New sci­ence pro­grammes high­light en­vi­ron­men­tal dan­gers By An­chalee Kongrut

Bangkok Post - - Earth Alert -

What is your most last­ing mem­ory of the sci­ence lab­o­ra­tory? Do you re­mem­ber the se­date lab room and odd­look­ing sci­en­tific equip­ment with ec­cen­tric names such as burette, pipette and cru­cible?

Mine? I rue­fully ad­mit that the sci­ence lab­o­ra­tory of my beloved alma mater — the place that should have in­spired us to em­u­late Marie Curie — was im­bued with the aura of Mary Shel­ley’s Franken­stein.

Our sci­ence lab­o­ra­tory was an en­dear­ing cham­ber of hor­rors. Sneak­ing into it was a big ad­ven­ture: Its eerily quiet and de­tached lo­ca­tion, cold and pol­ished tiles and, on top of ev­ery­thing, big and small jars filled with dead crea­tures.

This lab would not have lived up to its gothic sem­blance had the pre­served crea­tures just been frogs, worms or guinea pigs. In­stead the jars held small foe­tuses — un­born ba­bies (with um­bil­i­cal cords!) pre­served in yel­low fluid.

No one knew where th­ese un­for­tu­nate babes came from; they were called dek dorng (pre­served ba­bies). Ur­ban leg­end had that th­ese pre­served ba­bies had been there ‘‘be­fore’’, hence they would be older than me if they had sur­vived. Our sci­ence teacher never told us and we never found the voice to ask.

That may ex­plain my be­low-par sci­ence lit­er­acy. Per­haps it was more fun looking at those mys­te­ri­ous jars than seek­ing the truth be­hind them. Per­haps it was a past ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that overly em­pha­sised the text­book and ig­nored our sur­round­ings, de­spite how close they were to us.

I started to won­der what sci­ence classes are like nowa­days.

This is an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion be­cause we are liv­ing in an era of con­se­quences, and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems have be­come a clear and present dan­ger. Is sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion pre­par­ing the fu­ture gen­er­a­tion to pre­vent catas­tro­phe or merely cope with it?

I fi­nally found my ideal sci­ence class two weeks ago, af­ter I at­tended two small classes.

The first was held at the Thai-Ja­panese As­so­ci­a­tion School in Bangkok.

The school had guest teach­ers from Ja­pan: staff of the ma­jor clean en­ergy pro­ducer Sanyo Elec­tric Group who teach ele­men­tary school stu­dents about the en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects of en­ergy con­sump­tion and in­tro­duce the con­cept of re­new­able en­ergy to youngsters.

Apart from ba­sic lessons on en­ergy sources, en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems and the prin­ci­ple of waste re­cy­cling, the guest in­struc­tors chal­lenged stu­dents to do sim­ple maths — com­par­ing long-term costs — and study the so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects of us­ing dry cell bat­ter­ies as op­posed to recharge­able bat­ter­ies which de­spite be­ing four times as ex­pen­sive are friend­lier to the en­vi­ron­ment.

An­other eye-open­ing event was a wa­ter mon­i­tor­ing trip to the Chao Phraya River, col­lect­ing wa­ter sam­ples to present at World Wa­ter Mon­i­tor­ing Day on De­cem­ber 18. SLP In­ter­na­tional (an en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tancy firm), the Prem Magic Eyes Barge Pro­gramme and Green Net­work­ing Days (a civic group of mem­bers of Bangkok’s ex­pa­tri­ate com­mu­nity) launched the cam­paign in Thai­land along with other groups in 43 coun­tries.

The Prem Magic Eyes Barge of­ten con­ducts ed­u­ca­tional field trips for stu­dents. But for this trip, the par­tic­i­pants con­sisted of around 20 adults and many of them — like me — were clue­less about jar­gon such as DO (dis­solved oxy­gen), pH level or tur­bid­ity.

The ex­cite­ment was not only in be­ing taught to use th­ese bi­o­log­i­cal test­ing kits, or see­ing murky river wa­ter mag­i­cally change into or­ange, then vi­o­let and grey colours af­ter adding a few drops of chem­i­cals. The fun part was learn­ing about the con­nec­tions be­tween us and na­ture, and un­der­stand­ing the chains of con­se­quences in ecol­ogy — how bev­er­age fac­to­ries by the river that de­pend on wa­ter re­sources dam­age the river, how con­crete banks and ur­ban­i­sa­tion af­fect tem­per­a­ture and wa­ter qual­ity, to name a few.

The Prem Magic Eyes Barge has con­ducted such trips for stu­dents since 1995 and stu­dents have been taught not only bi­ol­ogy but other re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties such as ecol­ogy, land use, cul­ture and even lo­cal busi­ness. For in­stance, for a trip to Koh Kret in Pathum Thani prov­ince, stu­dents were tasked with re­search ac­tiv­i­ties such as so­cial in­ter­ac­tions, the pot­tery busi­ness, land use, tourism and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems to map out a sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment plan for the com­mu­nity.

That should be­come ma­te­rial for a re­al­ity show on tele­vi­sion!

Th­ese trips are only an ex­am­ple of many good sci­ence classes avail­able for chil­dren. An­other re­cent pro­gramme is Nak Sueb Sainam (River De­tec­tives) which was pi­o­neered by ecol­o­gist Saran­rat Kan­jana­vanit. Chil­dren are taught to de­ter­mine the wa­ter qual­ity in their com­mu­ni­ties by ob­serv­ing aquatic an­i­mals and plants and record­ing data in the form of draw­ings. Now many schools by canals put Nak Sueb Sainam in their ex­tracur­ric­u­lar plans. Or if you love art and sci­ence, the Dek Rak Pa camp will teach you about for­est ecol­ogy and draw­ing at the same time.

I do not know whether to envy or sym­pa­thise with th­ese chil­dren. In my day, sci­ence class and re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties were text­book-based. But our en­vi­ron­ment in the past was much less prob­lem­atic.

Ob­vi­ously, we are liv­ing in era of con­se­quences and per­haps what we can do — if we can­not pass on to the next gen­er­a­tion a bet­ter or at least sim­i­lar planet to the one our an­ces­tors gave us — is make sure chil­dren grow up en­vi­ron­men­tally and sci­en­tif­i­cally lit­er­ate.

Peek into your chil­dren’s sci­ence text­book. Com­pare your ex­pe­ri­ences in lab­o­ra­tory class.

As there are plenty of en­vi­ron­men­tal camps, sign up for them. Send chil­dren to na­tional parks, or on canal trips.

And if pos­si­ble, join th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties if you can be­cause you may re­alise that it is you — not your chil­dren — who se­ri­ously needs this type of ed­u­ca­tion.

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