Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Application of instructional technology to enhance the environmental education in malaysia

Increasingly complex global and regional developments and lifestyle patterns have posed greater challenges to achieve sustainable development. Consequently, the environmental management sectors are facing serious challenges in the course of ensuring acceptable standards of environmental quality. More pollution and limited sources for human survival are posing higher risks for not only the present generation but also, most importantly, the future generations. Improper management of natural resources is also a threat towards a very important element of the environment - biodiversity. Therefore, education on environmental elements is essential for each level of citizens to promote sustainable development in every sector. However, the younger generations need to be made more familiar not only to the current environmental issues but also to the techniques, at least the basic tools, available in environmental decision-making support systems. Such exposure and understanding should not only prepare them with the latest technology on natural resource management but also with the sophisticated and accurate methods of making decisions to ensure sustainable development. A few recommendations are made in this paper for the enhancement of environmental education through formal and informal instructional tools.

By: Abdullah-Al-Mamun, Zalin Amir, Amlir Ayat


Instructional technology (InsTech) is defined in various ways in the literature. To put simply, InsTech can be defined as the use of communication media and tools to help people learn.  Instructional technology, which is a part and parcel of the modern pedagogy, involves theory and practice of design, development, utilization, management and evaluation of processes and resources for learning (Seels & Richey, 1994). In 1960s, audiovisual media such as radio, television, film, slides, filmstrips and audio recordings were the main technologies in education industries. From 1980s the focus had shifted dramatically to computer-based technologies (Heinich et al., 2002). However, the purpose of the instructional tools remains same, which is to enhance the teaching and learning process at various levels of life. Today’s instructional technologies are very dynamic and continuously growing with the advancement of computer and communication systems to solve educational challenges. These technologies not only help disseminate knowledge from various disciplines to the recipients but also help reduce total educational costs of a modern institute or nation in various ways (e.g. through on-line education). Few instruction tools allow the students to interact with the expatriates of specific subjects, even if they are stationed at opposite ends of the globe. Huge amount of virtual resources are accessible through the InsTech tools. However, these tools can differ depending on the subject matter. This paper mainly focused on the instructional technologies to utilize the educational resources (human and non-human) for the enhancement of environmental education (EE) at various levels of the formal and informal education in Malaysia.

The United Nations’ Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED-1992) in Rio de Janeiro can be considered as a global blueprint for environmental actions towards sustainable development for this millennium (Susan et al., 2005). Chapter 36 of the Agenda 21 prepared in Rio stresses that education, including formal education, public awareness and training, should be recognised as a process by which human beings and societies can reach their fullest potential. Education is critical for achieving environmental and ethical awareness, values and attitudes, skills and behaviour consistent with sustainable development and for effective public participation in decision-making. Both formal and non-formal educations are indispensable to changing people’s attitude so that they have the capacity to assess and address their sustainable development concerns.


According to UNESCO (Palmer, 1998), environmental education (EE) can be defined as, "A learning process that increases people's knowledge and awareness about the environment and associated challenges, develops the necessary skills and expertise to address the challenges, and fosters attitudes, motivations, and commitments to make informed decisions and take responsible action". Many of the anthropogenic environmental problems occur due to lack of environmental education and awareness among the citizens. Proper EE can heighten the level of affection among the people to take care of the surrounding environments and natural resources.

The most widely used definition of sustainable development (SD) is gathered from the Brundtland Report (UN, 1987), which states that it is a process of developing land, cities, business, communities and so on that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Therefore, EE is essential towards the achievement of sustainable development. Without continued environmental education process, sustainable development is impossible to achieve. Experience has shown that the best solutions come from involving people in decision-making and managing their own local natural resources. In such a process, people not only learn about their physical surroundings but also share their perceptions, knowledge and interests to explore the solutions and options to solve environmental problems. One of the main objectives of EE is to improve the quality of life minimizing the impact on the nature. The definitions given suggest that environmental education for the SD is a very broad term and can occur at many different levels of life. In the formal education scene, it can be implemented at various steps or courses.


The term “EE” was widely accepted in the developed nations as an educational field in the 1970s, as an offshoot of the detrimental effects of physical development involving uncontrolled or uncoordinated use of environmental resources. Although the Department of Environment (DOE) established the Environmental Act in 1974, it was only the late 1980’s when the Ministry of Education took a major stride in gradually integrating sustainability and environmental agenda into the system beginning with the primary level education in Malaysia. Currently, environmental concerns related to various natural resources, including water, have been incorporated into the system in different subjects in both the primary and secondary levels throughout the country. In the informal sector, EE is also contributed by the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other private sectors. However, there is lack of integration of modern instructional technologies into the existing formal and informal education systems of the country.


Various instructional technologies are emerging and expanding in the developed nations. Due to lack of human resources and to achieve maximum benefit within the limited time frame, InsTech is getting popularity in the developed countries. The main challenge against the widespread application of InsTech for environmental education is affordability of the tools. The tools are also subjective for the different sectors of EE, e.g. biodiversity, water resources, biology, marine science, biotechnology, biochemistry, air pollution, soil contamination, global warming, climate change, etc. Most of the modern InsTech tools require sound infrastructure and computer resources facilities. The most common instructional technologies could be used in the environmental education are virtual resources centres, computer models, geographical information system (GIS), images, expert systems, remote sensing, web TVs, video conferencing, e-portfolios, informatics, database, animation, SMS, 3G communication, etc. Few of the tools are expensive for the developing nations. However, arrangements should be made to make use of the instructional tools to achieve greater global environmental benefit for the future generations.


Information and communication technology (ICT) is a part and parcel for the proper use of InsTech in education system. Compared to other fast developing countries in the world, facilities for the ICT are very impressive in Malaysia.  However, its integration with the InsTech to increase the levels of environmental education and awareness among students is still inadequate. The following instructional technologies could be used to increase the level of environmental awareness among various levels of recipients in the country.
Virtual Resources
Although textbooks are still part and parcel of the education system these are static and not easily customized to different students and classes and, thus, fail to adequately interact among different disciplines (Huang, 2005). Virtual resources, which is the most common form of media that can be utilized as InsTech to complement text books and make the environmental education attractive to the students. It includes virtual libraries at local, state, national and global levels. This is the cheapest way to share and disseminate huge amount of information among the learning community. Rich virtual resources in terms of texts, images, and audio-visual materials should be made available to the students. The students can make use of this technology at any time provided they have access to the computers. The teacher should not only search the virtual sources and make available to the students but also, most importantly, facilitate the process i.e. enabling them to do so. The most common example of such sources is the web sites of local and international department of environments (DOE). Malaysian DOE with the help of the Ministry of Education NGOs can develop and maintain rich web-based virtual EE resources. The beauty of the web-based virtual recourses is that the same resource can be shared around the globe.

Computer Models
This is a very strong tool to simulate the environmental phenomenon, which helps student realize and understand the consequence of human activities on the nature. Computer models of various levels of complexities are available from different sources. However, free models from open sources (public domain) should be given priority for the widespread dissemination of knowledge on environmental modelling. Reliability of the software from the public domains (e.g. US EPA) is quite acceptable except that some of them are not user-friendly enough. However, the local experts can link the software with graphical tools (DOE, 2004) to make the environmental software attractive to the students. Inclusion of environmental modelling in the curriculum on global warming, ecology, soil, water and air pollution would encourage the students appreciate the importance of biodiversity and other environmental elements for our survival. Many of the environmental software (e.g. SMS, SWMM) are able to exhibit dynamic simulation or changes of environment, which help students visualise the near real process in a detailed manner. There is an acute shortage of environmental modellers in the country. Inclusion of computer models in the curriculum will increase the confidence and value of the students in the job market. A list of web sites that contain useful open source environmental models and software is given in Table 1.

Table 1:   A few websites for free environmental software and computer models
No. Web Site

Informatics is comparatively a new tool in the education sector. Activities in the field of computer science applied to environmental research and protection are defined as Environmental Informatics (EI). The EI community continually addresses new and challenging topics in the interface between the fields of informatics and environmental sciences. Significance progress is achieved in the European countries in the filed of informatics. The knowledge and experienced gathered are shared for sustainable development of the society.  In future, environmental informatics will continue striving to enhance environmental knowledge by linking key research topics, promoting scientific collaboration and education and developing new ways of communicating information among the technical community, policy and decision makers, and the general public (Pillmann et al., 2006). Therefore, the general learning community in Malaysia also should be familiar with the informatics and lead to maintain a regional environmental informatics for ASEAN countries.

Expert Systems
It is a very strong tool for study and modelling of complex environmental systems, which involve interaction of experts from various disciplines and may require handling huge amount of data. The system also can employ modern techniques, such as Fuzzy Logic, to take decision based on various interlinked triggering conditions (Fleming et al., 2006). Young students may not need to understand what Fuzzy Logic is or how to develop expert systems but they should, at least, get familiar with the objectives, scopes and applications of such useful environmental tools.

Field trips and data collection are integral parts of environmental education and assessment process. Data acquisition is one of the costliest elements of environmental management. Government and private agencies, such as DOE, DID, Biotechnology Directorate, MMS, Forestry Department, Fisheries Department, MARDI, etc. collect significant amount of environmental data every year. Ministry of Education, in collaboration with other agencies, may take initiative to collect the data from all national agencies to build a virtual database. The students and teachers can make use of the data for various environmental analyses, simulation, prediction and decision-making. The students also should be made known about the global environmental database (e.g. GEMS at available in the net and other sources. Global database is very essential for the simulation and prediction of global warming and climate changes. A strong database also helps students to study the long-term historical trend of the environmental changes in the region.

Virtual Sampling and Testing
Environmental studies and monitoring require substantial amount of sampling and testing. Digital video documentaries on how to conduct sampling and testing (Huang, 2005) would ease the pressure on budget for the practical classes in the schools. In some cases virtual media can be the only feasible option to teach a large number of students about special topics, for instance, study of biodiversity in deep Ocean. Real-field sampling and testing (e.g. sampling for aquatic biodiversity) involve, to some extent, disturbance or destruction of the existing ecology, which can be significantly minimised with the introduction of virtual sampling and testing. Many of the laboratory experiments involve use of toxic chemicals, which can be minimised through virtual labs. By virtue of such digital materials (Ryan, 2002) students can master themselves (through shadow practice) before embark for the real practical assignments.

Pictorial information retains longer time in human memory than textual information. Therefore, images or pictures have more impact on cognition process. Satellite images and aerial photo will help students realize and analyse the extent and impact of environmental degradation over a region. Images of good resolutions also can easily guide the students in identifying the areas with environmental problems, which could not be achieved from a ground trip. An example is given in Figure 1, where the learners can easily visualise the extent of polluted river in a river system.

Information from the images is more critical for many specialised fields such as, environmental applications of biotechnology, microbiology and nanotechnology. Application of bio and nano-materials (in powder form) is an emerging technology for water and wastewater treatment. Studies of such topics require acquisition of images through costly equipments (e.g. transmission electron microscope) for better understanding of the processes. Without such images (Figure 2) complete dissemination of information and understanding may not take place. Dynamic or progressive images would be highly appreciated by the learners to grasp the total process in micro or nano-environment. In order to achieve the target of being an active nation in biotechnology, such images should be integral part of today’s instructional technologies in Malaysia. The young learners should know the basics of micro and macro environment to appreciate the importance of biodiversity. Inclusion of various types of images in the instructional tolls shall play very important role to achieve this target.

Geographical Information System (GIS)
GIS tools are often being used in various countries for environmental simulation (Pecar-Ilic & Ruzic, 2006). Malaysian government agencies are also required to use GIS for various environmental studies (DOE, 2004; DID, 2006). GIS can not only facilitate the students how to use layers of information for environmental management and study their effects but also be used to contextualise learning environment (Idrus & Atan, 2003). Instructions with the aid of GIS can demonstrate the students about the impact of different activities on the specific environment. A very simplistic way of presenting various layers of information in GIS is shown in Figure 3. Computer models (e.g. BASINS, SWMM, Infoworks, etc.) can read data from each layer and simulate the impact on the target environmental elements. As the GIS software is costly, the authority and institutions can make arrangements for network version of the software to share among the students.

Web-based portfolios are new instructional technology in the teaching and learning arena. A significant change is likely to occur in portfolio pedagogy as the systems and people are moving from traditional paper portfolios to electronic portfolio (Kimball, 2005). This technology will motivate and help the learners to be self-improving through the culture of continuous learning and assessment. E-portfolio can also be used to evaluate and assess student’s continued effort to improve his/her learning a particular topic (Joharry, 2006). The implementation of InsTech through e-portfolio is often highly appreciated by the students as they can build their own web page very easily and they can see their knowledge growing in the net.

Almost every household in Malaysia has a Television, which is more affordable than a computer. People spend a good amount of time at home, watching TV. Thus, this electronic media could be used to increase the environmental awareness of various levels of citizens by telecasting interactive environmental programs. A lecture on important environmental issue can be delivered and discussions can be continued among the facilitator and recipients through telephone, email and other available communication media. In the near future the web-TV may take control over the conventional TV and web-TV can be used as a effective media to disseminate information to the people in a more interactive way.

Video Conferencing
With the help of such instructional technology the students can communicate on-line to share their views with the expatriates around the globe. Such exercise can help improve student’s communication and critical thinking skills. Inter-institute debate or conferencing on environmental issues might be common culture in the teaching-learning method.

Short Messaging System (SMS)
Mobile phones have outnumbered computers due to its affordability and handiness. Although not a usual way to educate people, SMS could be used as informal instructional method to increase the environmental awareness among the citizen. In collaboration with the relevant governmental organisations, the cell-phone service providers can distribute informative messages at various times of the days to alert the people about special environmental issues or even environmental awareness messages. For instance, people could be reminded in the morning and evening about the importance of water conservation when they are most likely to use water for washing purposes. People often pollute the environment due to ignorance. Routine reminder through SMS would increase the environmental awareness among the public. Such free messaging service was voluntarily provided by one of the local telecommunication company to alert subscribers about the game scores during world cup 2006. Why not similar service could be used as instructional tool for public education?

3G Communications
Rich people afford to avail more resources and they also pollute or waste more. Latest products of communication technology (e.g. 3G mobile systems) are mostly maintained by the affluent public. Similar to the SMS, 3G service providers also can deliver information on how the rich people can help protect and conserve the environment by minimising wastage and funding for community level environmental services.

Group e-mail
Knowledge and experience sharing through e-mail presents a broad and useful prospect for the students to see a larger picture of the environment they are living in. In catchment management, for example, students gain more information than they can normally gather in such limited time about the sources of water pollution by knowing what happens upstream from other students living there. Group discussion or on-line chatting can increase the critical analysis power of the learners to solve the environmental problems.

Big tele-screens at public places can be used to increase the environmental awareness of the general people. Large screens at the stadiums, cinema halls, concert places and any national events could be used to disseminate information on how biodiversity is important us and why should we conserve natural resources, especially, water which is essential for all living beings.

Many of these methods are also applicable for public education. Although a quantitative evaluation of their effectiveness has not been thoroughly studied, many experts believe that the results are very positive especially in allowing the participants to gain clearer understanding of the local environmental issues. Many of the instructional tools can be implemented first in the 90 smart schools (Hanizar et al., 2005) of Malaysia, where the ICT facilities are relatively better.

Ignorance is one of the main reasons why people continue misuse natural resources and pollute the environment. Increased environmental awareness among all levels of population is necessary to safeguard the environment and move towards sustainable development. Limited traditional textbook oriented environmental education could not improve the quality of EE in Malaysia. Various ICT based instructional technologies discussed in this paper would make environmental education in Malaysia more attractive, interactive and accessible for the learners of all levels. The students can keep pace with the latest tools of environmental management techniques through the application of instructional tools such as, modelling, GIS, remote sensing, etc. The institutes and organisations involved in environmental education can build virtual resources for database, images, laboratories, libraries, informatics, video conferencing, etc. to provide students and public unlimited access to the information they need. Environmental awareness of the general public can be increased through the use of media such as cinema, radio, television, tele-screens, SMS, etc. Implementation of such formal and informal instructional technologies (InsTech) is expected to increase the confidence and problem solving capability of the learners, get the them familiar with the latest tools and technologies to study and solve environmental problems, increase value of the students in the industry and increase public education and awareness as well.

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