Armenia Tree Project launched an environmental education program in 2005 to prepare Armenia’s youth for becoming the next generation of environmental stewards. As part of the program, ATP disseminates knowledge on environmental issues and tree care through training teachers on implementing environmental curricula and organizing activities for students, professionals, and local communities.
Program Manager Anna Jenderedjian has master’s degrees in environmental sciences and policy from Central European University in Budapest and in psychology from Yerevan State University. Prior to joining ATP she was involved in environmental communication and education programs with the Regional Environmental Center for the Caucasus, Caucasus Environmental NGO Network, and Peace Corps.
Jason Sohigian:How has Armenia Tree Project’s environmental education program progressed in the last couple of years?
Anna Jenderedjian: The expansion of ATP’s reforestation and community tree planting activities revealed the need for environmental education in Armenia. Planting trees alone was not enough. Armenia has many unsolved and emerging environmental issues and unfortunately, the level of environmental awareness among the public is not high. By encouraging youth to appreciate and understand the environment, ATP ensures that the trees planted today will be cared for and we guarantee the sustainability and effectiveness of our work.
In order to increase knowledge and promote a greater appreciation for the environment, ATP’s Environmental Education Program was launched in 2005. A major component of the program was the publication of the "Plant an Idea, Plant a Tree" curriculum, which was recommended by the Ministry of Education’s National Institute of Education as a manual for public school teachers. The manual includes lesson plans for outdoor and indoor activities, methodologies for lesson preparation, and samples of evaluations. Every school in Armenia received a copy of ATP’s curriculum.
From 2006-2008 more than 700 public school teachers were trained in Kotayk, Syunik, Vayots Dzor, Lori, Shirak, Gegharkunik, and Yerevan, and these teachers use the curriculum in their everyday work. At the same time, we train schoolchildren, university students, and community members on tree care, organic agriculture, and other subjects at our tree planting sites and the Michael and Virginia Ohanian Environmental Education Center at Karin Nursery.
JS:How have teachers and students responded to ATP’s environmental education curriculum?
AJ: The ATP curriculum is innovative and demanding, incorporating many examples of good practice in the field of environmental education. The lessons are based on a student-centered approach, so the teacher provides the framework of activities and students explore the environment surrounding them. Traditionally in the former Soviet system, educators were using a teacher-centered approach according to a strict state adopted teaching plan. The use of this curriculum implies creativity, openness, and undoubtedly, a passion for nature.
JS:What are some of the other important advancemen’s ATP has made in the area of environmental education in Armenia?
AJ: In 2004, the Michael and Virginia Ohanian Environmental Education Center was established at ATP’s Karin Nursery to educate, excite, and engage the youth to explore and protect nature. This was a first for Armenia, and every year hundreds of students attend classes there using the ATP curriculum. In 2008, we hosted more than 700 schoolchildren at the Ohanian Center, where teachers conducted outdoor lessons. The Ohanian Center provides children with an unforgettable experience, offering them the opportunity to learn more about trees and other plants and enjoy a wide variety of activities.
Thanks to the most recent gift by Mrs. Virginia Ohanian, ATP is establishing another center near the Mirak Family Reforestation Nursery in Margahovit Village. Located in a mountainous and forested region, the new center will be a unique place where college students, schoolchildren, local residents, and professionals throughout the Caucasus can enrich their knowledge about the fragile ecosystems of Armenia’s forests. The center is expected to be a place to share ideas and experiences related to transboundary forest conservation and management, for example between Georgia and Armenia.
JS:How is ATP implementing its environmental education program among the youth in Armenia?
AJ: Every year in Karin Nursery we host students from Yerevan State University and the Agricultural Academy. In 2008 we hosted 270 students who did their practical assignmen’s at the nursery, while another 521 schoolchildren from Yerevan and nearby villages and towns had environmental classes at the Ohanian Center.
In addition, ATP trains the environmental youth clubs in the Alapars, Aygut, Margahovit, and Aghavnavank communities. While learning about organic farming, tree care, sustainable agriculture, landscape design, and other environmental issues, the youth clubs take care of their own community orchards and backyard nurseries. For example, in Aygut the youth club tends a fruit tree garden and the harvest is served at the school cafeteria.
JS: Is environmental education a separate program or is it integrated into the tree planting programs as well?
AJ: ATP’s environmental education program has its own goals, objectives, and strategy, but it is an integral part of the other ATP programs. The Community Tree Planting and Rural and Mountainous Development programs have educational components, like teaching the community how to plant and take care of trees. In the areas where reforestation or community tree planting is implemented, ATP works to ensure the proper level of environmental awareness.
One of the most effective examples of cooperation was the organization of trainings at Yerevan Public School No. 194 where we planted trees. In addition to receiving general knowledge on tree planting and care, 10 teachers were trained to use the ATP curriculum and the students visited ATP’s Karin Nursery in spring and autumn.
We organized a series of educational activities at ATP’s Mirak Nursery in Margahovit. We worked with the schoolchildren for three months on environmental issues and ways to deal with some of the challenges. This program concluded with a clean-up in their community and a special "green" performance by the schoolchildren.
JS:What is the status of environmental education in the country in general? Has the Armenian government been supportive of this ATP program?
AJ: Although the Republic of Armenia adopted a Law on Environmental Education in 2001, the level of environmental awareness in rural and urban areas is still quite low. The law clearly states that compulsory ecological education has to be implemented "in all levels of the educational system," and the subject on "use of natural resources and nature protection" is included in the list of elective subjects by the Ministry of Education.
Today in collaboration with the National Institute of Education, ATP trains public school teachers all over Armenia on how to integrate environmental education into the core curriculum and to conduct interesting and motivating lessons to raise the level of environmental consciousness. Many schoolteachers select lessons from the ATP curriculum for biology, chemistry, physics, geography, and other subjects, and for the school environmental clubs.
Upon our request, experts at the National Institute of Education have evaluated the manual, and this year we are going to enhance the curriculum with new lesson plans on climate change and other topics.
JS:What are ATP’s goals to expand its environmental education program? What are the next steps needed to improve the level of environmental education in Armenia?
AJ: As part of our efforts to improve the state of environmental education in Armenia, we are going to extend our reach by cooperating with educators and youth in Northern Armenia. In addition, an updated manual will include lessons aligned with the State Educational Standards. Following the recommendations made by the National Institute of Education, the manual will include lessons for both primary and secondary schools. Therefore, from the very beginning of their studies schoolchildren will be taught the principles of environmental stewardship.
ATP has also been collaborating with the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies to publish a sustainable forestry manual for Armenia, which we plan to present to the Ministry of Agriculture and State Forestry Service. The manual will be a basis for ATP trainings for current and future foresters, as well as local residents to illustrate how to improve their socio-economic condition through local management of the forests, which will protect and maintain forest ecosystems.
JS:Why do you think environmental education is important for ATP and for Armenia?
AJ: The local communities and especially the younger generations must have a sense of ownership and responsibility for a tree, a garden, and their natural environment. Unfortunately, today in Armenia economic considerations prevail over environmental and social ones. The current economic development trends of Armenia often jeopardize long-term sustainability. Natural resources are being depleted unsustainably, with a lack of sufficient consideration of the future impacts on the environment and public health.
In my opinion, education is a powerful means to address environmental problems, since it reaches the population at young age. Young people are also able to transfer their ideas to their elder family members. Fortunately, I am seeing more and more youth in Armenia joining environmental movemen’s in opposition to the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources.