Leveraging on Social Capital in Environmental Education


The notion of social capital, and its associated variables, have been crucial to the expansion of environmental knowledge, sustainability, ecological system, and natural resource care. It drives collective action in resource care,[i] increases the stock of a nation’s social capital,[ii] and bridges the knowledge gap between scientists and local communities.[iii] This powerful concept gives incisive insights about what makes resource management so successful, via the human centred ecological system. Concept aside, its associated variables — social networks, norms, trust, reciprocity, and social bond — contain benefits to our learning process. If it is cleverly leveraged, we will, therefore, produce the 21st century students – highly anticipated to possess civic literacy, global awareness and cross-cultural skills, charismatic, compassionate, embrace cultural diversities, and ecological literacy. The key question is: How do we leverage on social capital in Environmental Education (EE)?

No doubt, education has the greatest ability to generate social capital in our nation. The unprecedented passion of young people to change the state of our environment via knowledge-driven activities is the quickest method for the student to embrace socio-ecological wisdom and cultural diversities (Shaleh, 2017).[iv] In addition, young peoples’ participation in environmental volunteerism and outdoor learning environmental programmes immediately underpinned them as stewards to nature,[v] while field study in pluralistic societies gave students knowledge about the local environment.[vi]  This type of learning engages students in the initial process of envisioning sustainable projects for environmental care. It offers students the much-needed momentum to innovate, or perhaps create cutting-edge conservation projects in the future. It strengthens students’ affinity to the environment, exposing them to first-hand experience in environmental education. The value in outdoor programmes not only expands students’ knowledge about the environment, but it also elaborates a plethora of modest practices in human-environment interaction, and their environmental ethics, which have informed sustainability. [vii] Furthermore, it intensifies young people’s learning landscape, as they add knowledge, collect new ideas, and embrace new cultures and practices. More importantly, education in such style directly fosters social connectivity, trust, bond, and network between students and communities.

I believe that a strong relationship with nature requires a gradual transformation of human behaviours toward the environment. Students’ participation in the outside world offers a new twist on what it entails in education. Often, the perception on knowledge is always narrowed down to the official curriculum in the school or university. However, I am of the opinion that knowledge also occurs in community settings, in which students need to experience other lives in order to add value to their purpose of learning. That general pluralism and intercultural understandings begin with the encounter of diverse cultural elements in society; hence, the future of environmental education, learning and research in universities should be bold enough to stay open to social networks, knowledge, cultures and norms found in different nations, and their communities. More global-minded people around the world are coming to this view: the process of educating students with new skills has to be corroborated by a mission of keeping them inclusive. To attain this objective, the teaching of the relationship between man and the universe should not be limited to philosophical underpinnings but progressively backed by training, practices and hands-on experiences. This is because the prevailing environmental problems demand practical solutions that work for the society and the environment.  Therefore, experiential learning is an integral aspect of contemplation as it encourages students to experience nature.
In conclusion, I propose three ideas to answer the question: How do we leverage on social capital in Environmental Education?

  • give greater emphasis on contextualised environmental knowledge, which is embedded in many places and different case studies;
  • prepare a learning environment that encourages students to widen their perspectives about culture and society; and
  • create a transdisciplinary module on environment Content includes the diversities of environmental ethics from other societies.

Dr Adha Shaleh is a research fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS), Malaysia. He believes that community engagement should be valued highly in education.



[i] Djamhuri, Tri Lestari, ‘Community Participation in a Social Forestry Program in Central Java, Indonesia: The Effect of Incentive Structure and Social Capital,’Agroforestry Systems 74, no. 1 (2008): 83-96.
[ii] Shaleh, M. A, Community Engagement and the Creation of Social Capital. Islam and Civilisational Renewal (ICR) 8, no. 3, (2017) :423-425.
[iii] Persha, Lauren, Arun Agrawal, and Ashwini Chhatre, ‘Social and Ecological Synergy: Local Rule Making, Forest Livelihoods, and Biodiversity Conservation. Science 331, 6024 (2011): 1606-1608.
[iv] Adha Shaleh, ‘Unique Approaches to Environmental Education,’ New Straits Times, Available at: https://www.nst.com.my/news/2017/03/219264/unique-approaches-environmental-education. (Date accessed on: 21 January 2018).
[v] Dillon, J., Rickinson, M., Teamey, K., Morris, M., Choi, M. Y., Sanders, D., & Benefield, P., ‘The value of outdoor learning: evidence from research in the UK and elsewhere,’ School science review87(320), (2006): 107.
[vi] Forest rules by indigenous people that promote environmental conservation, balance value, sustainable value, and the value of mutual cooperation. These values have been used by Yuliana et al as a source of learning the role of culture in Environmental Protection. For more details, see Yuliana, Siti Sriyati, and Yayan Sanjaya. ‘Local wisdom of Ngata Toro community in utilizing forest resources as a learning source of biology.’ AIP Conference Proceedings 1868, No. 1, AIP Publishing, 2017.
[vii] Shaleh, Adha, ‘Traditional Wisdom in Environmental Protection,’ News Straits Times, Available at: https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2017/04/234507/traditional-wisdom-environmental-protection. (Accessed on: 15 Dec 2017).

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