In 2019, we were part of a female-led team of scientists and engineers who participated in the National Geographic Society's "Sea to Source: Ganges" river expedition -- a two-part expedition of the Ganges River that mobilized a global community of experts to use scientific research and education to help increase our understanding of plastic waste, motivate communities and seek creative solutions to curb the issue. As part of the "Sea to Source: Ganges" expedition, researchers from the National Geographic Society, University of Dhaka and Wildlife Institute of India formed an education team that developed and conducted three education programs at three Bangladesh sites (Bhola, Chandpur and Rajbari) during October and November of 2019. The WildTeam and the Isabela Foundation were implementing partners of these education programs.
The primary objectives of the education programmes were to develop students' understanding of the increasing generation of mismanaged plastic waste and identify the connection between people, plastic, the Ganges River, and ultimately the ocean. Using unique digital education materials and active learning methods, the education programmes were designed to encourage local communities to be active participants in finding solutions to curb plastic waste. Through the programmes, teachers were encouraged to join "Teachers for Planet Earth", a network that guides learning around plastic waste for students who live alongside the Ganges.
The education programs arranged in three Bangladesh sites:
A total of 92 students in the 7th - 9th grades from three different schools, along with 29 teachers from 13 different schools, were present for the education programmes. Each education programme consisted of a 60-90 minute session that described the definitions for plastic, how it can be a problem and how we use can science to understand the problem. Our education team also showed students and teachers how to track litter using the Marine Debris Tracker (MDT) app and worked with participants to brainstorm ideas for combatting plastic pollution. During each session we had in-depth discussions about the lasting impact of plastic pollution and shared various perceptions regarding the issue as well.
Activities of Teachers for Planet Earth and the aftermath of these programs:
As a result of our efforts, a total of 29 teachers joined the "Teachers for Planet Earth" network and pledged to arrange education programs using National Geographic Society education resources. As members of the network, each of the teachers received a set of education materials to arrange an education program with 30 students at their own institutions. The teachers who joined the network downloaded the Marine Debris Tracker app, received soft copies of presentation slides, videos, and access to National Geographic Society online resources. As of April 2020, 15 teachers from eight schools already have arranged education programs in their schools reaching around 500 students. The remaining 14 teachers plan to arrange programmes at a later date.
Mr. Md. Emam Hasan Rubel and Mr. Habibur Rahman, the teachers of Dakhin Aslampur Mobarak Ali Dakhil Madrasah, took their programmes one step further by including a cleanup session to make the school premises free of plastic wrappers and other single-use plastics. As part of our program, a few teachers requested the headmasters to give a short speech addressing plastic usages during broader school assemblies.
Overall, participating teachers felt that the programmes were successful in improving students' knowledge about plastic pollution and enabling them to gather local knowledge for solutions to this problem. The students were also very enthusiastic about these programmes and mentioned that they learned a lot about the environment and how they can save the environment from plastic pollution with some simple behavioral changes. The students also pointed out they would love to attend more programmes involving environmental issues to broaden their knowledge.
In some cases, the impact of these programmes acted as a catalyst in changing the behavior of students. Ms. Ferdousi Akhter Bithi, a teacher of Kazi Hedayet Hossain Girls High School, shared that the programme made her students more aware of plastic pollution and motivated them to change their behaviors regarding plastic waste.
In summary, it appears that all the education programmes were successful in raising awareness among students and local communities regarding plastic pollution in, rivers, the ocean and our environment. Already 29 teachers and over 600 students have been reached through these education programmes during October 2019 to April 2020. Students' responses indicate that they are eager to learn more about environmental issues and responsible uses of plastic products. Finally, "Teachers for Planet Earth" has been recognized as a platform to stand together to protect the planet earth for you, me and our generations yet to come. We are hopeful that the Ministry of Education can adopt the education programme as one of their own and arrange similar programmes throughout the country to raise awareness about environmental pollution. It is time for our government to realize the importance of these education programmes and arrange these programmes as a form of mass education to maximize the impact.
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