Special Course on Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia

ABE, Hirofumi; KONISHI, Miki

Rapid economic growth in Asia strongly affects the ecosystem and has engendered severe environmental problems. To recover from that damage and to realize a sustainable society, environmental experts of great activity are needed. The Graduate School of Environmental Science at Okayama University offers a “Special Course on Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia”, which is aimed at fostering environmental specialists who can take the lead globally in creating a sustainable society. This paper presents an overview of the graduate course, and survey results obtained by the participants. In conclusion, it provides summary and future perspectives of the course.

Background

In many developing countries in Asia, ongoing rapid economic development has brought about many environmental problems. In the near future, the situation is expected to become even worse. To overcome these issues, Asian countries must break away from the 20th century social model of “mass production, consumption, and disposal” and move to establishment of a sustainable society. In light of this situation, Japan has suggested the creation of a “sound material-cycle society” and has been struggling with environmental problems in Asia in cooperation with other countries.

Okayama University, which is committed to “building up a new paradigm for a sustainable world”, intensively, promotes research and education related to environmental science. Since 2007, Okayama University has also held a UNESCO Chair in “Research and Education for Sustainable Development”. The Graduate School of Environmental Science, established in April 2005, is designed to be an education and research center of environmental science in Asia. It is characterized by its interdisciplinary approach, which combines natural, social, cultural, and medical sciences on global level with special focus on Asia.

The graduate school has accomplished some innovative programs for contribution to creating a sustainable society. Based on these experiences, the “Human Resources Development for Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia” program (FY2008 - FY2010) was launched in 2008 with support from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) (cf. Figure 1). This paper presents the “Special Course on Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia” which was developed through the program.

Course Outline

The “Special Course of Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia” is an educational program offered for the graduate students at Graduate School of Environmental Science. It aims to foster human resources demonstrating international leadership in creating a sustainable society, especially in the Asia–Pacific region. This course is characterized by the integration of studies of the establishment of a sound material-cycle society and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). It consists mainly of three parts: lectures and seminars, “Practical theories on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)” and “Project Research” (cf. Figure 2). The enrollment, which comprised 14 graduate students in FY2009, rose to 22 as of FY2010, including seven foreign students from China, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. Over 20 professors have been involved in this course as supervisors.

In the “Special Course on Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia”, the existing lectures and seminars at Graduate School of Environmental Science were restructured for students’ systematic learning of theories of technology, planning, and policies on various environmental issues for creating a sustainable society, with specific emphasis on establishment of a sound material-cycle society.

“Practical Theories on ESD” are intended to raise students’ awareness of issues in contemporary society and to foster their motivation for better understanding and for taking action. In the lectures and workshops, which are conducted by extern ESD specialists, the students learn the concepts of ESD and its implementation at local, national, and international levels. In the workshop, the participants develop their own concepts of ESD projects together in groups. In addition, the students have opportunities for participating in regular video lectures on global issues such as climate change and biodiversity. This lecture is organized by the United Nations University and Asia Pacific Initiatives. The telecommunication system enables students from about 10 universities in the Asia–Pacific countries to share lectures and discussion together.

“Project Research” is intended to let the students expand the image of a sound material-cycle society in stages and to cultivate their practical capacity through their own experiences. Project Research encompasses three stages: on campus, in domestic areas, and in international fields. The first step at the university is designated mainly for preparation of the project, for instance, exercising experiments and literature research. These projects are then implemented in Japan and also in international fields. The themes range from urban transportation, atmospheric environments and agro-ecosystem, solid waste management, to desertification and land degradation. Projects are conducted in small groups under the direction and support of supervisors. For research projects undertaken at an international level, the participants have visited various countries in the Asia–Pacific region such as Thailand, Vietnam, China, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and also Palau.

The students can present their research projects at an “International Colloquium on Human Resources Development for Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia”, which is organized annually by the Graduate School of Environmental Science. Experts of partner universities in the Asia–Pacific region are invited, allowing students to exchange their knowledge and opinions. The research projects and their outcomes will be published in a report and will be uploaded on the web page of “Human Resource Development for Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia” both in English and in Japanese.

Survey results on “Special Course on Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia”

To examine learning efforts and competency development of the participants and to obtain feedback of the course, a questionnaire survey on the “Special Course on Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia” was executed. The respondents were 14 participants in FY 2009 and 18 students in FY 2010. The survey results revealed the fruitful learning efforts of the participants, especially in Research Projects. For instance, by visiting different fields and fostering discussions among numerous people, many students have come to recognize the similarities and differences on their research themes in each area in Japan and in foreign countries. According to self-evaluations conducted by the participants, competencies, such as those for recognizing and respecting various values for better cooperation, for having multi-faced perspectives and understand interrelationship of different aspects on environmental issues have improved well. In contrast, competency for exercising leadership in society has not developed much overall. Exercising leadership is a challenging matter. To improve leadership competency, the students require further training and experience during the courses and also after graduation from the university.
Results of satisfaction ratings showed that about 70% of the participants are somewhat satisfied or satisfied with courses and that they were mostly satisfied with research projects in the course curriculum. Foreign students were even more satisfied with the course than Japanese participants were. The participants were willing to use their experiences from the course in the future. After participation in the course, the students are also more motivated to contribute to creating a sustainable society as researchers, as engineers, and also as citizens. Some students also show a strong desire to contribute to environmental rehabilitation in Asia.

Conclusion and outlook

The “Special Course on Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia” at the Graduate School of Environmental Science enables students to deal with global environmental issues in a practical way. The course provides students good learning opportunities for acquisition of specialized knowledge and for development of their competencies for creating a sustainable future. In addition, through this course, the networks and relations among universities and research institutes in Asia–Pacific countries have been strengthened, which is expected to contribute to further cooperation and collaboration in research and education.

This course will be improved through assistance by comments from participants and organizers. Even after the end of the support from MEXT, it will be offered continuously from next year. We hope the “Special Course for Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia” works as a stepping stone to further experiences and competency development of the students, enabling them to be environmental specialists who are capable of acting beyond boundaries for the establishment of a sustainable world.



Figure 1: Background of the Special Course on Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia


Figure 2. Master’s Curriculum for Special Course on Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia

References

  • Graduate School of Environmental Science, Okayama University, Japan (2010), Human Resource Development on Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia – Proceedings of the International Colloquium on Human Resource Development for Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia.
  • Graduate School of Environmental Science, web page.
  • Human Resource Development for Environmental Rehabilitation in Asia, web page, available at: http://www.okayama-u.ac.jp/user/esd-asia/index_e.html (accessed 16. January 2011)
  • UNESCO Chair at Okayama University, web page, available at: http://esd.okayama-u.ac.jp/en/index.html (accessed 26. January 2011)

About the author

Professor Hirofumi Abe, Dr. Eng., is a specialist in the field of urban and regional planning. He is the Dean of the Graduate School of Environmental Science, Okayama University, Japan. In 2007, he was appointed as the Chair Holder of the UNESCO Chair on ESD at Okayama University.

Miki Konishi, Diplom-Päd., is a research assistant at Okayama University. She has worked in the field of environmental management at a Japanese company and has gathered theoretical and practical experience related to ESD at the Philipps-University in Marburg, Germany and the German UNESCO Commission in Bonn, Germany.

Partners

  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya
  • Ajuntament de Barcelona