by Clarissa Sim
Singapore, why still not concerned leh?
Recently, New Jersey became the first state in the US to incorporate climate change into its education curriculum of kindergarteners through high school seniors. The curriculum serves to educate students on global warming and what can be done to mitigate it. Within our home grounds, environmental education has slowly been interwoven into our conventional subjects. Some schools have also adopted Applied Learning Programmes for students to participate in environment preservation projects. However, successful environmental education efforts in our “Clean and Green City” are still lacking.
I vividly remember an incident where my friend was about to dispose of her used tissue paper into the paper recycling bin. I immediately stopped her and she said “Isn’t it paper?”. I was shocked. I shared with her that by doing that, she would be contaminating the rest of the recyclables as used tissue paper cannot be recycled.
The problem with the status quo
It dawned upon me that even though our education system does include nuggets of environmental education like the brief mentions of the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, there is a lack of emphasis on how to actually practice these 3Rs, resulting in a disconnect between what we are learning and we is seen in our daily lives. Furthermore, do our role models in school – teachers – actually walk the talk?
Even though our conventional subjects like Biology and Geography included environmental issues, they were mostly global and not specific to our local context. For many of us, the detrimental environmental effects have yet to hit close to home. This builds up a sense of disconnectivity as many are unable to connect between their lives and the real-world environmental issues as less of a priority.
Moreover, the narrow focus on environmental issues may only appeal to people who are passionate about the environment. This has caused knowledge fragmentation as most are unable to see how environmental problems have an impact on social issues and vice versa. It is of no surprise that this lack of awareness and disconnect has contributed to 7.23 million tonnes of solid waste and our low domestic recycling rates of only 17 per cent in 2019.
What to do?
1. Holistic teaching of environmental education
Formalising environmental education in our education system will help to kick start the young to inculcate sensitivity towards our environment. A curated curriculum that makes environmental issues relevant and personal will encourage individuals to prioritise sustainability issues in their day to day life. Environmental learning should also transcend beyond the classroom through real-life application like school- and community-based programmes which helps to cultivate lasting habits of environmental care. We live in an integrated ecology and the crises that we face in this world are closely intertwined. For instance, poverty can be both a cause and a consequence of our environmental problems. 20% of the total loss of life expectancy in developing countries is attributed to environmental causes. Therefore, the curriculum should present environmental issues through a holistic lens that showcases the interconnection between the scientific and social aspects of the environment. This helps to reduce the fragmentation of knowledge and ignorance.
2. Dare to be a role model
Pro-environmental behaviour is best motivated by our social environment. Research has proven the significance of role models in developing eco-friendly behaviour. Thus, these programmes should also involve a variety of individuals who serve as influential role models to our children like parents and teachers. Peer education creates a supportive learning environment for students to have green conversations. Cultivating a green environment for one to grow up in will build a foundation for lifelong environmental literacy.
“Education shapes values and perspectives. It also contributes to the development of skills, concepts and tools that can be used to reduce or stop unsustainable practices” said a UNESCO report. In order to develop stronger environmental awareness and ensure that our students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to meet the environmental challenges of the future, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way we teach it – namely, by embracing its multidisciplinary nature and by being committed role models.
Clarissa is an undergraduate studying Social Work at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). She is passionate about world issues and social issues. A firm believer in being a positive change agent to the world, she hopes to inspire a domino effect within others. Being a curious learner, she also desires to be a voice for various world issues.