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Environmental education in the new age of advocacy
Giovanni Joy N. Fontanilla

STRENGTHENING ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS -- The DENR-CAR conducts information, education, and communication campaign at Tuba Central Elementary School to introduce the ridge-to-reef approach, a coastal management strategy which stresses the importance of having a quality ecosystem in the uplands to have a clean, safe, and healthy water in the lowlands. -- Giovani Joy Fontanilla

The knowledge base of a society about the environment is an important aspect which determines its capacity to sustainably manage its resources and cope with existing and nascent environmental issues. Hence, providing environmental education to enhance the capacity of a society to manage its environment is important. With the help of digital interactive tools, relevant information is now at our fingertips, making environmental education more accessible.

Part of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ mandate is to provide environmental education to the public, especially the youth. Republic Act 9512, known as the National Environmental Awareness and Education Act of 2008, seeks to equip the public with cognitive and leadership skills which will enable them to become responsible end-users and voices of the environment. According to the law, environmental education “shall encompass environmental concepts and principles, environmental laws, the state of international and local environment, local environmental best practices, the threats of environmental degradation and its impact on human well-being, the responsibility of the citizenry to the environment and the value of conservation, protection, and rehabilitation of natural resources and the environment in the context of sustainable development.”

Guided by the provisions of RA 9512, the DENR initiates several activities and communication campaigns to provide environmental education, although non-formal, to the youth or the so-called millennials and Generation Z.

Why the youth?

The youth constitute a significant part of our population. They will have to live longer and suffer from the effects of environmental problems bequeathed by the earlier generations on the current population. As part of the present generation, the youth’s behaviors and decisions towards the environment also carry a lot of weight to the kind of ecosystem the future generations will have.

The youth’s role in environmental protection is recognized globally. Chapter 25 of Agenda 21 which was adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil states, “It is imperative that youth from all parts of the world participate actively in all relevant levels of decision-making processes because it affects their lives today and has implications for their futures. In addition to their intellectual contribution and their ability to mobilize support, they bring unique perspectives that need to be taken into account.”

Children and youth as guardians of nature

The important role that children and the youth play in the protection and preservation of the environment has been acknowledged by genuine environmentalists such as those who conceptualized the Eco-Walk project that significantly help preserve Busol Watershed, a major watershed reservation for Baguio and La Trinidad, Benguet.

Under the traditional concept, the children and youth, instead of learning about the environment inside the classroom, go directly where the water cycle happens which is the Busol Watershed.

With most highly urbanized cities like Baguio battling to save their remaining green patches, this child-oriented environment learning project is keeping the hope that critical forests can be saved, and more communities and local government units are now inspired to replicate the program.

A year after its inception, Eco-Walk received the 1993 Gawad Oscar Florendo national award from the Public Relations Organization of the Philippines. Three years later, the program also received the 1996 Galing Pook national award as one of the country’s most innovative and effective local government programs. The award was handled by the Asian Institute of Management and the Local Government Academy of the Department of the Interior and Local Government and is supported by Ford Foundation.

A decade later, Eco-Walk received its greatest recognition so far from the United Nations through the Global 500 Roll of Honour Award for Environmental Achievement during the International World Earth Day celebration in Shenzhen, China in 2002.

Apart from having a stake in the future, the young people are now often the most targeted population of environmental awareness and education of the DENR simply because they have access to information. This can be ascribed to formal education already found in schools, colleges, and universities through courses devoted to environmental studies in the fields of science and to available multimedia channels in the digital era.

To provide environmental education and to engage the youth in its advocacies, the DENR employs traditional, digital strategies and a combination of both.

“Dalaw Turo” or school and/or community visit is among the most common social marketing and mobilization strategies of the DENR to reach out to the youth. It is an innovative, non-traditional, non-formal, and a participatory educational approach which promotes environmental messages. In this approach, speakers do not merely conduct lectures. They make use of multimedia learning materials and various activities to engage the participants such as role play, games, ecological tours, and on-the-spot contests, among other strategies.

To better reach out to the youth at the grassroots level, especially those in rural communities, the DENR conducts People’s Day and environmental youth summits. The People’s Day has a forum format. The participants identify environmental problems, concerns, and queries in their communities, which DENR personnel will have to address. On the other hand, youth summits are an opportune time for young leaders to share their best practices related to environmental protection and learn from others’ initiatives and experiences. These activities provide a venue for an interactive exchange of ideas which creates a sense of belonging, thus, establishing meaningful relationships between the DENR and the stakeholders.

It may be old-fashioned, but the DENR cannot abandon its traditional ways of providing environmental education. Especially in a region where urbanization is not all-inclusive that some young people still do not have access or only have limited access to the Internet, reaching out to the grassroots through interpersonal communication strategies is still an effective option.

Apart from the traditional ways, the DENR has begun exploring the potential of digital media to complement its advocacy efforts. Digital media, particularly social media, bolster DENR’s outreach efforts by providing information and key messages to more people rapidly at a lower cost. It also enables the public to initiate or contribute to participatory dialogue about environmental issues; collaborate on programs, projects and activities; and allows them to communicate with the DENR through online private conversations.

On April 24, the DENR had the national launch of the “Tayo ang kalikasan” movement in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte. The movement envisions to generally brand all environmental programs, projects, and activities under the theme, “Tayo ang kalikasan.” With a #TayoAngKalikasan hashtag, the key theme is indexed by social media networks and becomes searchable and discoverable by netizens. This will help draw attention and promote best practices in environmental preservation, protection, and management.

Overall, DENR’s strategy in providing environmental education and in enhancing the effectiveness of its initiatives in this new age of advocacy is the integration or combination of offline and online approaches.

In the digital and post-millennial era, while technologies may have the tendency to distance people from societal issues, they can also be a powerful tool for spreading a breadth of knowledge. But despite the growing population, the DENR recognizes that digital advocacy cannot be used in isolation, but rather, should augment the traditional social change efforts to adapt to the changing demands of our rapidly evolving society, especially the millennials and the Generation Z.

Reaching out to communities to mobilize the youth -- Community youth leaders from five barangays in Tuba, Benguet participate in a youth environmental leadership summit which provided them a venue to raise environmental issues and concerns in their villages, and to plan corresponding actions to resolve, or if not, to abate the problems with the support of the DENR-CAR. -- Giovani Joy Fontanilla



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