Life & Times
May 25, 2013
By : Zuhaila Sedek-De Booij | zuhaila@mediaprima.com.my

Never too young to start

A World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia programme hopes to provide early exposure to environmental knowledge, writes Zuhaila Sedek-De Booij

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IF you have a telescope, gaze into the dark sky and search for Planet Venus. From Earth, Venus looks absolutely breathtaking to the eyes. But satellite images indicate that Venus is completely different up close. Experts say the greenhouse effect on Venus is so bad that the planet’s atmosphere is filled with poisonous gases and radiation. This makes Venus inhabitable.

Despite Venus’ harsh environment, the planet imparts a good lesson: It gives us a preview of what the Earth could be if its environment is not looked after. The first step to ensure the well-being of Mother Earth is early exposure to environmental knowledge. This is precisely what initiatives such as Eco-Schools Programme and Eco-Institutes set out to do.

NURTURING CHILDREN

Eco-Schools Programme is an internationally-known award-certification programme. Created by Foundation for Environmental Education based in Denmark, the programme has reached over 50 countries and 40,000 schools globally, mostly in Europe.

In Malaysia, the programme is called Eco-Schools Programme Malaysia (EPM). Operated by World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia), the programme first began two years ago.

WWF-Malaysia education specialist and EPM head Jumilia Mohamed explains that EPM awards three certifications — Bronze, Silver and Green Flag (Bronze being the lowest and Green Flag the highest). In order for a school to win the award, students and teachers have to join forces to carry out environmental projects.

“Last year, seven schools were awarded with Silver and Bronze certificates. A school has yet to receive the Green Flag certification,” says Jumila.

There are nine themes to choose from in EPM. A school can select a theme for a project at a time. These themes are Water, Waste/Litter, Energy, Nature & Biodiversity, School Grounds, Transport & Sustainable Mobility, Healthy Living, Local Agenda 21 and Climate Change. Details on these themes are at www.eco-schools.wwf.org.my.

In order to do a project, the school team has to follow a 7-Step Methodology.

The steps include establishing an eco-committee, carrying out environmental reviews, establishing an action plan, monitoring and evaluating progress of the action plan, linking the practical initiatives based on certain environmental themes to the curriculum, informing and involving the community as well as developing an eco-code for future guidance.

The steps are considered the framework for the programme. “This methodology allows teachers and students to familiarise themselves with structures and planning when carrying out a green project. We find that schools are often lacking in this area,” says Jumilia.

The duration for schools to finish a project varies. But their performance will be evaluated by WWF-Malaysia’s supporting partners called the National Eco-Schools Committee. Committee members consist of local ministries, governmental and non-governmental organisations as well as private companies. So far, there are 14 partners participating in EPM.

Once a school has completed a project, it will be evaluated by the partners. After that, the schools will be awarded with the certificates according to the rating. Each certificate is valid for two years to encourage schools to keep on taking up projects based on other themes.

MORE THAN JUST AN AWARD

Currently, EPM has the participation of schools in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. The schools include primary and secondary (in both urban and rural areas), international and private schools.

The number of schools participating in EPM is very small. This is because out of 10,085 schools in Malaysia, only 43 are implementing EPM on their grounds. Jumilia suspects that they might not be aware of the programme. “There are multiple reasons. The schools may not be able to pledge to the programme because of their commitments. It can also indicate that environmental education is not regarded as important,” says Jumilia.

“I find that many schools are a bit wary when introduced to a programme. They lack the understanding of how EPM works. The school management may think that EPM is tedious. But that’s not true,” she adds.

Schools can upgrade a previous environmental project and apply the 7-Step Methodology. This way, the project meets EPM requirements and will be more structured.

But there is more to EPM than meets the eye. The programme is a student-led activity. It teaches students to come together and make decisions. Personal skills such as leadership are also promoted. In EPM, teachers play an advisory role. Students are the engines for the project.

“EPM offers a holistic approach to teaching students about the environment. We hope to make students more aware of their surroundings. But it is not only theory-based, but also about being hands-on and bringing everyone in the school to be part of the process,” says Jumilia, adding that environmental education is vital in creating the right attitude among children.

Equipping students with environmental knowledge will allow them to influence people at home and in their neighbourhood. It is the change of behaviour that the programme aims to achieve.

Other than that, the action plan drafted from the findings of EPM projects will help the schools to find solutions to their environmental issues.

“Teachers who are involved in EPM are more likely to include environmental education in their curriculum too. This is an extra benefit,” says Jumilia.

ECO-INSTITUTES

Inspired by EPM, WWF-Malaysia has also introduced Eco-Institutes for teacher trainees. WWF-Malaysia environmental education programme manager Nor Shidawati Abdul Rasid says 27 teaching educational institutes are involved nationwide.

“It applies the same concept as EPM but with a different target group,” says Nor Shidawati about Eco-Institutes which was launched in April 2012.

WWF-Malaysia has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Education and Institut Pendidikan Guru Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia to support the implementation of the project.

The 7-Step Methodology is also used as a tool to carry out a thematic project.

“This programme gives exposure to the country’s future teachers to be more interested in the subject of sustainability. We hope that by the time they are posted to their respective schools, they get to implement EPM there. Not only that, we hope that they will be inspired to include some element of environmental education.”

Eco-Institutes help to prepare future teachers with the skills and knowledge to teach environmental education. Just like EPM, it promotes many good values such as leadership, creative and critical thinking.
“We need knowledge and the skills to look after the environment. This way, they will be well-prepared to pass on the knowledge to the children.”

For details about Eco-Schools and Eco-Institutes, visit www.wwf.org.my

Knowledge is power

• The Universiti Sains Malaysia study Implementation Of Eco-Schools Programme: Research On Readiness And Applicability In Schools indicates that Malaysian students are aware of environmental issues but they don’t act on them. But with the right set of skills, they are more likely to take the necessary action.

• Imperial College scientists found that teaching children about the environment can affect the knowledge and behaviour of parents.

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