Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Restless youths

It is 12.29 noon at a 5-star hotel along the Batu Ferringhi Beach. I was told 10 minutes ago to go for lunch first and come back at 2.30 pm for the wrapping up session. What am I doing here? Ahh, I am not supposed to tell you anything (confidential stuff lah). But I am still full from the morning breakfast. So I am killing time.

Yesterday morning 5 USM students, a staff and I went to a secondary school in Parit Buntar to conduct our White Coffin campaign (at the invitation of one of their teachers). While thinking about how to reach these youths, I came up with the bright idea of getting the students to participate in the learning. But how? After some thought, I came up with the idea of putting various types of take-away packaging on a long table and ask the students to vote on which they think is good for the environment and which are not. I discussed with the Team and in my head, the "instructions" were clear. Give each student two red and two green dots (stickers), red for not good for environment while green is OK. We would do it twice, before and after. When we were about to start the activity, I discovered that we would first give them the red dot at the beginning before we start the presentations and then give them the green dot at the end of the presentation. I was quite stunned. And we didn't have enought stickers to give them both red and green at the beginning and at the end. So, one of the students suggested with split the dots into two. Brilliant. That solved the problem and contributed to less consumption.

But I seems to do that a lot. Just the day before, I was responding to an email from Australia. And pop came back profuse apologies. Apparently my email response sounded that I was offended. OMG, I quickly had to fight the fire. No. No. No, I was not offended at all.

And then no so long ago, my ex-student made a revelation that they didn't know what I was talking about when she was my student. Wow, but let's leave it at that for the moment. Afterall, I claim to be a constructivist- it's not so important what I say or mean, it is what you make of it.

Back to the youths. They were Forms 2 and 4 students (12 and 14 year olds). The session started with the voting which went well. But when I started my powerpoint presentation, I started to sense the restlessness. The hall was hot, I was sweating profusely. The kids were cross-leggedly on the hard floor. Some were seated at the side with an acute view of the screen but quite contented (and declined the invitation to move for a better view; it does say something, right? about what they think of the presentation). The sound system went off and on and the echo was bad. So, half an hour into the presentation I was at my wits end wondering what to do. Luckily, my assistance suggested small group discussions with the USM students leading the sessions.

And then I asked the school kids (OK, students) whether they wanted to vote again. Some didn't. Most wanted it. And it was truly amazing. When we compared the results of voting (before and after), it was dramatic. In the before vote, many still voted green for polystyrene and plastic mineral water bottles. The after vote was all red (except for a single green vote) for these two items. Same thing with the tupperware containers - the before vote was some red but the after vote was overwhelmingly green. Even the paper wrapping got a bashing after the session. And plastic wraps were definitely red. And surprisingly, the banana leaf for the nasi lemak got a few red votes.

Lesson learned. Forget long powerpoint presentations (maybe short 15 minutes is fine). Go for small group discussion. Give them activities to do.


Nadia said...

im wondering if i can still get the 'white coffin' pwr pint presentation. Oh, does the sustainable dev. dept have any volenteer programs that i can join?

mast@work said...

hello prof. i am currently new to your blog. but i find your thoughts are quite interesting. hope you can visit my blog and comment on my idea of recycling babies items.. my intention is helping those in need through donation and hope that this will also help in recycling wastes. in case you have better idea please forward it to me.