Tuesday, September 24, 2013

TEI's Education Program: Unity in Diversity

by Preeyanoot Surinkaew

When I started as a member of the Think Elephants International (TEI) team, I asked myself, “What kind of education program would best promote TEI’s aim?”  Our goal is to discover how we can best help conserve the dwindling populations of African and Asian elephants. TEI tries to do this by following a two-pronged approach:

·         First, we promote further scientific research on elephant intelligence and allow for a better understanding of how we can help the species.
·         Second, we educate each new generation on topics including animal behavior and environmental conservation.

I do not have much background about elephants or science. I graduated with a Bachelors degree in Elementary School Education in 1996. Besides working as a teacher in a primary school, I put my knowledge about child development into practice through activities with children in my village near Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai, in northern Thailand. During my time running this program, I developed many relationships with a network of teachers and friends who gave me opportunities to extend my experiences and knowledge.

As part of our Earthwatch program, we teach English to children in Chiang Saen. 

Through my experience with the children in my village, I also discovered the impact of modernization, which has led to present-day complexities and fragmentation of knowledge. In other words, the children in my village were learning a certain subject in order to perform well rather than because of their curiosity. I also feel that Buddhism is the root of Thai culture, and that we can use its value to engage society. For this reason, I decided to further my education by attaining a Masters degree in Buddhist Studies at Chiang Mai University and to enroll at the Sophia University Institute in Florence, Italy, where I got Masters Degree in Principles and Perspectives of a Culture of Unity (Politics).

The experiences and knowledge I gained have enriched and widened my perspective about the world. I have come to understand that education plays a very important role as a solution for the fragmented way of thinking encouraged in Thai schools. We must spread education as it relates to Thailand and its people, especially the degeneration of natural space. It is critical that we have a dialogue between people of many diverse perspectives—including those with scientific backgrounds as well as those with real-world experiences—to unite for this cause. 

At TEI, diverse people meet and share their knowledge to help reach our shared goal of educating Thai children about elephant conservation and research. We come from different countries, different backgrounds, and different cultures. We share and reciprocate thoughts, questions, and inspirations that provoke one another during lab meetings. Through the shared interest in conserving elephants, we learn about the essence of living: cooperation and interrelation. This can also be related to the common roots of Thai and Asian cultures. Our work helps us to integrate actual socioeconomic and environmental issues to help us improve the scientific skills of future generations.

The TEI team brings together people with very different backgrounds. 

I have found that the elephant-sized impact we are making comes from our common experience as members of TEI and represents the perfect means toward achieving the goals for our education program.

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