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Algeria - Marguerite Group: an Environmental Education Project

1996, by Abdelkader GHARBI

At first, the idea of the group was to work on our concerns about the absence in our society of public spirit and responsibility, both on the individual and the collective bases, with regard to environmental problems. The Marguerite group decided to launch information campaigns and specific actions on the subject.
The group was set up within the organization AREA-ED, an association focused on reflection, exchange, and action in the field of environment and development. AREA-ED is also the Algerian correspondent of the international network REMED (Réseau d’échange multidisciplinaire sur l’environnement et le développement — multidisciplinary exchange network on environment and development). The Marguerite project constitutes one of AREA-ED’s main activities.
We are about 15 students in various disciplines (Environmental Conservation and Planning, Journalism, Ecology, Oceanography, primary-school teachers, educators, etc.). In addition, we are permanently in touch with professionals in the fields of education, educational methods, psychology, etc., who, though they are not actively involved, act as our correspondents.

After a few weeks of work and consultation with professionals in different fields, we organized an Environmental Education Open Doors Day to which we invited professionals in ecology, education, and environmental conservation, and students’ parents. The richness of the discussions that took place during this meeting led directly us to seriously question our first idea and replace it with a plan for some in-depth work. We decided that an interesting approach would be to analyze environment as a consequence of neglect, unconsciousness, and a never-ending race for productivity and growth. The further we took our research, the more we observed environmental problems as deriving from three factors: ignorance, indifference, and economic interest.
So we are determined to reduce the ignorance and indifference of individuals, and hope to be able to. You learn to respect and preserve your environment by knowing it better.

To compensate for the absence of the environmental dimension in our teaching systems, we set up a program based essentially on education and awareness-raising as we had already experimented it in two Algiers schools with interesting results. Our action in the classroom consisted in a series of sessions: lectures, group projects, field trips, recreational and artistic activities. All our sessions were held during the students’ free time so as not to disturb the regular teaching program. Our sessions were weekly and lasted an average of one hour. The targeted public was between 9 and 12 years old.
The children were very pleased to have us amongst them; we used working methods that they had not been accustomed to. We allowed them to express themselves, even to say silly things. They adopted us from the very first session, and awaited our next sessions impatiently: we represented a true break in the monotony of the system!
This was done at the beginning by opting for familiar language. In Algeria, children at school first learn literary Arabic, which is different from spoken Arabic, then are taught French as of age 10. Subsequently, at that age and even later they are not totally fluent in either of those languages, which makes it difficult for them to express themselves.

Then we managed to have some of the sessions take place in the recess area, we allowed the children to talk amongst themselves — which rarely ever happens — and about subjects that did not always necessarily correspond to our objectives. Our mention of monotony is not a comment on the effort by some teachers and school principals who do some fantastic work in the field of Environmental Education and in others.
There is however another aspect of the project, which is that of convincing the teaching body and school principals to take initiatives in the direction of Environmental Education. For we shall not have the human and material resources to organize these extra-curricular courses indefinitely.

We hope to rally the greatest number of education professionals around this question by organizing a national seminar, in order to start off reflection on a broader level, and perhaps from there on the environmental-education question will be given its true dimension as a priority and not a luxury, as it is seen by certain distinguished Algerian persons.
We have high hopes that the experiences of the INEE members will help us to progress more quickly.

KEY WORDS: Environmental Education; Development; School; Association.
AUTHOR: Abdelkader Gharbi
CONTACT : AREA, 30, chemin Mokrane Aoues El Mouradia, Alger - Fax. : 213-21 69 85 80 – e-mail :