Bambang M, Contributor/Yogyakarta
A group of kindergarten children looked delighted when activists from Hijau – Gerakan Peduli Lingkungan (Hijau-GPL), an non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Yogyakarta, took them to Samas Beach in Bantul to release baby lekang turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) to the sea.
They yelled loudly in excitement at the crawling turtles, encouraging them to reach the sea quickly. Earlier, they had received a short briefing about the turtle world, including the importance of conservation.
Surprisingly, these young children were very enthusiastic and asked many questions about turtles.
Hijau-GPL is one of a number of NGOs in the city that pay special attention to educating children about the environment and environmentally friendly behavior.
Other NGOs include Kelompok Pecinta Alam Fakultas Psikologi UGM (Palapsi), Earth Kids and Langkah Bocah.
They consider the move urgent because environmental education for children at both kindergartens and elementary schools is lacking in the country, despite its importance.
“”I do think it’s important to give children environmental education because the older they are the more difficult it will be to develop a concern for the environment,”” Demitria, head of the Early Childhood and Development Rescue Center (ECCD RC) kindergarten, whose pupils were among those taken to Samas Beach, said.
Purwo Madya Witono, a teacher at SD Bangunrejo I elementary school agreed, saying that environmental education in elementary schools has been given only token reference, as part of various subjects such as natural science and social science. That was insufficient, Purwo said.
Educational expert Ki Gunawan of Taman Siswa even blames such a lack of environmental education in elementary schools as the root of many problems related to the extensive damage of the country’s natural environment.
It is for this reason that NGOs like Hijau-GPL pay special attention to providing environmental education to preschool children. They visit kindergartens and elementary schools, offering outdoor programs that are designed to educate children about the importance of loving nature and preserving it.
“”Theory is not enough on its own. They (the children) need to learn directly from nature and implement directly environmentally friendly behavior there,”” M Panji Kusumah of Hijau – GPL said.
Besides taking kindergarten and elementary schoolchildren to the beach to release baby turtles to the sea the NGO also takes children on bird-watching visits to the slopes of nearby Mount Merapi.
At the end of a program, the children are invited to express themselves in whatever way they wish about their experience. Some express themselves through pictures or drawings, while others write poetry or stories.
Similar activities are also run by Earth Kids, whose motto is: Make the earth a better place in the future, together with children.
In June 2003, for example, they carried out an Earth Club pilot project at SD Muhammadiyah Blunyah Gede, in which the elementary schoolchildren were taught about plants, water and environmentally friendly attitudes.
“”The students were told about the importance of clean water, the color and function of leaves, etc.,”” Fitria, of Earth Kids said, adding that the same programs were also being held for third- and fourth-grade students of state-run SDN Nitikan II elementary school.
Palapsi, similarly, provides environmental education by taking children on nature-appreciation trips. Palapsi divides the children into groups, each of which is equipped with a camera with which to take pictures of any interesting natural objects they encounter.
By the end of the session, all the pictures are collected to make a series of stories. This is considered to be the introductory part of the educational program.
“”The next step is to build understanding followed by application in which the participating children are required to join a care-for-nature competition,”” Nungki Puspitasari of Palapsi said.
Children participating in such programs mostly show a positive response. Many of them even look forward to having the same experience in nature.
“”They always wonder when it will be their turn to study outside the classroom. They’re waiting in anticipation for such a precious experience,”” Purwo of SD Bangunrejo I said.
For children of that age, said Purwo, having the opportunity for nature study is very exciting. It’s mostly because such an occasion makes it possible for learning and play to go along side by side. As a result, learning becomes enjoyable.
“”By listening and seeing directly for themselves, it will be easier for them to understand the subject matter,”” said Panji of Hijau-GPL.
Yet, according to Fitri of Palapsi, not every elementary school teacher they met supported the implementation of such activities in their class.
“”Many of them agreed on the importance of environmental education for their students but were not interested in participating in the programs we offer,”” said Fitri.
Purwo also experienced the same thing, saying that he often encountered difficulties in taking students of other classes to join his outdoor learning activities because their classroom teachers refused to allow them to go.
“”Teachers who lack creativity have often been an obstacle for such a program,”” said Ki Gunawan.
Some schools, however, have shown full support for such a program. The ECCD RC Kindergarten is an example. It even plans to run the “”Green School”” program offered by Hijau-GPL.
This is aimed at creating an environmentally friendly school, both physically and spiritually. Via the program, the students are expected to imitate and implement the environmentally friendly behavior that they hear of and see at school.
What the NGOs have been doing in Yogyakarta is small in scale. Still, it deserves appreciation and support from concerned institutions, including the Ministry of National Education, especially at a time when environmental degradation has become a matter of great concern.