Connecting Students with Special Needs to the Environment
There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon and received with wonder or pity or love or dread, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day… or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
In the poem by Walt Whitman, everything a child sees or learns becomes a part of him, which in turn will shape his perceptions on things around him.
When students with learning disabilities from S.M.K Bukit Baru / Special Education participated in the field trip to the Turtle Information Centre Melaka as part of the Eco-Schools Melaka programme, they went home happy as a clam.
“I’m pleased to learn about turtle conservation. Now I can share the knowledge with my family and friends. If I see people eating turtle eggs, I will tell them that turtles are lovely and they need to be protected,” said Fareha Mohd Isa in all honesty. The gleam in her eyes proves that field trip such as this allows her to experience a more holistic learning process.
Typical classroom settings are not always the most conducive learning arrangement for students with autism or special needs. Being outdoor allows students to excel in ways they normally do not when learning in a classroom (Cooper, 2012). Outdoor learning encourages students to utilise all their senses, which will lead to increased independence for the students.
The Eco-Schools programme (ESP) encourages outdoor learning as it helps bridge the gap between knowledge and hands-on experience. Before the special needs students participated in the trip to turtle centre, the topic was initially introduced in the classroom. Some had never seen a real turtle, so using their imagination, they were asked to creatively colour and decorate pictures of turtle.
At the centre, as they watched the real life creature in total excitement, WWF-Malaysia’s marine team briefed the students about turtle and our conservation work on the species. The success of the programme without a doubt relies on the hard work of the teachers as well. They play an important role to inspire and connect the students with nature and lead their communities towards a sustainable future.
As the National Operator of the programme, WWF-Malaysia urges all schools including special education schools to adopt the ESP. It combines learning with hands-on experiences, runs according to an all-inclusive, real-life problem solving method involving students of different background and capacity, teachers and the local community at large.
The programme advocates young people to engage in their environment by giving them the opportunity to actively solve environmental problem that they are a part of it. It combines both indoor and outdoor education, which begins in the classroom and school compound, eventually expands to the whole school, before fostering changes in the society they live in.
Furthermore, under the Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) by UNESCO, the foundation of the programme itself is “learning by doing” as it aims to empower people to undertake responsibility for creating a sustainable future by utilising the diversity represented by all people – including those who have been or feel marginalised.
WWF-Malaysia thanks our partner Green Growth Asia for their hard work in getting schools in Melaka to register for the Eco-Schools programme. As we recently celebrated Learning Disabilities Awareness month as well the Malaysian Environmental Week, let us shine a light on connecting students with special needs to nature through outdoor education.
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About Eco-Schools Programme
Eco-Schools Programme (ESP) is the largest sustainable schools programme in the world, participated by more than 11 million students from over 60 countries. WWF-Malaysia has been the National Operator for this programme since 2011. We have more than 170 schools registered with us and 8 Internationally-recognised Green Flag awards have been given out so far. More than 30 silver and bronze awards have also been given to schools that have demonstrated active efforts in sustainability.
Cooper, G. (2012, Summer 4). Outdoor learning, environment and sustainability. Environmental Education, 100, 28(4).
For more information, please contact:
Sr Communications Officer of Education for Sustainable Development Programme, WWF-Malaysia
Tel: +603-7450 3773
Chew Pei Jing (Jessie)
Education Manager, Eco-Schools Programme, WWF-Malaysia
Tel: +603-7450 3773