Academic journal article Social Education

Environmental Awareness and Environmental Education in Myanmar

Academic journal article Social Education

Environmental Awareness and Environmental Education in Myanmar

Article excerpt

THE WORLDWIDE GROWTH in environmental awareness over the past thirty years has been accompanied by a parallel recognition of the need for environmental education (EE). Government policies concerning the environment and sustainable development are likely to both guide and depend for success upon the knowledge and support of the citizenry. This is true in Myanmar (formerly Burma), where interest in environmental education has become stronger over the past decade.

Myanmar faces environmental problems of critical importance to its development, and the need for more EE programs in its schools is urgent. Since an essential task in developing new educational programs is to assess "how" and "to what extent" existing efforts address fundamental issues, this article looks at the current state of environmental education in Myanmar. Its focus is on the nation's primary, schools because, while EE is taught as a co-curricular activity in middle and high schools, it is at the primary level that the most active initiatives in environmental education have taken place.

To set the framework for discussing environmental education in Myanmar, this article begins with a brief look at the environmental issues facing Myanmar and existing efforts at environmental conservation.

Environmental Issues in Myanmar

Deforestation is the major environmental problem in Myanmar, according to a 1995 report by the Ministry of Forestry. Although 75 percent of Myanmar was once well endowed with natural forest resources, by 1989, only 51 percent of the country remained covered by forests. Deforestation is a strong contributing factor to the dwindling biodiversity in tidal forests and elsewhere, although the illegal poaching of wild elephants for their tusks and the use of primitive methods for hunting birds are also having adverse effects.

The main reasons for deforestation are excessive cutting to make way for agriculture, and the increasing demand for fuel timber and non-wood forest products, such as orchids, bat guano, and cane. Although pollution problems in Myanmar are now limited to industrialized areas, the use of chemicals in agriculture is expected to increase them, as the government encourages double cropping to boost agricultural production.

As in other developing countries, Myanmar's environmental problems are linked to its growing population and its need for economic development. The population, increasing at an annual rate of 1.87 percent, was expected to reach about 49 million by the year 2000. The rapid deforestation is increasing human pressure on the environment and causing a breakdown in social customs. And, despite the relatively low level of industrialization, urban problems relating to health, sanitation, and housing already exist in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Mandalay, and other large cities.

Environmental Conservation in Myanmar

The history of environmental conservation in Myanmar dates from the last dynasty of Myanmar kings, who protected the teak forests and sanctuaries established by King Mindon in 1860. However, there was no central coordinating body for environmental matters before the creation of the National Commission for Environmental Affairs (NCEA) in 1990. This action followed the introduction of a market-oriented economic policy in 1988, when the need for a central institution to safeguard environmental interests quickly became clear. The NCEA comes under the Ministry of Foreign AfFairs and coordinates the work of various other ministries and departments. It includes four committees with separate responsibilities for the conservation of natural resources, the control of pollution, research education and information, and international cooperation.

In December 1994, Myanmar adopted a National Environmental Policy to ensure the incorporation of environmental concerns in planning for economic development. This policy emphasizes "the responsibility of the State and every citizen to preserve its natural resources in the interest of present and future generations," and states that "environmental protection should always be the primary objective in seeking development. …

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