FLOODS. Freak storms. Species extinction. These are just some of the catastrophes the world is facing today.
These disasters, scientists say, are the result of global warming arising from ineffective management of the world’s natural resources.
Now more than ever, it is crucial that we do all we can to stop the deterioration of our planet – starting with our own backyard.
This involves effectively educating our children on the need to protect the planet – their home – and the best ways to go about it.
National Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Association chairperson Prof Datuk Dr Noraini Idris said environmental sustainability needs to be taught in schools as Malaysia has plenty of natural resources that need to be sustainably managed.
Today’s students, she added, are tomorrow’s leaders and caretakers of nature.
“We want to make sure they learn how to use natural resources responsibly while learning STEM in schools,” she said.
Noraini pointed out that blending environmental sustainability elements into the curriculum can also help our country’s economy.
Our local agriculture, she noted, has been heavily affected by the floods and severe droughts caused by global warming.
“Malaysia now has to import rice, fruits and vegetables from overseas. And we will continue to suffer the wrath of nature unless something is done,” she said.
But it is not enough to just teach.
Teachers must encourage their students to apply the environmental lessons learnt in schools.
Show them how to make compost from food waste and guide them in growing edible plants at home, she suggested.
“But for students to be engaged, the teachers themselves must be properly trained to impart not just knowledge, but also interest in the environment,” she said.
According to Unesco, education for sustainable development teaches people the knowledge, skills, attitudes and necessary values to shape a sustainable future.
This empowers them to tackle global challenges including climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, poverty and inequality.
Sunway University president Prof Sibrandes Poppema said sustainable development and planetary health are going to be the most important issues during the lifetime of these children.
“So, it is essential for them to know how the health of the planet is affecting the health of people and other living beings. This is what the next generation must understand,” he said.
There will be a requirement in the future to increase prosperity in large parts of the world that can only happen through development but this must be done sustainably, he added.
Prof Poppema said the Sunway Centre for Planetary Health is developing programmes on planetary health specifically geared towards schoolchildren.
Sunway University, he said, has incorporated the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), planetary health and community service into two compulsory subjects for its students.
“In addition, many programmes are incorporating SDGs and planetary health issues in their regular courses and research programmes,” he said.
Teach For Malaysia (TFM) design and training head Chin Pui Ting said having a community and global perspective with regard to sustainable development and environmental awareness enables students to lead meaningful change for a better future.“At TFM, we champion student leadership. We want to empower students to be leaders of their own and their future.
“It is important for students to learn knowledge beyond the textbook and to make sense of how they are connected to the world around them,” she added.
Teachers, she said, need to connect with their students so they can understand the relevance of what they learn in their textbooks and from the outside world.
“Teachers can also leverage school-based assessment, such as environmental projects, so students can equip themselves with the competencies to lead a change,” said Chin.
Green Educators Workgroup (GREW) chairman Khou Jerome said teachers need to instil a sense of awareness and obligation to care for the environment.
Students, he opined, must be assigned environment-based projects or they would be unable to truly understand the issues being discussed.
By creating environmentally-conscious students, we would be forming an environmentally-conscious future workforce, he said.
“So regardless of the career they pursue – be it engineering, medicine or whatever – they will be able to take environmental sustainability into consideration in their line of work,” he added.
GREW is a Penang-based platform consisting of nearly 40 primary and secondary school teachers with a passion for eco-based teaching and learning.
Most of the teachers are in schools that are part of the Eco-Schools Programme, considered the world’s largest sustainable schools programme that is run by WWF-Malaysia locally.
Khou said that through the programme, students are taught how to solve issues facing the natural environment within the school grounds.
“At the same time, they learn how to solve problems around them and in their community,” he added.
Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) chairman Mak Chee Kin said it is not enough to just teach.
“Right now, what is being taught is not being practised. We say reduce, reuse, recycle but in reality, how much is it being adopted?
“We need practical activities to be conducted in schools instead of just teaching them theories from the textbook if we want children to make use of the knowledge in their adulthood,” he added.