The world’s environmental problems are usually left to scientists and engineers to sort out, but an Arts student has shown philosophers have a role to play, too.
Philosophy MPhil Kathleen Ho Ka-yan spearheaded a project that took secondary school students into the natural environment, and asked them to think deeply about biological diversity, the human impact on the planet and how they can help.
Kathleen joined forces with two PhD students to plan the programme, Xoni Ma from the Kadoorie Institute and Li Pui-sze from the Faculty of Science. They also brought in 16 undergraduates who are studying Ecology and Biodiversity to assist during the full-day sessions.
From left: Ms Kathleen Ho, Mr Xoni Ma and Ms Li Pui-sze
“We wanted to create an experience where local high schools students came into contact with nature in a way they perhaps hadn’t had the opportunity to do before. We thought this could inspire them and make them aware of their own impact on the environment, and encourage them to take an interest in these issues,” she said.
The project, called “Take Action! Youth Biodiversity Conservation Leadership Training Scheme”, involved four full-day sessions that ran over several months in the spring for 64 Form 4-6 students from 16 local secondary schools. Each session tackled human interaction with the environment.
On the first day, the theme was “See the Perceptions”. Students played an empire-building game that resulted in heavy resource use and environmental impacts and they were asked to reflect on this. They then visited a country park to better understand the role that such green spaces play in Hong Kong. They learned how to identify plant species, and were given a take-home survey for their parents, teachers and classmates.
The second session, “See the Values”, involved a visit to Long Valley to learn about wetland biodiversity, and to Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve to learn about the differences between native forest and human planting. “One boy said it was chilling that it was so quiet in the middle of the forest. I found that fulfilling because he had noticed and had an emotional reaction to it,” Kathleen said.
Day three, “See the Problems”, covered overfishing and seafood consumption with a visit to a supermarket to survey the sources of seafood there. The students also visited Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve to consider the challenges of conservation on private land under Hong Kong law.
The final day, “See the Solutions”, involved a role-play debate using real life case studies of development projects in Hong Kong. Students argued different viewpoints, such as pro-development and proconservation, as well as that of residents in the area.
“Our message was that we are not here to give bitesized solutions to Hong Kong’s environmental problems. Instead, we want them to see how many obstacles there can be,” she said.
The students were required to come up with action plans for their schools. Most executed their plans, such as labelling tree species around the school, building a birdhouse from scrap, and negotiating with school management for more field trips.
The project received funding from the Student Knowledge Exchange Fund, and was mentored by Dr Alexandra Cook in the Department of Philosophy. It also had the support of The Conservancy Association and gained recognition from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department as a Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan - Public Awareness and Engagement event.
“I was struck by how the student’s attitude towards environmental conservation changed quite quickly with some help and a push from us. It made me think we should continue to provide this sort of education for the younger generation,” she said.
A ceremony was held on June 21, 2014 to celebrate the participants’ graduation as young leaders of local biodiversity conservation. During the event, several student groups presented their “School Biodiversity Conservation Plans” -- initiatives wholly designed and implemented by students to encourage conservation activities within their school area.