Village-level Documentation and Transmission of Local Environmental Knowledge using online communication tools, Solomon Islands
An urgent task often facing educational systems in developing parts of the world is how to devise reconceptualized plans for environmentally-oriented studies so that knowledge which is locally relevant and economically important - as a foundation for a diverse rural subsistence economy - is communicated across the hitherto widening gaps between village realities and school curricula.
Summary: The Marovo Lagoon is one of the world’s largest coral reef lagoons, covering about 700 square kilometres, formed by a double chain of raised barrier reef islands, and backed by a chain of high, rainforested volcanic islands. The Marovo area has a population of about 11,000 people living in dispersed villages. Located in the Western Province of the South Pacific nation of Solomon Islands, it is internationally recognized as an area of extraordinary biological and cultural diversity.
Similar to other Pacific islands, it faces a range of environmental threats, which have been addressed by a range of conservationist NGOs through largely unsuccessful projects. Threats include increasing exploitation of near and offshore marine resources, the logging of forests and their replacement with commercial plantations, sedimentation and tourism development.
Since September 2005 the multilingual UNESCO publication, Reef and Rainforest: An Environmental Encyclopedia of Marovo Lagoon, has been employed in a series of intensive activities involving educational institutions in Solomon Islands, with its author, Dr. Edvard Hviding, as project leader.
The Encyclopedia was envisaged by the LINKS programme, Dr. Hviding and the Solomon Islands Ministry of Education as a starting point for a process whereby students in village primary and secondary schools, rural vocational training centres and provincial secondary schools, throughout the area in the Western Solomons where the Marovo language is spoken as the primary language, could be actively involved in the bridging of generations, knowledges, languages and places by carrying out assignments of environmental knowledge documentation as part of their ongoing school work.
The objective of the project is not to implement classical environmental awareness programs in schools (an element many comparable projects include) but to redesign content across the curriculum to incorporate knowledge systems which are seriously endangered today and have been repeatedly recognized as having crucial ramifications for biodiversity conservation in these sites of global significance. Hence, the project serves as a practical demonstration and testing of the role of educational material in vernacular language for fostering the transmission and development of indigenous environmental knowledge through dialogue across generations, from a primary anchorage in the school system that highlights the connections between local knowledge and science.
The strength of this approach was demonstrated during one of its early pilot exercises held at schools in the Marovo Lagoon area. The exercise produced a total of 211 Marovo-language assignments written by students ranging in age from 8 to 16, an estimated 90% of whom had never before written a substantial text in their own vernacular language.
Over the course of these initial project activities, a range of indigenous knowledge about environmental phenomena in the Marovo area was documented in written form for the first time. This applies, for example, to some truly fascinating student assignments about different species of fruit bats, certain little-known medicinal plants, the culturally central Canarium nut tree, the elusive but culturally significant sea mammal dugong (Dugong dugon), and other topics not covered in detail or indeed missing altogether from the Encyclopedia. At the same time, teachers and village elders pointed to the immediate effect of the Encyclopedia as a source of example, inspiration and cultural pride.
While the Encyclopedia is anchored in the Marovo language (as well as two other languages spoken in the wider Marovo Lagoon area, Hoava and Vangunu), the book and the experiences of the exercise has led to further support for expansion of the general model into several other major language areas of the Western Province.
During the most recent phase of the project, emphasis is being placed on the use of the internet as a tool through which to promote and stimulate the transmission of local knowledge. With the support of UNESCO’s sector for Communication and Information, a series of intensive training and networking events have been under way in Marovo Lagoon since October 2010 involving school teachers and local communities, the Ministry of Education – as well as Dr. Hviding.
Central to the ongoing work is the development of online educational resources that are locally-accessible and in the Marovo language Based on the wiki-format, these resources are designed to allow users to easily modify and add content in the form of text as well as images and video. Using a wiki-based online edition of the Encyclopedia and associated lesson plans, teachers and students in Marovo communities are able to work in their own language to moderate, improve and expand educational content relating to local knowledge of local environments. The work will continue throughout 2011, with follow-up training events scheduled for February and April.
Marovo Lagoon is ideally suited as a pilot site for the use of online resources relating to local knowledge, as wide areas within the lagoon are covered by a wireless network through which schools are able to access the internet. Likewise, several schools in Marovo Lagoon have taken part in the international “One Laptop per Child” project, which has placed basic laptops with networking facilities and built-in cameras in the hands of students and teachers.
It is the expectation that the lesson pans being produced under the project will be uploaded on UNESCO’s new Open Educational Resources (OER) platform, which will offer selected UNESCO publications as OERs and allow communities of practice including teachers, learners, and education professionals to freely copy, adapt, and share their resources.
Ongoing work on the project is jointly funded by UNESCO’s Sector for Communication and Information and the LINKS programme of the Sector for Natural Sciences. Additional support has been provided by the University of Bergen, the Government of Norway (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Commission for UNESCO), and the Government of Solomon Islands (National Commission for UNESCO, Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development, and Western Province Government). In addition, the project interacts with other ongoing initiatives in Marovo Lagoon, such as the One Laptop per Child project.