• Charles Farrugia

16. Aim Six – Protecting His ‘Gremxula’

{Note: I relate best to the topic I am dealing with, when I refer to my own experiences. So please bear with me and my reminiscences.}

In my school days, Environmental Studies did not exist as a subject on the syllabus. The nearest things we had were Geography and Nature Studies. In Geography, we studied the countries belonging to the British Empire, which has seized to exist. In Nature Studies, we studied (but not really learnt) about the animals that live in the Yorkshire Dales. We hardly learnt anything about the Maltese Islands’ fora and fauna. We learnt that Everest is the highest mountain, and that the White Nile joins the Blue Nile to form the longest river on earth: but I could not figure out about the white and blue bits.

Then in 1968 came the Club of Rome to illuminate those who would listen about the problems in the ozone layer. The Club also alerted people about global warming, pollution, plastic poisoning of the seas, energy use, biodiversity and fossil fuels. Today, these have become household terms. Currently, my grandchildren monitor the family’s carbon impact index, while Greta Thunberg snubs President Trump, and Pope Francis laments the destruction of the Amazon forests. Environmental Studies have come a long way, and rightly so.

What is Environmental Studies?

To me, Environmental Studies is not just a subject on school syllabi. It is a state of mind. It is the way people interact with the habitat, with nature around them. Do they contribute to its enhancement or do they unnecessarily add to its destruction? Do they conserve its precious resources or do they deplete them recklessly?

I will borrow one of the better definitions of Environmental Studies from Science Direct (2020): Earth Systems and Environmental Science. It states: “Environmental Education is a holistic, lifelong learning process directed at creating responsible citizens who explore and identify environmental issues, engage in problem solving, and take action effectively to improve the environment.”

This is a good definition, but too generic and needs to be translated into a tangible form for parents’, teachers’ and students’ use. To infuse students with the environmental spirit, I suggest the following two actions:

First, students can examine environmental issues by applying the Scientific Method to seek valid and relevant information. Thus, they will become aware that the reduction of vehicles on the roads during the Covid-19 pandemic led to a 50% reduction in air pollution in Malta. Consequently, shouldn’t we consider greater use of public transport, bicycle use and walking, instead of jumping into ever more powerful SUVs to travel even short distances?

Students should be aware that one single cruise ship in Grand Harbour generates air pollution as much as Sliema, Gzira and Msida put together. Therefore, we must insist that the authorities should balance the benefits of tourism income with the medical demerits of higher respiratory diseases, asthma and cancer.

Naturally, students’ awareness will extend to the wider world. They can learn to sift critically through information churned out by governments and big companies that hide the real facts about their role in destroying the planet. From the positive aspects, students will encourage members of their families to be more environmentally friendly, to visit and appreciate Futura 2000 sites and possibly join environmental NGOs.

Second, students, with teachers’ and parental guidance can explore how to adopt and implement the Reuse, Reduce and Recycle mantra.

There are so many excellent publications on how to apply the RE-Cycle, that I will be presumptuous to try to improve on them here. A search on the internet will boggle your mind.

What about Geography and Nature Study? Environmental Studies adopt a multi-disciplinary approach and consequently the contents of these two subjects are absorbed and dealt with realistically in the wider context. If we wish to survive, our children need to learn how to look after our planet.

Preserving the Private Lizard – a true story

Ms D. a fellow teacher and dear friend, was busily teaching her six-year old pupils when one of the boys yield out “Pawlu is playing with his gremxula (lizard)”. Children that age love telling on their companions.

Not wishing the creature to frighten or disturb the other pupils, Ms D. asked Pawlu to give her his lizard. Pawlu just stared at her. The teacher insisted with greater emphasis while the boy’s eyes widened further. Exasperated, Ms D. said: “Pawlu, give me your gremxula so I will throw it out of the window.” The boy broke in tears and inconsolable sobs. Ms D. thought it best to drop the subject especially as the offending creature did not make an appearance.

Just before the start of the afternoon session (then from 2.00 to 4.00 pm), Pawlu’s mother sought out Ms D. and explained that the villagers referred to little boys’ private parts as ‘il-gremxxula’ (the lizard). The two ladies had a good laugh and that was that. But can you imagine what went through poor Pawlu’s mind when his teacher demanded he give her his private part to throw out of the window!

Note: Now that I have dealt with what I regard the main six Aims in Education, this will be the last blog in the series for the time being.

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