A key role for environmental education

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Children are our future generation and they have the right to their views on the environment, says Josephine Tan.

A recent incident highlighted a group of students participating in a global movement, also known as Fridays for Future, inspired by a 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

It came to light when two NGOs were claimed to be ‘using’ students from the Sungai Ara Tamil Primary School to protest against climate change at a Ramadan bazaar in Bayan Baru on 24 May 2019. I would be indeed very shocked if the Education Department takes action on this issue, if it is true.

“Environmental education is the process of recognising values and clarifying concepts in order to develop skills and attitudes necessary to understand and appreciate the inter-relatedness among man, his culture and his bio-physical surroundings. Environmental education also entails practices in decision-making. It is a process that allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem-solving and take action to improve the environment. As a result, individuals develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues and have the skills to make informed and responsible decisions,” according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (ICUN).

Environmental education is about empowerment and should not be stopped at any level, including our children who are future leaders.

The backbone of Penang Green Council’s establishment is to work collectively and democratically with all stakeholders including children, teachers, parents and communities towards the resolution of environmental questions, issues and problems.

As adults and educators, we need to advocate now for the rights of our children to have enriching contact with nature, to foster their love for the outdoors and to be future caretakers and nurturers of the Earth.

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Our Penang Green School Award sets out to inculcate students’ love for the environment and raise awareness of resource efficiency, innovation and creativity, cleanliness and greening efforts – and last but not least, community involvement in primary and secondary schools.

In 2019, we introduced Penang Green Kindy to further inject awareness among children aged four to six. The implications and advocacy for change a child can make in their homes and towards the community should not be belittled.

Despite people under 18 making up over a quarter of the world population (29.3%), the future is 100% in their hands. We promote taking ownership among the young generation – including raising their concern about environmental issues. In essence, we believe that no matter the age, every occupant on Earth has a role to play.

What does this mean for those of us who live and work with and care about the lives of the very young – our children and their future generations? We can show empathy while watching a polar bear losing its home but then, we are blast the air-conditioner indoors on a cold rainy day.

The children we care for need adults – teachers, parents and others – to become much more concerned with and involved in personal and community decisions about current actions and future prospects. It should not be just focused on text books; instead it should be a process of bringing about awareness among stakeholders, including children – which leads to behavioural change.

Environmental education within and between generations is of paramount importance.

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There is also an emerging interest in environmental education amongst practitioners and it seems that teacher networking is a useful way to build on this interest and to expand it.

In addition, children reserve their right to express their concern on environmental issues and the climate change crisis. Children are our future generation and they have the right to their views on the environment. We respect their rights. That is what Penang Green Council stands for.

Josephine Tan is general manager of the Penang Green Council.

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