Among the most pressing issues that need to be resolved in Cambodia are land rights, deforestation and conserving biodiversity,” said Chan Vichet, Save Cambodia’s Wildlife (SCW) program manager.
Over the last 10 months, Vichet has been overseeing a highly ambitious project: With financial support from the German NGO Johanniter, he has coordinated 20 international scientists in the development of a school atlas to help Cambodians aged 10 to 17 understand the complex relationships between environment, economic prosperity and sustainability – terms that are bandied around with increasing frequency but whose meaning and significance can be less than clear.
“A pilot project attempting to explain to secondary school children the changes in the environment will be launched in Bos Leav commune, in Kratie province’s Chitre Borei district, early in October,” Vichet told the Post this week.
With an initial printing of 300 atlases, the program hopes to teach 1,278 students.
To make sure that the 62 teachers in the pilot program know how to address the contents of the atlas, they will also receive a teachers’ guide and training. Also, against common practice in Cambodia, the schoolchildren will study the atlases interactively.
“Teachers and students alike will value the new insights gained by studying it,” Vichet said, pointing to the comprehensive graphic material in the School Atlas. Through visual representation, abstract problems such as deforestation become concretely understandable.
However easy to understand the maps in the School Atlas may be, the work that went into making them is highly complex.
Vast amounts of raw data from Open Development Cambodia, the Ministry of Land and the Ministry of Environment had to be gathered, grouped and analysed.
The content of the School Atlas has been taken and simplified from SCW’s 2013 Cambodia Atlas. Vichet said that boiling down such a large amount of content and making it understandable without sacrificing factual accuracy
was the most challenging part of the project.
If the test classes in the Kratie commune are successful, however, the School Atlas will go on to a second two-month test run in January 2015 – this time in four provinces.
Vichet hopes that with an increasing number of students having access to quality teaching material such as the SCW School Atlas, there will not only be a change in awareness for environmental issues but also a change in behaviour:
“We expect people to understand the consequences of their behaviour and then actively participate in conservation.”
The power to change things for the better comes with knowledge of what is wrong and an idea of how things would be better.
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