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Field Project - Vanuatu

Strengthening indigenous knowledge and traditional resource management through schools in Vanuatu

Summary | Documents | Photos

Indigenous knowledge has gained widespread international recognition as a critical factor for the preservation of both cultural and biological diversity. But what use is recognition, if traditional knowledge does not remain alive and vibrant within indigenous communities?

Summary: In Vanuatu, a Melanesian country in the southwest Pacific, traditional systems of land and sea tenure, and the knowledge and practices that sustain these social institutions, have been recognized by the State as central to their strategies for environmental conservation. While traditional knowledge has come to play a central role in the environment sector, recognition in the State education system has lagged behind. Children in Vanuatu continue to leave their homes and villages to attend schools where they learn from books written in distant countries and foreign languages.

Children are taught the scientific approach to understanding the natural world with at best a passing reference to the intellectual heritage rooted in their own communities. Implicitly they learn that the knowledge of their parents, and grandparents, is something of the past. It is the knowledge of the classroom that is valued and part of their future. Yet when their school years are over, the majority return to their villages with little prospect of a job, and without much of the invaluable knowledge needed to live well in a tropical environment by gardening, fishing and hunting. They may have even come to denigrate this knowledge, a source of both personal and community tension. They are caught between two worlds, rooted in neither.

In consultation with the Vanuatu Ministry of Education, the Vanuatu Environment Unit, the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, and in partnership with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France), UNESCO-LINKS is launching a pilot project to assist Vanuatu in redesigning science curricula to incorporate key elements of the vast body of indigenous knowledge that continues to thrive in the archipelago. By presenting indigenous and scientific knowledge systems side-by-side, it is hoped that the youth of Vanuatu will feel pride in their indigenous cultural heritage, creating the space for them to grasp the complexity and sophistication of their own traditional understanding of the environment, as well as empowering them to make their own choices for a sustainable future using both local and scientific knowledge as they see fit.

For more information visit the Vanuatu Cultural Centre



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