1st Prize, Teacher Category, "Making a Difference" Essay Contest, 2010
By Anthony Itodo Samuel
February 9, 2011
Anthony Itodo Samuel is a mathematics teacher at MaryMount College II, in Agbor, Nigeria. He is teaching there for a year as part of the National Youth Service Corps.
His hobbies include reading detective novels, watching detective movies, and writing (poetry, essays and short stories). As a member of Junior Chamber International (JCI), he strongly believes that "service to humanity is the best work of life."
Essay Question: How would you improve your school so that it prepares future leaders to protect the planet?
CHANGING STUDENT ATTITUDES AND PROMOTING ACTIVE YOUTH PARTICIPATION IN ENVIRONMENTAL
Often when I travel by road in a vehicle, this scene plays out: Passengers eat food items and hastily, without a second thought, hurl the waste through the window of the moving vehicle (usually polythene, cans, plastic bottles, etc.).
I eat bananas and keep the peels; I take oranges and the waste stays with me; I drink a Coke and the can stays with me. A "good" passenger often volunteers to help me hurl the waste through the window, but I decline. I gather the waste into a polythene bag and place it on the floor of the vehicle or in my bag until I can find a waste bin for proper disposal. Passengers look at me with bewilderment and I can hear them say in their hearts, What is wrong with him? But I have an almost sacred kind of respect for the environment!
Individually, in our respective houses we don't dump refuse in our rooms. No! It is inappropriate. However, the roads are not our rooms, they are "bushes," they are "outside," they "don't matter." That is the attitude of many Nigerians toward the environment.
A STUDENT, THE ENVIRONMENT AND ME: A SCHOOL SCENE
The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is a scheme in Nigeria that mandates graduates of tertiary institutions to serve the country for one year. Corp members are posted to various areas by the government, about 80 percent of them to rural areas and a further 90 percent or more of that to secondary schools as teachers. Presently I am a mathematics teacher under the scheme, with Marymount College Agbor.
Once at school a student from my class walked by drinking a sachet of water. I watched her, waiting to see how she would dispose of the sachet when done. She did not disappoint me. As soon as she was done, she hurled it like a basketball over an imaginary hoop, straight into the nearby flowers. Then she strode away like she had just won a Nobel Prize for Peace. Immediately I stopped her. Where did you drop that? She looked at me askance. What was wrong with her choice of refuse bin, she obviously wondered. "Do you know where the refuse bins in the school are?" I asked. She identified three of them for me. Then I asked her to pick up the sachet and go dispose of it properly. She picked it up, after a rigorous search, and said, "But sir, it was not even showing."
Yes, improperly disposed waste may not be "showing" to make the environment unsightly, but the unseen consequences are far reaching. The next day I spotted the same student voluntarily picking up sachets and taking them to the refuse bin-an attitudinal change, the beginning of environmental consciousness and revolution among young students, putting a premium on the long-term protection of our immediate environment and the planet at large.
AS A TEACHER, WHAT CAN I DO?
Teachers owe it as a responsibility to society to educate students in all ramifications, to model their own lives, and to show them the appropriate paths to undertake. As teachers our jurisdiction goes beyond the syllabus: We need to ensure our students are found worthy in both character and learning.
I belong to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Awareness Creation (MAC) Volunteer Group of the NYSC. During my one-year national service period, as a member of this volunteer group, I am expected to facilitate progress toward attainment of the MDGs in my immediate community. For convenience and due to personal interest, I have undertaken to facilitate attainment of the following goals:
Goal One: "To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger," through the stimulation of student interest in agriculture via the Farmers Club of my school; by initiating a communication network between my group and other corps members in other communities and relevant agricultural and rural development agencies. This will provide information for farmers on productive agricultural practices and improve market access for rural farmers.
Goal Three: "Empower women and promote gender equality," through the initiation of computer literacy for some of my students, who are all girls. This program aims to expose them to the use of computers and the internet for basic research to access relevant information.
Goal Seven: "Ensure environmental sustainability," through the use of an "Earth Club" as a platform with programs designed to address three challenges which I have identified with respect to the sustainability of our environment:
- A lack of awareness of the consequences of treating the environment without respect.
- An attitudinal nonchalance with respect to our environment and planet.
- A lack of participation of youths in environmental sustainability movements.
THE EARTH CLUB: A PRACTICAL FRAMEWORK FOR ADDRESSING YOUTH ATTITUDES AND ALLOWING PARTICIPATION
To set the framework for attitudinal change, I founded the Earth Club at the end of this past term, thus proper functioning of the club commences in January 2011. At Marymount College, students belong to different clubs (Science Club, Literary Club, Farmers Club, etc.) and meet in groups every Wednesday. Similarly, members of the Earth Club will meet weekly to discuss environmental issues, and to fashion modalities for educating fellow students on environmental consciousness and enlisting their participation in the sustainable environment movement.
The programs I have outlined for the club include:
- Paper Presentations: Students of the clubs will carry out research on environmental issues and make presentations weekly during meetings for the benefit of other students. For example, research on the impact of certain practices, like uncontrolled waste burning, on the environment and human and animal life can be carried out. By allowing students to do research and make presentations, an environmental consciousness is engendered in the researcher and the student population. Students would be mandated to take turns with presentations so that all students are actively involved.
- Plant-a-Tree Project: Students would be mandated to plant a tree or flower within the school and nurture it. Such initiatives will make them play active roles toward ensuring environmental sustainability. If a student plants a tree he is less likely to destroy one in the future.
- Weekly Publications: As part of my community development project, I am empowering the press club of the school, via computer training and provision of my laptop and printer for press club activity use. Through the Press Club, members of the Earth Club can publish their research weekly on the notice boards for other students to read. Contributing articles will make students become more responsible to our planet.
- Keep the Environment Clean Rallies: Rallies will be carried out from time to time on Fridays, when school activities are at a low, to enlighten students on the need to protect the environment and the consequences of failing to do so. Rallies will involve the use of banners, stickers, singing, and dancing to attract students, and picking up of improperly disposed waste within the school premises.
- Debates, Quizzes, and Talk Shows: These are an exciting way of stimulating student interest and as well communicating messages. Two debates would be held during each 4-month term. Weekly quizzes would be held during meetings while a talk show will be arranged on radio or TV, where students would discuss environmental issues and try to encourage the general populace toward an attitudinal change with respect to environmental issues.
- Rewarding Excellence: To encourage students to care more for our immediate environment, via the framework of the Earth Club, recommendations would be made to the school authorities to publicly reward outstanding students, with respect to environmental sustainability, at the end of each term.
The school setup is a viable tool in nurturing future leaders who are more responsible to their immediate environment in particular and to our planet in general. By forming an environmental club, the Earth Club in Marymount College Agbor, I intend to address the challenges of environmental sustainability: a lack of awareness of the consequences of harmful environmental practices, attitudinal nonchalance of young people toward the environment, and a lack of youth environmental consciousness and active participation. With appropriately tailored content, as highlighted in this essay, we can be certain of raising a group of youth who are willing to protect our planet.
This contest was part of the Council's second annual SEPTEMBER SUSTAINABILITY MONTH, which kicked off a year of events and resources on sustainability. Generous funding of the Carnegie Council's 2010-2011 sustainability programming has been provided by Hewlett-Packard and by Booz & Company.