Natural Education: Students learn to love nature in classroom and in cyberspace

When the teacher of Natural Science of Yerevan secondary school No. 1 Mania Tadevosyan calls for volunteers to answer lessons on the blackboard, almost all her students raise their hands.

Natural Science is a new subject in Armenian schools, included in the curriculum two years ago, as an additional subject for students to understand how the environment is important for humanity and people’s influence on it.

“Every time children are surprised by the fact that the majority of these or those changes in nature are the result of mankind’s impact,” says Tadevosyan.

In addition to class time, students take excursions to historical sites in Armenia where they learn their land and how to preserve it.

“We explain to students that our country is our home and we should take care of it. Students get anxious when they see the dirty territories of historical places,” says headmistress Lilia Vardgesyan.

The goal, the teacher says, is that the next generation “will not repeat the mistake of the previous one, as a result of which our nature has been damaged.”

It is a goal shared by about 90 environmentalists and education specialists of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia who gathered in Tbilisi last week for an international conference by the Regional Ecological Center (REC-Caucasus).

Participants of “Education for Sustainable Development” believe that destruction of nature will be stopped when people learn to respect it.

“During this phase of their development the Caucasus countries have not yet learned how to harmonize social, economic and ecological priorities,” says Karine Danelyan, president of the NGO “For Sustainable Human Development. “That is why we’ve ended up in such a serious situation today.”

Environmentalists claimed that positive economic changes registered during recent years in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan has been achieved at the expense of essential damage to the environment.

And this damage begins at least from last century.

For example, for some 20 years beginning in the 1930s Armenian industry annually cut 450,000 cubic meters of wood from the republic’s forests. Widespread deforestation was also a result of the economic blockade and an energy crisis of 1992-93. As the result, today Armenia is only 10 percent forests, while according to archeologists it used to be four times more.

And, before its recent recovery, Lake Sevan dropped 19 meters, beginning in 1933 when water was diverted for development of industrial, agricultural and energy sectors.

Specialists who met in the Georgian capital say the Caucasus is under threat of natural catastrophe due to abuse.

“In each country of the Caucasus the environmental situation is very serious, because you are in a place, where there are a lot of conflicts,” European Union independent representative of international advisory council Per Gahrton told Armenianow. “You had war, and forests have been destroyed by industry. There has not been enough money to take care of the environmental aspects’ development.

“Young and old people need to be educated, they need to understand that if they don’t stop these effects on the environment now, then they will have a very dangerous situation in the future.”

Yerevan State University scientist Alexander Yesayan presented the conference with his method of saving the environment – taking eco-education to cyber space.

“Virtual Biology” has recently been created by Armenian scientists for the ninth and tenth forms and has already been instilled into the computers of more than 1,000 schools in Armenia as an experiment.

“A negative attitude towards nature is formed just from the school as the content of the text-books is full of phrases difficult to learn, which is not interesting to children,” says Yesayan. “And usually they learn the lesson by heart without understanding.”

The author of the program says “Virtual Biology” makes ecology attractive to young students by teaching environmental responsibility through bright illustrations, pictures and entertaining tasks.

Yesayan is sure that by studying the virtual eco-system of the planet, children will love and preserve it in reality. He and others are hopeful his virtual colored biology will never become a subject about a nature that has disappeared.