The Star Malaysia - Star2

A greener education


THICK rainforest canopies, pristine blue oceans and a cute hornbill family – these could be some of the aesthetic highlights on a pamphlet delineatin­g the top 10 reasons to visit Malaysia.

There is no denying that our country is blessed with glorious nature, but how concerned are we about the more pressing issue that we are dependent on a healthy environmen­t to live?

Toxic smog permeating our lungs, dead soil that is unable to sustain vegetation, and climate change accelerati­ng the rise of sea levels and causing prolonged drought – these are just a fraction of concerns that make up a growing list.

The Environmen­tal Performanc­e Index (EPI), which ranks 180 countries’ performanc­es in terms of environmen­tal health and protection of ecosystems, placed Malaysia in 75th place this year.

This is even more worrying when we take into account that Malaysia has been dropping quickly in position, plummeting from 51st place in 2014 to 63rd in 2016.

What is being done at an educationa­l level? How are our young – the future shepherds of the environmen­t – being exposed to this important cause?

What are schools doing to bring up a generation that is both cognisant and concerned about its actions that can greatly impact Mother Earth?

Studying the ecosystem

Subjects such as science and geography typically have components that touch on the environmen­t. Soil erosion, greenhouse gases and renewable energy sources are some of the topics that students would come across in today’s classes.

However, in some internatio­nal curricula, such as the Internatio­nal Baccalaure­ate Diploma Programme (IBDP), environmen­tal studies are commonly offered as subjects in their own right.

Among the IBDP schools that offer this is Sunway Internatio­nal School (SIS), where students who enrol in Environmen­tal Systems and Societies are graded on their knowledge of ecosystems and environmen­tal issues.

SIS also teaches its students to appreciate the natural beauty of Malaysia by giving them real-life experience­s through educationa­l excursions, such as a trip to the jungles of Sandakan in Sabah or overnight camping at Broga Hill in Semenyih. Field trips can also include active contributi­on where students are helping with green efforts in some way.

Wan Ariff Wan Fadzil, a 17-yearold internatio­nal school student in Kuala Lumpur, says, “Every year, we go on a school trip to learn more about the environmen­t and aid in clean-ups.

“The school has had speakers visit and give presentati­ons to raise awareness on issues such as deforestat­ion and pollution.”

It is also possible to get children involved and aware about eco concerns much earlier in life.

Tengku Zarissya, a local early childhood educator, brings her toddler-age students into this discussion by having a “talk about” session, which is frequently conducted in the classroom as a way to get the children to become aware of the environmen­tal issues happening around them.

She explains that children are generally curious and would give their input and share their understand­ing.

“Children are our future, hence change should and must start with them. In today's fast-paced world, many tend to overlook the issues involving the environmen­t, which is very worrying,” she says.

Catalysts of change

You can tell children all about how critical it is to save the environmen­t, but does that guarantee eco-friendly behaviour in their daily lives?

Some schools go a step further and implement green initiative­s that get children walking the talk.

Wan Ariff’s school has signs located above every light switch and power socket reminding students and staff to turn off switches when not in use. Other simple acts include providing recycling bins and using recycled materials for craft-making.

Tree planting remains a popular activity that many schools are undertakin­g. SIS’ Ontario Secondary School Diploma programme requires students to perform community service, and tree planting acts as a way to give back to the people.

Last year, Smart Reader Worldwide organised a 2.5km walk in conjunctio­n with Internatio­nal Earth Day, followed by a tree-planting session.

The event made it into The Malaysia Book of Records for its large number of participat­ing children, as 560 students joined the meaningful occasion.

Giving children a sense of ownership and accountabi­lity can help ingrain environmen­tal responsibi­lity. When children feel they have power and can make a difference, they will start to care more.

Tengku Zarissya’s preschool students get together with their parents every school term to plant vegetation in the school compound.

Throughout the term, it is the students’ duty to care for the plants until they are ready for harvesting.

This cooperatio­n with parents helps bridge the gap between school and home, thus drumming in the notion that green behaviour is important no matter

Children are our future, hence change should and must start with them. In today's fast-paced world, many tend to overlook the issues involving the environmen­t, which is very worrying. Tengku Zarissya

where you are.

Other than that, schools can encourage environmen­tally conscious actions through more creative means.

SIS’ extracurri­cular society, Green Team, hosts an annual green week where eco-friendly events take place each day, such as Meatless Monday where only vegetarian options are available for school lunch and No Waste Wednesday that focuses on recycling.

Other than academic curricula and the advocacy of green behaviour by schools and teachers, there exists voluntary eco programmes for schools that are run by external bodies or government­s.

An internatio­nal initiative known as the Eco-Schools programme (ESP) can be found in more than 60 countries across the world.

The World Wildlife Fund Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) acts as national operator for the ESP – a seven-step process that the whole school can get involved in to initiate purposeful environmen­tal action.

More than 170 local schools have registered with the ESP since its Malaysian introducti­on in 2010. The programme empowers students by putting them in the driving seat for change at their school level.

With support from adults such as teachers, parents and community members, students will lead an investigat­ion and action plan to tackle environmen­tal issues they have identified.

An article titled It

All Starts in the Classroom published on WWF-Malaysia’s website last year mentions that harvesting rainwater, turning food waste into compost and sourcing paper from sustainabl­e forests make up some of the accomplish­ments students have been a part of.

Part of the programme also comprises the imparting of knowledge and skills to students through lessons that would help them achieve their aims.

By allowing students to make decisions and showing them the tangible outcomes of their work, the ESP hopes to inspire a society that is invested in environmen­tal affairs.

Other than the ESP, private companies play a role in schools’ green movements through their corporate social responsibi­lity programmes. HSBC Malaysia, for instance, held a three-year nationwide programme from 2012 to 2016 that educated primary school students on effective water management and conservati­on, while Panasonic Malaysia’s Global Eco Learning programme aspires to create future eco-leaders through environmen­tal education at schools.

Money can grow on trees

Going green pays off in the long term, but sometimes you are rewarded with a large monetary gift in the short term. Sustainabl­e Schools Programme Environmen­tal Award (SLAAS) is a government-run programme, in the form of a competitio­n, that invites public schools to participat­e in going green activities.

Last year, the winning schools received RM10,000 in cash, while those who were close behind in terms of eco efforts won RM1,000 each. The schools also received a plaque and certificat­e that they could proudly showcase.

Among the activities that students and teachers were involved in were tree planting, recycling and education on sustainabl­e developmen­t practices.

According to Implicatio­n of the Sustainabl­e School Environmen­t Award Program on the Environmen­tal Literacy Level of Students that was published in Advanced Science Letters this year, SLAAS produced an appreciabl­e level of environmen­tal literacy among students.

The study also indicates that a positive relationsh­ip between knowledge, attitude and behaviour of students exists in schools that engage in sustainabl­e endeavours.

Sometimes it is easy to forget how impression­able children are and how much adults can influence the young by just taking some time to educate them.

As Tengku Zarissya says, “Currently, teachers do not share with the children enough, which is a shame.

Speak and share with them every step of the way so they are always involved.”

By setting an example and encouragin­g participat­ion in meaningful eco practices, we are setting our children up for a brighter – and greener – existence.

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 ??  ?? To play their part in raising a caring generation, schools are championin­g eco-awareness through lessons, field trips and initiative­s.
To play their part in raising a caring generation, schools are championin­g eco-awareness through lessons, field trips and initiative­s.
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