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Traditional Knowledge: Pedagogical Medium and Thematic Content

Most communities across the region agree that integrating climate change into the educational curriculum is important (UNESCO 2014a). This paper advocates for an integrated curriculum, designed specifically for the Pacific Island nations, that compiles and disseminates traditional and scientific knowledge using a variety of media formats (e.g., electronic, books, etc.). Cost-benefit analysis to this culturally aware and resourceful cross-Pacific curriculum begets lower transactional cost. For instance, cost of printing would be shared among countries/communities/schools etc. across the Pacific or in between some of them sharing the very same climate issues—as in the case of low atoll islands, facing similar threats that could be taught to children across this cluster of islands. By virtue of this, students, parents, teachers and the wider communities would learn about other communities facing similar as well as island-specific threats. For example, three weeks before the November 1999 tsunami in Baie Martelli, Vanuatu, the National Disaster Management Office in Vanuatu showed villagers a video about the 1998 Aitape tsunami in Papua New Guinea. This video, along with local knowledge, contributed to the low fatality rate in Vanuatu after the 1999 tsunami (Walshe and Nunn 2012).

On that note, worth-reiterating, although the Pacific Islands share many common features, they often have unique ecosystems (FAO 2008). The localization of climate change curriculum must account for these differences. For instance, Vanuatu is located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean is vulnerable to most tropical cyclones. It cannot be treated like Kiribati, which suffers some other different ecological challenges (UNICEF 2011a). Traditional, local knowledge is thus a key component in the design and implementation of the curriculum. Traditional knowledge as a pedagogical medium of education communication can be helpful for tailoring a Pacific Islands curriculum that celebrates indigenous wisdom (Smith and Jones 2008). The curriculum would incorporate each island’s culture, geography, and ecosystems using traditional knowledge as thematic content. Thematic content includes stories, traditions, and other local knowledge. For example, participants from Vanuatu suggested blending traditional knowledge about climate change and scientific data into the curriculum as part of a series of workshops organized by UNESCO under the Education for Sustainable Development initiative (UNESCO 2014c). In Kiribati, participants wanted to focus on developing capacities of teachers to explain coastal erosion and loss of biodiversity to kids (ibid). These local issues would be incorporated in sections of the curriculum that are specific to the respective island.

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