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University professor: Education is key to a green Phuket future

PHUKET: Education is key to making any changes in the way we regard the environment, and more importantly recognise the changes that need to be made, believes Chantinee Boonchai, a lecturer for the Environmental Management programme at Prince of Songkhla University (PSU).

By Jody Houton

Thursday 12 December 2013, 09:51AM

This involve education at every level, Mrs Chantinee tells The Phuket News: Education at an institutional level, education for the public, and education for and in the media.

It is for this reason that Mrs Chantinee believes that discovering what is the problem and how to solve it is not always the most difficult part of her job – quite often it is working out how to deliver the information and to whom.

Mrs Chantinee lectures at both undergraduate and masters level at the Faculty of Technology and Environment – a faculty at PSU that has only existed since 2005.

Bangkok-born, she graduated with a BSc (Life Sciences) from the National University of Singapore, and then spent several years at the University of Queensland, Australia, where she received her Master of Environmental Management (Environmental Tourism) and then her Ph.D. (Environmental Management). As such, she is well placed to see Phuket from both outsider and insider perspective.

“The main difference was that in Australia, environmental policy enforcement works. Here it doesn’t work – probably because of the governance or the way the agencies are structured and the way they think about the problems.”

“We [Thailand] need to look at the problems carefully and systematically, otherwise we just throw money at an issue and a possible solution without fully understanding it and solving it.”

A large part of her job is preparing her undergraduate and masters students for a career in industries that relate to the environment; for jobs in research institutes, as government city planners, as environment consultants or in pollution control.

It is thus highly likely that the work that the students are currently undertaking at PSU will be used for bettering Phuket and ensuring a more sustainable future for the island, as Mrs Chantinee explains.

“Both disciplines [technology and environment] go together nowadays. Technology is needed to ‘manage’ the environment, it’s also needed to collect data and be able to present findings in a range of forms.

“It’s not just about research papers now, you have to be able to show it and present it to the policy-makers in a simple and easy to understand way.”

Those on the Masters programme especially work on local issues. Projects concerning land and water consumption, for example, are popular theses and dissertation topics.

“Students work with government officials, such as those from the Provincial Water Authority, to get information, conduct research and take the findings back to the relevant officials,” says Mrs Chantinee.

Sometimes this is easier said than done, she explains, but a task that the faculty is getting more au fait with.

“It’s hard to go and talk with the relevant people, quite often they move on or are only responsible for the very specific departments that they are in.”

“It’s hard to get continuity. Roles change, or the people change – or they don’t see [the issue] as relevant or aren’t interested.”

Each time a role or personnel changes, PSU students and Mrs Chantinee have to start from scratch, but the faculty is starting to identify champions and particular change-agents.

Mrs Chantinee explains that even when government officials are interested, a common barrier she finds is that their remit does not officially cover the field, or at least it’s perceived that way.

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“A problem is that quite often a government official will not see it as an environmental issue. They have very specific departments and very narrow ways of looking at things.

“But it’s all related. It’s hard making them see that quite often environmental issues will have health ramifications, for example.”

In the meantime, Mrs Chantinee, the PSU Faculty of Technology and Environment and the future generations of Phuketian environmentalists are working on getting their message out there.

“We had an Open Week last month and we invited many government officials – some came. Next year we’re going to put on numerous seminars to show the relevant departments our findings.”

This, Mrs Chantinee explains, is much better than just contacting Mr ‘A’ to retrieve data and then meeting him – or even his replacement – again in three months time to try and explain it.

It’s all about education, at least for now: “I would like to see better training of individuals and government officials first, perhaps a better restructuring at a government level later on.”

Also at the heart of their plans is making connections with NGOs and groups like SEEK.

“I’ve been involved with [SEEK] since 2012 and have given talks and attended meetings. They’re a good network and know many people,” Mrs Chantinee says.

One example of their partnership is SEEK and PSU working together on a ‘Retail Scorecard’ – a programme to standardise a retail, long-term sustainability strategy to reduce plastic bag use, decrease waste volumes, improve retail efficiency and educate both employees and customers.

Following on from the success of the Kamala Green Club and other such Green Clubs across the island, PSU will have their own Green Club from early next year.

Mrs Chantinee is also on the sub-committee for the Phuket Environment Foundation (PEF), a group of predominantly volunteers set up to help ensure a sustainable future for the island.

“Phuket people are now realising the importance of working together. This is about strengthening and diversifying communication.

“It’s about education,” stresses the professor, “It’s not about just recycling or reusing, it’s about education.

“My job is to help the younger Thai generation to think in a less narrow and specific path, and instead think in a more integrated manner.

“But this change of thinking, this broadening of thinking, is going to take time.”

A visiting professor from South Korea’s Jeju National University will deliver a lecture on climate change at PSU’s Building One from 10am-12pm on December 22. The lecture is open to the public.




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