The Armenia Tree Project (ATP) recently announced the addition of Alla Berberyan to its team of program managers in Yerevan. Alla has a degree in Linguistics and Literature from Yerevan State University and a master’s in Political Science and International Affairs from American University of Armenia. She has completed a certificate program in Environmental Sciences and Conservation at AUA, and has attended a number of international trainings and conferences on sustainable development and environmental sciences. The following is an excerpt of an interview that was published in ATP’s latest annual report.
Below is an Interview with Alla Berberyan
Why do you think environmental education is important for ATP and for Armenia?
Alla Berberyan: Economic development occurs too often at the expense of long-term social and environmental sustainability. Severe environmental losses in Armenia began in the Soviet era, persisted throughout the economic crisis of the 1990’s, and continue posing major challenges today. Massive degradation of forests, soil erosion and landslides, desertification, air and water pollution, and biodiversity loss are no longer threats but are becoming the defining characteristics of Armenia’s environment.
One reason for this deterioration and the widespread apathy and denial towards these issues is the limited awareness of environmental issues and the lack of responsible and empowered advocates of sustainability. ATP has assumed a leadership role in developing environmental education as a core program area to create a new generation of environmentally responsible citizens who will value the natural resources of our ancient land and uphold the notion of preserving and restoring them.
What are the latest developments in ATP’s environmental education program?
A.B.: In collaboration with experts from the National Institute of Education, ATP’s “Plant an Idea, Plant a Tree” Teacher’s Manual was updated to become a part of the required curriculum in public schools. The manual was enhanced with new lessons to encompass a broader number of environmental topics. We have expanded our regional network of collaborating teachers, and will launch a new series of teacher training events.
What is your vision for ATP’s environmental education program in 2010 and beyond?
A.B.: We will continue to train teachers in all regions based on the updated Teacher’s Manual. Our EE Program will continue to advance eco-literacy among Armenian youth through environmental classes and events at the Michael and Virginia Ohanian Environmental Education Center at Karin Nursery and the new Ohanian Center for Environmental Studies in Margahovit.
How have teachers and students responded to ATP’s environmental education curriculum?
A.B.: The curriculum offers a combination of interactive and practical lessons that raise the schoolchildren’s interest in their surrounding environment and nature. The manual equips teachers with information to guide students to recognize and appreciate the value of natural ecosystems and the feasibility of sustainable practices. Teachers and students are responding to the manual with enthusiasm. The students become advocates of change, display creativity and initiative, and often find positive solutions to some of the environmental problems around them.
What is the status of environmental education in the country in general? Has the government been supportive of this ATP program?
A.B.: The 2001 Law on Environmental Education called for implementation of ecological education from pre-school to graduate levels. Based on this mandate, the National Strategic Program on Ecological Education was developed in 2007. However, environmental education and awareness was a relatively low priority, especially since there was a deficit of educational materials in the field.
We collaborated with the National Institute of Education of the Ministry of Education and Science, which has been very supportive of our projects, including integration of environmental education into the public education system through the “Plant an Idea, Plant a Tree” Teacher’s Manual.
What are the next steps needed to improve the level of environmental education in Armenia?
A.B.: It is important to take steps that can turn Armenia away from the current path of purely economy-focused, environmentally destructive development. The most essential of those steps is increasing the public’s understanding and acceptance of the fact that the environment is influenced by each individual’s actions as well as by their inaction. It is important to grow such consciousness in younger citizens. Because of the Soviet past and recent political challenges, our society is experiencing pervasive passivity and denial, and the level of civic engagement is low.
It is vital to develop the belief among the young generation that every person has the power and responsibility to contribute to the well-being of our society. We need to continue environmental training at all levels of our society and maintain pressure on the country’s leadership to pursue sustainable policies and practice.