­es­sar­ily need to en­tail a de­tailed knowl­edge of so­cio-eco­log­i­cal prac­tices of other so­ci­eties. Nev­er­the­less, cul­tural and eco­log­i­cal lit­era­cies help stu­dents gain a ba­sic knowl­edge of what other so­ci­eties do. This can be val­i­dated by field re­searchers, field work ex­perts and vol­un­teers. As a mat­ter of fact, the lat­ter should col­lab­o­rate with schools, of­fer­ing field ex­pe­ri­ences to stu­dents. To put it into prac­tice, field ex­perts can of­fer par­tic­i­pa­tory train­ing lessons to stu­dents and teach­ers by de­vel­op­ing com­mu­nity en­gage­ment tool­kits. In prin­ci­ple, the fun­da­men­tal aim of the train­ing is driven by one idea — to en­gage young peo­ple to ap­pre­ci­ate so­cial eco­log­i­cal knowl­edge.

Lastly, the Ur­ban Well­be­ing, Hous­ing and Lo­cal Govern­ment Min­istry and the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry are plan­ning to in­tro­duce an en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion syl­labus as an elec­tive. Deputy Min­is­ter for the for­mer, Datuk Hal­imah Mo­hamed Sadique, said the ini­tia­tive would raise en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship among the young. It is un­der this spirit to guide the young, that the vi­sion of unique ap­proaches to en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion pre­vail.

If we ex­e­cute the plan well, we will boost knowl­edge-driven ac­tiv­i­ties to a level that the young gen­er­a­tion pro­foundly need. Per­haps, with the sen­ti­ment of care to­wards our en­vi­ron­ment cur­rently bor­der­ing all minds alike, we will be wit­ness­ing the im­mi­nent rise of young eco-war­riors in the fu­ture.

Per­haps, with the sen­ti­ment of care to­wards our en­vi­ron­ment cur­rently bor­der­ing all minds alike, we will be wit­ness­ing the im­mi­nent rise of young eco-war­riors in the fu­ture.

Vol­un­teer univer­sity stu­dents at the Save Our Shores: Man in the Man­grove pro­gramme in Kuala Kedah. Field work and vol­un­teer­ing can have im­mense ed­u­ca­tional re­sults to the young.

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