Heighten green sense in colleges, experts urge

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Questioning accepted wisdom is necessary for the youth to take environmental protection further ahead

A farmer pulls out dying rice plants from a salt water-hit rice field at Ben Tre Province's Que Dien Commune

Awareness of environmental protection should be improved in higher education institutions so that dominant belief systems can be challenged and countered, experts recommended in Ho Chi Minh City July 21.

This would also enable the forging of stronger links between institutional research and application of environmental technologies, they said at a conference which opened that same day.

More than 150 scientists and scholars from 13 countries have gathered in HCMC for a three-day conference that aims to raise awareness of the need for protecting the environment through higher education and improving cooperation between different stakeholders.

The event, jointly held by Hoa Sen (Lotus) University in HCMC and An Giang University, included seminars in HCMC and An Giang Province that discussed the environmental situation in Vietnam, the role of education and the connection between schools, institutions, businesses and communities in protecting the environment.

"Issues of environmental protection have moved from being the private affair of experts and specialized agencies to being a burning concern for any concerned citizen, particularly in developing countries which, as in Vietnam, have developed at lightning speed, creating numerous environmental concerns which have escaped our control," said Bui Xuan Phuong, President of Hoa Sen University.

"HCMC and neighboring provinces have experienced rapid development which has harmed the environment in different ways. The public is indignant about companies violating regulations for industrial waste treatment," she said.

More than awareness

Phuong and other local and foreign experts called for improving awareness of environmental protection through higher education and contributed various ways to bring this idea into action.

Professor Don Adams of the Florida Atlantic State University in the US said environmental awareness could be improved through humanities classrooms by challenging of theoretical assumptions.

"Those who have been raised and trained in the cultures and traditions of Western civilization have to learn to think in a different manner about the relationship of the individual to the environment.

"This change in thinking concerning the individual and the environment is best taught in the humanities classroom, where it is most appropriate to discuss and critique cultural and societal habits of thought," he said.

Prof. Herbert Covert of the University of Colorado urged better training in natural sciences at high schools and higher levels.

"One of the major challenges facing university education reform in Vietnam is moving from a fixed undergraduate curriculum to one that allows students to choose from an array of courses within a major. This would allow a much wider range of specialty training within a given major."

He cited the example of biological sciences in which a student could take a series of courses that would focus on a specific issue like the legal framework for environmental protection, conservation, and protected areas of Vietnam, biodiversity monitoring and survey techniques, the flora, the fauna and emerging technologies for biodiversity conservation.

Lecturer Nguyen Thuy Lan Chi of Ton Duc Thang University in HCMC said raising environmental protection awareness through higher education would encourage students to be a spontaneous force in improving community awareness.

A recent study conducted by Chi and her colleagues Nguyen Thi Mai Linh and Hoang Khanh Hoa from the Institute for Tropical Technology and Environmental Protection found new organizational and operational modes of environmental communication would spark greater initiative and enthusiasm among students for environmental protection.

"Environmental protection awareness among students is relatively high at 73 percent, and 60 percent of students in Ho Chi Minh City are eager to be involved in environmental communication. Thus, student-based programs for higher public awareness of environmental protection are practical and have potential," Chi said.

Alternative sources

Speakers at the conference also said that research by higher education institutions into environmentally-friendly technologies should receive top priority.

Bui Xuan An, associate professor at Hoa Sen University, said better development of alternative energy sources was the best way to reduce pollution and achieve sustainable development.

"Vietnam has already applied technology in using biogas generated from livestock excrement for household cooking. There should be a new technology to generate electricity from biogas with the increasing number of large livestock farms (in the country).

"More alternative energy sources should be researched and applied through strong connections between local and foreign researchers, managers and enterprises," An said.

Tran Duc Vi of the National University of Singapore also called for the development of technologies using alternative energy sources, specifically solar energy.

"One of the most technical challenges in the 21st century is to protect the environment in a sustainable manner while continuing economic growth. However, the generation of a new source of energy that is economically viable and without impact on the environment is a challenge."

"One of the promising solutions is the usage of renewable energies like solar, wind and biomass to supplement the conventional but non-renewable fossil fuels. Among these renewable energies, solar energy is becoming increasingly an important source of energy for many countries and it is currently growing rapidly worldwide,' he said.

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