Enhancing Education for Sustainable Development at Hong Kong Wetland Park

By Anonymous

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Education for Sustainable Development

3. Hong Kong Wetland Park

4. Challenges to Promoting ESD in HKWP

5. Recommendations for Teachers and HKWP

6. Concluding Remarks

7. References

8. Key Terms and Definitions

9. About the Author

1. Introduction

The Hong Kong Wetland Park (HKWP) displays biodiversity of the local wetland ecosystem to raise public awareness about wetland conservation and environment protection. The government considers HKWP as a facility for ecotourism, conservation, and education. The Park has a significant influence on environmental education, delivering over 700 guided tours to about 170,000 students just in 2014-2015 alone (HKWP, 2016a). This aim of this entry is to review some of the HKWP’s facilities from the angle of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) using Vare and Scott’s (2007) framework about teaching knowledge (ESD1) and skills (ESD2) in ESD.  The entry then argues that teachers’ adaptation of existing educational resources and HKWP’s advancement are crucial to harness the Park’s ESD potential to encourage social awareness, lifelong learning, and personal responsibility.

2. Education for Sustainable Development

The UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.7 indicates that countries should ‘ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development’ (United Nations (UN), 2016a). Education is ‘indispensable to changing people’s attitudes so that they have the capacity to assess and address their sustainable development concerns’ (UN, 1993, Chapter 36). On this front, HKWP provides informal environmental education through engaging visitors in activities, with the following educational objectives (HKWP, 2016f):

  • to demonstrate the diversity of Hong Kong's wetland ecosystem and highlight the need to conserve it; and
  • to provide opportunities for education and public awareness.

In the formal education context, the Education Bureau (EDB) suggests schools develop ESD in three aspects: “awareness”, “action” and “attitudes” (EDB, 2010, p.2). “Awareness” concerns learners’ knowledge and skills of the environment. “Action” refers to the educational processes where learners make contact with nature. “Attitudes” involve the ‘values and judgement that affect behaviour’ (Curriculum Development Council (CDC), 1999, p.4). Site visit is a popular informal educational activity which complements formal learning about the three aspects (Guevara, 2009; CDC, 1999), and HKWP can thus supplement formal education with its habitats and educational resources (Guevara, 2009). Although not stated, HKWP's objectives and EDB's notion both contribute to SDGs 13 and 15, which aim for an improved awareness about and subsequent conservation actions for climate change, natural habitats, biodiversity as well as land and water ecosystems (UN, 2016b, 2016c). HKWP’s contribution to formal education and SDGs could be enhanced through implementing ESD with a more holistic view that does not only recognise “prescribed knowledge” (Sterling, 2004, p. 70) but also treasures what each learner ‘bring[s] to the learning experience’ (p. 70) such as rethinking and challenging existing social structures, educational values and public policies. 

Similarly, Vare and Scott (2007) observed that policymakers and government departments tend to focus on expert knowledge and prescribed actions instead of the need to promote learning as an outcome itself to achieve sustainability. To redress the balance, they suggest an ESD framework with two complementary approaches, ESD1 and ESD2. ESD1 promotes behavourial and cognitive changes informed by expert knowledge among the non-expert public for clearly defined sustainable issues (Vare & Scott, 2007). It considers learning as a means to acquire necessary knowledge and abilities to achieve sustainable development – learning for sustainable development (Vare & Scott, 2007). ESD2 promotes critical thinking about expert knowledge, and examining the ideas and contradictions relating to sustainable development (Vare & Scott, 2007). It considers learning an outcome in order to cope with the perpetually changing society and environment – learning as sustainable development (Vare & Scott, 2007). ESD1 and ESD2 are complementary to each other not only for promoting normative actions but also critically analysing and negotiating such actions. ESD1 combined with ESD2 could promotes open-end and lifelong learning in addition to prescribed knowledge and practical skills (Hopkins & McKeown, 2002).

3. Hong Kong Wetland Park

HKWP comprises a 10 ,00m2 visitor centre and a 60-hectare Wetland Reserve (the floor plan of Visitor Centre is at Figure 1 and the map of Wetland Reserve at Figure 2), and provides a diversity of educational programmes for different target groups.

Figure 1  Floor plan of Visitor Centre (HKWP, 2016c)

Figure 1 Floor plan of Visitor Centre (HKWP, 2016c)

Figure 2  Map of Wetland Reserve (HKWP, 2016d)

Figure 2 Map of Wetland Reserve (HKWP, 2016d)

The Wetland Reserve mainly includes habitats for waterbirds, such as mangroves, waterstreams and fishponds, with numerous walking paths and educational signage for visitors' access. The Visitor Centre includes themed exhibition galleries. Examples of HKWP’s educational facilities are (HKWP, 2016b, 2016h):

  • Wetlands at Work - the living fields display the origins of common agricultural products in daily life;
  • Stream Walk - it demonstrates a re-created stream habitat with an upland stream, middle reaches and an open water, with signs, specimen and replicas which introduce the local wildlife;
  • Mangrove Boardwalk - visitors can walk on floating boards to take a close look at the plants and animals inhabiting the mangroves, with introductory signs nearby;
  • Human Culture Gallery - visitors could play interactive games on-screen, watch videos and view exhibition displays to discover how wetland and natural resources are depicted and used in different cultures; and
  • Wetland Challenge Gallery - visitors could join a make-believe television centre that explores issues on wetland conservation along an imaginary river, discovering environmental threats due to human activities in the role of a reporter.

HKWP also provides educational programmes targeting students, teachers, and the general public. According to HKWP’s (2016e) website, visitors could “learn about the knowledge on wetlands in a vivid way, and appreciate the beauty of different wetland wildlife” (para. 1) through the activities and teaching resources also available online. On-site programmes include public lectures, guided visits, park ranger training, and teachers’ workshops while out-reach programmes include educational talks and lending educational display panels to schools (HKWP, 2016e). The types of programmes and their objectives are summarised in Table 1 (HKWP, 2016e).

Screenshot (419).png
Screenshot (420).png
Table 1  Educational Programmes at HKWP

Table 1 Educational Programmes at HKWP

4. Challenges to Promoting ESD in HKWP

To borrow from the Audit Commission’s (2011) words, HKWP might have conflicting practices ‘as a conservation, education and tourism facility’ (p.11), where the facilities may not be consistent with the knowledge and notions it promotes in terms of ESD1. One example is the vending machines advertising and selling bottled drinks while the exhibitions in the Visitor Centre emphasise the harm caused by relying on such products. Furthermore, most electronic displays and spotlights in the exhibitions function and use power even when there are no visitors viewing them, in contradiction to the Wetland Challenge Gallery focus on wetland conservation and reducing electricity use. Learners could be confused by the hidden assumptions demonstrated through such conflicting practices.

Furthermore, most exhibitions and educational programmes follow a limited, ESD1 approach, which presents scientific knowledge and technical solutions and actions to be pursued by individuals (Sterling, 2004; Vare & Scott, 2007). For example, the “Too Much from the Wild” section in Wetland Challenge Gallery displays various household products that exploit wetland resources and asks learners to change their daily behaviours (HKWP, 2016g). Such an arrangement might ignore other important human factors, however, such as ‘quality of life’ or ‘social need’ concerns (Robottom, 1983, p. 29). After all, sustainability cannot be achieved only through environment protection, as it is intertwined with other domains such as social justice, cultural diversity, and economic viability (UNESCO, 2014). Besides, while personal choices might make a difference to the existing environmental problems, they should not be reduced to only personal responsibility (Maniates, 2001). Exhibitions and programmes with ESD2 elements would enable learners to critically reflect on the knowledge and recommendations HKWP promotes and ‘make sound choices in the face of the inherent complexity and uncertainty of the future’ (Vare & Scott, 2007, p. 194).

Most educational programmes and Park facilities engage learners through observation and listening - learners are expected to consume knowledge about the environment. However, learners also need to go beyond the roles of bystanders and receivers of environmental knowledge to develop respect for and reflection on human life’s influence and interaction with nature (Fien, 1993). After all, they should not have the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude towards the environment after leaving HKWP. Fundamentally, a more engaging experience could harness the “action” and “attitudes” aspects suggested by EDB (2010) and serve as a foreground for reflecting on environment-related issues such as politics and economy (Gruenewald, 2003). In this connection, new initatives with ESD2 elements should enable learners ‘to continue learning after they leave school’ (Hopkins & McKeown, 2002, p.19), motivating a kind of lifelong learning that ‘involves issues that affect all, both young and old, … throughout life’ (Trorey, Cullingford, & Cooper, 1999, p. 195).

5. Recommendations for Teachers and HKWP

First, HKWP could organise regular inventory and exchange sessions such as meetings between learners and the Park management for discussion on the Park’s facilities and programmes which are related to the ESD1 knowledge and values. Learners could have the opportunities ‘to think critically and feel empowered to take responsibility’ (Vare & Scott, 2007, p. 194) through reviewing the elements of ESD1 in HKWP.  Furthermore, they could develop social and political literacy through discussing the practical limitations with the staff and even lobbying for recommendations, which are crucial elements for ESD2 (Trorey et al., 1999). HKWP could also encourage reflection on ‘what the sustainability lobby and government are telling [learners] to do’ (Vare & Scott, 2007, p. 196).

Second, to engage learners in long-term environment protection, HKWP could enhance its educational programmes with civic ecology practices requiring commitment of participants, advocacy, and social interaction, treating learning as an active process (Hogan, 2002; Boullion & Gomez, 2001). HKWP could allow more visitors to participate in the farming and maintenance work, for example, so that visitors taking the role of farmers and park rangers could reflect on the dilemmas in sustainable living and try innovative solutions (Beltram, Gerjevic, & Kebe, 2009; Vare & Scott, 2007), such as selecting pesticides and removing invasive species (Krasny, Lundholm, Shava, Lee, & Kobori, 2013). Aligned with social learning, structured educational activities where experienced staff and novice learners interact in a community of practice could provide scaffolding for learners to grow from ‘an observer … to a full or skilled participant’ (Krasny et al., 2013, p. 642). Such skilled participants then could make informed choices and innovations through recognising personal responsibility and necessary risks (Elliot, 1998).

HKWP and schools could more generally cooperate to enhance a volunteer programme to promote lifelong and life-wide responsibilities at different levels. ‘[ESD] brings together all the learning that a person does throughout life, in both formal and informal settings’ (Clarke, 2012, p. 34) and ‘volunteering and community involvement are … necessary’ (Trorey et al., 1999, p. 202). While participants receive professional training at HKWP, schools could provide such ESD2 experiences as debating and organising recycling and other ecological campaigns and activities in neighbourhoods, considering that ‘school grounds are … an excellent starting point’ (Trorey et al., 1999, 208) for nurturing lifelong commitment to environmental protection and recognition of citizenship.

6. Concluding Remarks

This entry serves to elaborate some possible pathways for enhancing both ESD1 and ESD2 through the HKWP. These recommendations may meet with some practical and technical barriers, however, as HKWP may need a culture of change in its established practices and staff literacy about ESD (Gough & Scott, 2001). Teachers of a particular subject may also be challenged by new initiatives which require collaboration across various subjects (Gough & Scott, 2001). While there is no universal solution for all, as Trorey et al. (1999) put it, the success of ESD lies ‘in the nature of personal commitment, and belief in its importance’ (p. 209). To this end, both teachers and HKWP may need to keep reflecting and innovating to ensure ESD is well in place in formal, informal, and lifelong learning.

7. References

Audit Commission. (2011). Report No. 57 of the Director of Audit: Management of the Hong Kong Wetland Park. Retrieved December 23, 2016, from http://www.aud.gov.hk/pdf_e/e57ch06.pdf

Beltram, G., Gerjevic, V. D., & Kebe L. (2009). Young People Acting for the Wise Use of Karst Wetlands in Slovenia. In P. B. Corcoran & P. M. Osano (Eds.), Young People, Education, and Sustainable Development: Exploring Principles, Perspectives, and Praxis (pp. 309-314). Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.

Boullion, L. M., & Gomez, L. M. (2001). Connecting School and Community with Science Learning: Real World Problems and School-Community Partnerships as Contextual Scaffolds. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38, 878-898.

Clarke, P. (2012). Education for Sustainability: Becoming Naturally Smart. London: Routledge.

Education Bureau (EDB). (2010). Education for Sustainable Development in Hong Kong Schools (EPSC Paper 08/10). Hong Kong: EDB.

Elliott, J. (1998). The Curriculum Experiment: Meeting the Challenge of Social Change. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Fien, J. (1993). Education for the Environment: Critical Curriculum Theorising and Environmental Education. Geelonng: Deakin University.

Gough, S. R., & Scott, W. A. H. (2001). Curriculum Development and Sustainable Development: Practices, Institutions and Literacies. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 33(2), 137-152. Doi: 10.1080/00131850120040528

Gruenewald, D. (2003). The Best of Both Worlds: A Critical Pedagogy of Place. Educational Researcher, 32(4), 3-12.

Guevara, J. (2009). Embedding Formal Education within the Contexts of Non-formal Education for Lifelong Learning and Sustainable Development. In P. F. Geinare (Ed.), Recent Trends in Life Long Education (pp. 101-110). New York: Nova Science Publishers.

CDC. (1999). The Guidelines on Environmental Education in Schools. Hong Kong: Education Department.

Hong Kong Wetland Park (HKWP). (2016a). Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department Report (2014-2015): Nature Conservation. Retrieved December 23, 2016, from http://www.afcd.gov.hk/misc/download/annualreport2015/en/nature.html

Hong Kong Wetland Park (HKWP). (2016b). Exhibitions. Retrieved December 23, 2016, from http://www.wetlandpark.gov.hk/en/exhibition/vc_index.asp

Hong Kong Wetland Park (HKWP). (2016c) Map of Visitor Centre. Retrieved December 23, 2016, from http://www.wetlandpark.gov.hk/images/wcms/HKWP-Indoor-Map_en.pdf

Hong Kong Wetland Park (HKWP). (2016d). Map of Wetland Reserve. Retrieved December 23, 2016, from http://www.wetlandpark.gov.hk/images/wcms/HKWP-Outdoor-Map_en.pdf

Hong Kong Wetland Park (HKWP). (2016e). Learning at Wetland. Retrieved December 23, 2016, from http://wetlandpark.gov.hk/en/education/learning_at_wetlands.asp

Hong Kong Wetland Park (HKWP). (2016f). Mission and Objective. Retrieved December 23, 2016, from http://www.wetlandpark.gov.hk/en/aboutus/mission.asp

Hong Kong Wetland Park (HKWP). (2016g). Wetland Challenge. Retrieved December 23, 2016, from http://www.wetlandpark.gov.hk/en/exhibition/vc_challenge.asp

Hong Kong Wetland Park (HKWP). (2016h). Wetland Reserve. Retrieved December 23, 2016, from http://www.wetlandpark.gov.hk/en/exhibition/reserve_index.asp

Hogan, K. (2002). A Sociocultural Analysis of School and Community Setting as Sites for Developing Environmental Practitioners. Environmental Education Research, 8, 413-437.

Hopkins, C., & Mckeown, R. (1999). Education for Sustainable Development: An International Perspective. In D. Tilbury, R. B. Stevenson, J. Fien & D. Schreuder (Eds.), Education and Sustainability: Responding to a Global Challenge (pp 13-24). Gland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

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Sterling, S. (2004). The Learning of Ecology, or the Ecology of Learning? In W. Scott & S. Gough (eds.), Key Issues in Sustainable Development and Learning: A Critical Review. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Trorey, G., Cullingford, C., & Cooper, B. (1999) Lifelong Learning for a Sustainable Future. In P. Oliver (Ed.), Lifelong and Continuing Education: What is a Learning Society (pp 195-214). Brookfield: Ashgate/Arena.

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8. Key Terms and Definition

ESD1/ESD2: A complementary set of approaches to ESD which stresses the importance of both knowledge and skills for sustainable development.

Wetland: A land area seasonally or permanently saturated with fresh or saltwater, forming a distinctive ecosystem with high biodiversity.

Civic Ecology: A field of study that focuses on the relationship about public participation and its effects in environmental protection.

About the Author


MEd, The University of Hong Kong

Email: esdhku@gmail.com