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 socio-ecological 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.
Dr Adha Shaleh is a research fellow at the International Institute of
Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia