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Ecological Education: Improving the relationship between people and nature

29 February 2012

Photo Credits: javeriana.edu.co

Angela R. Amarillo-Suárez

Assuming that education is a key vehicle for the formation and transmission of culture, values and beliefs, one challenge imposed on us as educators is to nourish a ‘new type of human being,’ committed to improving the human relationship with the natural environment.  This objective involves working on several fronts.

First is the formation of a new type of professional.  Ecological problems are more complex than we usually consider.  This complexity involves people as part of ecosystems, and profoundly changing – faster than ever before – their structure, functioning, and evolution.  Understanding these complex processes and solving environmental problems require multi- and inter-disciplinary approaches.  There follows the need to form ecologists who have a solid understanding of the biological and ecological aspects of biodiversity and also possess relevant competence in other areas such as engineering, economics, politics, anthropology, religion and ethics: all this to understand better the relationships among these fields.

In the light of this conviction, our undergraduate programme in Ecology at the   Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia aims to train competent professionals not only with the ability to understand natural systems, but also their interaction with social systems.  These are professionals who are leaders and who can bring a multi-disciplinary approach to address and solve environmental problems.  It is important that they recognize the wisdom and the need for interaction with professionals from other fields of knowledge.

The second aim is to train people in the ethics of conservation, in the sustainable use of nature, and about changed patterns of consumption.  As academics, we must disseminate our knowledge not only through books and journals which only reach our peers, but must spread scientific knowledge in areas accessed by the general public, such as mass media and the Internet.  This practice builds up what some experts call “environmentally useful knowledge.”  We also should promote discussion among ordinary people issues related to environmental ethics: overconsumption, the economy, mining, overpopulation, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics, and other concerns.

The idea behind all science is to produce knowledge: to honor the “truth” and the human desire to know.  We cannot remain aloof from the impact that our knowledge generates for the political, economic, social, and imaginative well-being of human communities.  That is why the general public, decision makers, and political leaders must see in us a group of people who, on the basis of the rights and responsibility that accrue to them by their knowledge and expertise, can help to develop alternative lifestyles that are consistent with the conservation of nature and a sustainable use of resources.  Our practice must therefore be accompanied by activities that enable us to stay in contact with a range of social actors, so as to promote a new form of interaction between human beings and nature.

Angela R. Amarillo-Suárez. Photo Credits: uky.edu

Dr Angela R. Amarillo-Suárez is director of the Ecology Curriculum at the Faculty of Environmental and Rural Studies at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Bogota.  She also works as an assistant professor at the Ecology and Territory Department .  Her research focuses on evolutionary ecology, biogeography and conservation. For further information, you may visit her website.

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