Words and photos courtesy of Dr. Martha Began Crawford
Part I. The Case of Lauren Pong’s Education for Sustainability
Lauren Pong, suited up in the photograph above is a first-generation American teenager whose parents are from China. During childhood, Lauren attended school in the U.S., Shanghai, China and Singapore. She graduated this June 2019 from Singapore American School, an independent, private, not-for-profit international school with an American curriculum; the school with which I am affiliated. Lauren opted to take rigorous science courses including advanced biology and chemistry in preparation for college. However, her schedule did not allow her to select the advanced topic environmental science and field research (ATES) course that I taught. Applying her love of both nature and service-learning led to Lauren’s involvement in urban farming while in grade 10 on Interim Semester in Singapore. Subsequently, Lauren officially applied to the Executive Service Council to create Edible Garden City service club at school. Lauren’s senior Catalyst project centered on our science department eco garden soil for planting vegetables.
In way of illustration, I will describe the most recent experience we have had together on Operation Wallacea Expedition last month. Lauren’s story will be used to highlight the value of experiential education on Lauren’s education.
Operation Wallacea Expedition one of Lauren’s many experiential learning endeavors.
Less than two weeks after her high school graduation, Lauren was among 12 students a friend, Tom and I sponsored on a two-week marine Operation Wallacea Expedition. In the coral triangle we were based on two marine stations on the islands of Buton and Hoga in southeast (SE) Sulawesi, Indonesia. Bau Bau on Buton and Hoga in the Wakatobi Marine Protected Area of the coral triangle are some of the most exciting places on the planet. More than two hundred academics from fifteen countries have engaged in hundreds of field research projects. Studies on fisheries, social science, seagrass, mangroves, fiddler crabs, coral ecology, fish ecology and invertebrate ecology are ongoing. Scientific results have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Thirty new vertebrate species have been scientifically discovered. Large temporal and spatial data obtained from tuition free funded model run by Operation Wallacea. Data are used to assess the performance of conservation management problems.
Lauren participated as an assistant in research easy to escalate to conservation strategies. Long-term assessment of ecosystem diversity and function is necessary to track changes over time according to temperature data. Monitoring ecosystem change while observing and learning about socio-economic change by Lauren and her peers was followed by establishment and monitoring of the effectiveness of conservation management programs. Conservation measures include the provision of alternative livelihoods for local fishermen, ecotourism, coral restoration work and seaweed farming.
Coral Reef Monitoring Protocols
Lauren learned new monitoring protocols including Coral Reef Atlas (partnership between National Geographic and Queensland). No global map of coral reefs currently exists. GPS, nano-satellites and real-time photographic evidence are being used to capture data for access to the public. Volunteers contribute to georeferenced photo quadrat data for map development.
On land and while scuba diving Lauren and her peers also engaged in the coral nursery research project, funded by Mars (the philanthropic candy bar family), called Mars Assisted Reef Restoration System (MAARS) by helping to deploy half-meter wide, coated metal “spider reefs” on which to attach 15 coral fragments each and then arranged in a viable pattern on the benthic surface according to wave shock and local topography. Benthic data for the monitoring program gathered by the kid citizen scientists included rugosity, coral coverage, fish surveys and invertebrate abundance and distribution along 50 meter transects.
As for service-learning, Lauren engaged in two beach clean ups one in Hoga and another on another deserted island out from Bau Bau which was strewn with plastic debris. She and her peers learned a standardized micro-plastics sampling technique for collecting and identifying marine microplastics.
Social contact with locals to have one-on-one discussions at the Bau Bau Station, and then pile into trucks, drive to the nearby beach, unload and then collaborate on the beach clean-up. Needless to say, everyone enjoyed taking selfies together. On the adjacent island to Hoga, Sempela, we took a boat over to meet the Bajo people. Lauren interacted with local Bajo children in the UNESCO World Heritage sea gypsy village.
What is next for Lauren?
Lauren researched her university choices as did her peers. As a result of Lauren’s love for the environment and passion for science, Lauren chose to apply to the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley. This spring she was accepted into the Conservation and Resource Studies major. Lauren is off to follow her dreams to study the environment in all its complexity. What motivates people to choose environmental careers? I have a hunch folks like Lauren are motivated by educational experiences in their teenage years to enter an environmental career (whether it be in coral reef management, renewable energy, environmental policy, conservation of ecosystems and endangered species, or waste minimization, and so forth). I worry that not enough teenagers like Lauren have the opportunity to engage in experiential learning, or fieldwork to learn and practice ecosystem monitoring techniques; or are being asked to engage in environmental service-learning in their communities. I wonder: Are enough young people today born after 2000, so called, generation Z challenged to learn by doing outdoors? Are they challenged to understand the intersectionality of economics, environmental science and society (human geography, health, technology, engineering, culture)? Are educational institutions preparing all students to understand the interdisciplinary nature of sustainable development, let alone participate in it?
Part II. Path to Develop Many Laurens
Education for Sustainability
Education for sustainability (EfS) is a blend of environmental science, community action and service leadership. The aim is to nurture and mobilize students to become global citizens grounded in science to build an equitable and sustainable world. Social science research has shown that one’s worldview forms in childhood due to a host of influences including family, cultural traditions, personal experiences and one’s primary and secondary education. If there is any chance for educational systems to have a positive influence on the development eco-centric worldviews needed to create sustainable development policies, then it is worth trying, now.
I believe it is crucial to target Generation Z (Gen Z) now with education for sustainability (EfS). The aim is to develop through experiential learning, and environmental fieldwork adults like Lauren who are poised and willing to engage in international discourse to address complex global issues using systems thinking. The question then becomes do particular educational institutes now provide adequate or any EfS? What might motivate an educational institution to place EfS in the core curriculum?
If educational leaders observe master education for sustainability educators at work, then, leaders will see the power of EfS pedagogy and that it may then be leveraged to empower students and build agency in them. But. . . what makes a master? Master EfS educators well-trained, caring adults to facilitate inquiry-based learning, oversee the acquisition of transferable skills, build cultural competence, develop character, nurture empathy, prompt students to care, spark creativity, deepen academic content knowledge and improve curriculum, instruction and change education all for the sake preparing young people to carry the sustainability torch? If there are not enough trained, caring teachers then we must do something concrete about that to assist in recruiting and retaining them.
Model Master Educators for Sustainability – A Reference Point
Veteran educators focused on their students’ learning about and taking action in the environment share in common “movement consciousness” (Stanton, Giles & Cruz, 1999, p. 243). Being active in the service of something they believe in, is morally compelling, joyful and politically exciting. Movement conscious educators believe students can be actively involved in contributing to the common good as a complement to their intellectual work. The focal point of educators is student learning; environmental science and EfS educators facilitate learning about sustainable development concepts, social justice and environmental science through environmental field and service activities connected to academic work. John Dewey wrote back in 1893:
If I were asked to name the most needed of all reforms in the spirit of education, I should say, cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life, and make it the full meaning of the present life.
Environmental science and interdisciplinary educators seem to live by Dewey’s sentiment. Creating experiential learning opportunities in communities while contributing to the common good is learning about the present life, in the present life, for the present life. Educational systems are transforming with Dewey’s ideal in mind, some faster than others. Education for sustainability is means of student development and a route to social change.
Through my doctoral research into the characteristics and practices of master service-learning educators, I have found effective educators are using design thinking, systems thinking and a personalized learning inquiry approach to prompt learners to question, investigate, prototype, create, reflect and demonstrate in order to develop their own agency, self-authorship, curiosity, and transferable skills. Effective educators contextualize knowledge, so it is coherent and non-disjointed, isolated or taught in a vacuum, as they help students acquire understanding of content knowledge. Environmental educators grounded in service and experiential learning pedagogy intentionally connect learning to real problems, global issues and experiences to make learning meaningful and tangible for students. Extending learning beyond the school, master teachers provide their students with access to experts and mentors, give opportunities for place-based insights into degraded and pristine marginalized populations and threatened species to conduct authentic needs analyses. Place-based learning avenues open pathways for young people to contribute to their communities and extend networks of civic support and learning.
Creating and providing opportunities for global educators and education will require thoughtful and purposeful leadership, the kind pioneered by top innovative educators worldwide today. We need to find our way. No. Learn our way towards creating integrated and intersectional environmental science curricula including cultural humility, community action and service-learning under the EfS umbrella. We need to continue to dialogue with community partners to advocate for EfS to foster elements of “Niswarth” (Not for Self, Andover, 2018), Gratitude, Empathy and Humility.
Empowering students like Lauren Pong to personalize and customize their own environmental service-learning experiences (such as tree-planting, nursery work, recycling, composting, urban farming, and so forth) allows them to weave connections between concepts learned about natural resource conservation, policy, worldviews, social change, and activism. Experiential education such as Lauren’s Operational Wallacea Expedition integrated with her rigorous academic learning leads ultimately to self-authorship. Self-authorship is evidence of adult-like maturity in young people; EfS will hone the ability to follow one’s own path and decide for one’s self. Excellent traits for the democratic process and civil engagement. Crucially, I have found the establishment of strong relationships with young people like Lauren via coaching, but never controlling is the most effective means of facilitating her and her peers to pursue their own learning and unleash their energy and intelligence for good.