Learning through limu integrates science, culture
AFTER more than a half-century of unchallenged superiority in virtually every field of science and technology, Time Magazine recently reported, America is starting to lose ground to other nations. The news seemed startling and warranted the magazine's cover.
Yes, it's important to acknowledge that science and technology are valuable for students today; however, in Hawaii, we know that focusing on education in the abstract or the pursuit of science without context and cultural integration will not advance our youth -- or our society. The importance of science education is relative to the extent of the interdependency of scientific knowledge with the cultural practices and heritage of Hawaii.
As a former teacher and middle school principal, I've seen the fire of learning and passion ignited within students when a classroom lesson is relevant and brought to life through hands-on activities. For example, students in science classes at Niu Valley Middle and Kaiser High Schools study limu, learn its traditional uses, understand its biology and replant the limu in areas of Maunalua Bay where an invasive species of seaweed has overrun the area. In partnership with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Hui Nalu Canoe Club and nonprofit organizations, the students are able to have lessons conducted both in the ocean and in the classroom.
There is no more powerful and memorable learning experience for Hawaii's children than integrating the content of what they are asked to acquire in the classroom with an experience outside the school walls. I have watched as students -- eager to see, touch, taste and smell limu -- acquire high-level concepts and skills in science, with open minds and hearts. Additionally, they begin to comprehend the fragility of our island ecosystem and develop a sense of stewardship for our environment. These are the kinds of irreplaceable learning experiences that build Hawaii's future leaders in science, technology and business, as well as education, social services and the health professions.
We hear businesses complain about the "brain drain," with Hawaii's talented students seeking employment opportunities elsewhere. We read about the number of Hawaii's youth preferring post-secondary education at universities and colleges outside our state. We lament about the changes in our quality of life and the lack of leadership.
We can more successfully educate and prepare our youth for professional careers, civic responsibilities and community leadership by integrating the distinguishing aspects of Hawaii throughout our educational programs and by providing learning opportunities in real life settings. As we do a deliberate job at that, our youth will create the economy for their own -- and our -- future.
As a legislator, and particularly in an election year, I often hear public rhetoric about supporting education in Hawaii. I would prefer, instead, to shift the dialogue to how we can maximize the resources available. How can we direct these resources toward activities, programs and infrastructure that enhance Hawaii's unique heritage? How can we integrate cultural concepts and practices into all aspects of a school's educational program? How can we interest and engage businesses in partnerships with schools to fulfill these goals?
This could mean supporting teachers who, like those at Niu Valley Middle and Kaiser High Schools, take their students outside the classroom and integrate the cultural knowledge of Hawaii with science content and larger concepts of civic responsibility. It could be through charter or magnet schools, like one currently being undertaken as a collaboration between the Department of Education and the Bishop Museum.
Let's start talking about how to integrate our science education content and technological knowledge with cultural education and relevant learning experiences in the community. Let's take a lesson from the students who study limu.
Lyla Berg, Ph.D., an educator and small business owner, is a member of the state House of Representatives. Berg (D, Niu Valley-Aina Haina-Kahala) is the vice chairwoman of the House Education Committee.