Module seeks to foster ‘environmental literacy’

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AN INCREASING number of students are having difficulty appreciating and studying nature, according to a UST research on “environmental literacy.”

This phenomenon was first described by nature journalist Richard Louv as “nature-deficit disorder,” which, he described in his book “The Last Child in the Woods,” as the “disconnection of humans, especially the children, to nature.”

Professor Moises Garcia, Ph.D. and his wife Maria Cobar-Garcia, Ph.D. of the College of Science sought to resolve this problem by creating a module to help students celebrate and understand nature which could be added to the new K to 12 curriculum.

The Garcias’ module will first focus on the biodiversity and conservation of tropical rainforests due to their abundance in tropical areas and encompasses almost all if not all of environmental problems.

“The rainforests are important since they get the most energy from the sun and they offer the best conditions for plant growth,” he explained.

He added that students might have a hard time comprehending topics on science and technology due to a lack of exposure.

“Everything that is not visible, is very difficult to comprehend” he said, adding that concepts in science such as thermodynamics, nutrient cycles and energy flow are not directly visible to the naked eye and therefore makes them harder to understand.

Learning by exploration

The Garcias’ study was in line with the National Environmental Awareness and Education Act of 2008, which sought to educate and influence citizens to take care of the environment.

Their initial research, is geared toward improving a student’s capacity to love nature through exposure both inside and outside the classroom.

The Garcias’ found out that students inclined to learn inside the classroom are developed through different kinds of tests.

“Not only knowledge but also competency is gained,” he said, stressing that students gained a will to act to the problem by simply avoiding the use of straw and pet bottles. “Those small efforts create a big change.”

Students inclined to leave the classroom are shown to have developed stronger beliefs and a more positive attitude towards conservation.

“It is more on the emotion, the love and act for nature is developed,” he said.

Garcia added this might be due to exposure to nature which can help students empathize with concerns related with the environment. In other countries such as Japan and Germany, schools allot time to make sure students get to travel outside.

The couple is preparing for the next phase of their research, which focuses on evaluating the environmental literacy of elementary and high school teachers.

Battling apathy with awareness

Researcher David Allred of Sonoma State University California argued that humans are patterned to live outdoors based on its historical background as a species.

Urbanization and technological evolution are strong factors that have caused people to stay indoors and may have been producing a generation of adults that are apathetic towards nature.

Allred cited environmentalist Patricia Zaradic who coined the term “videophilia,” or a person’s tendency to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media, which may lead one to neglect nature.

This can be remedied by focusing on direct and indirect natural experience and lessening vicarious experiences.

Direct experience toward nature involves physical contact with a free environment such as forests and wilderness, which he associated with the environment man has been exposed before settling in villages and cities. Meanwhile indirect natural experiences are contact inside controlled environments like zoos and farms.

Vicarious natural experiences are non-physical contact with nature through media such as magazines or the internet. However, this can help manifest “symptoms” of “natural deficit disorder” which are emotional disorders, disciplinary problems, and depression due to a lack of exposure to natural means of relaxation.

“In short, the manicured grass of the soccer field is no substitute in terms of developmental stimulation from a random patch of wilderness,” he said.

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