Grzegorz Tabasz is a science teacher who has introduced a hands-on teaching pattern for science classes in public schools that takes students outdoors and involves them in the preservation of endangered species. The first program of its kind in Poland, it is spreading through teacher networks throughout the country.
The New Idea
Grzegorz Tabasz is teaching high school students about science and ecology by taking them outside their classrooms and connecting what they learn from books with what they observe in nature. His approach is a pattern change in the Polish education system, where traditionally the sciences have been taught theoretically and always in a classroom setting.Grzegorz's idea provides students with the opportunity to immediately observe the implications and results of lessons they are learning in the classroom, thus building an interest in the sciences and their wider application in the world around them. Their teachers, who may have lost enthusiasm over years of traditional lessons, are also revitalized. And Grzegorz has added an extra twist to his outdoor studies: he focuses the students' attention on endangered species in their area and engages them in concrete actions aimed at their protection. This provides Polish youths with positive activities on which to spend their time and also contributes to the protection of Polish wildlife.
Poland's education system focuses on teaching the sciences in an abstract manner; students may successfully memorize large amounts of information, but it is a theoretical learning experience. Rather than stimulating a love for the subject, this method promotes boredom and lethargy among school-age children and also leads to frustration and indifference among educators. It might be said, with a wry note, that this problem is of more than academic interest: it contributes to the generally low interest in the environment in the society at large (though many Poles are habitual hikers and there is a cadre of environmental activists) and particularly in protection of endangered species.
Poland is faced with a variety of ecological/environmental problems including declining forest cover and declining water table levels, due mainly to the poor quality of conservation efforts and industrial management. As a result, significant numbers of indigenous animals are now in danger of extinction, particularly many of the small reptiles found in Poland. As water levels continue to decrease and forest cover declines, many of these animals are finding it increasingly difficult to locate suitable breeding grounds to lay their eggs or raise their young. Moreover, once hatched the young are faced with a variety of obstacles during the early and critical stages in their development–such as surviving on heavily cultivated and processed farm land and crossing heavily traveled roadways to reach water sources.
Grzegorz initiated his approach in the school where he teaches in a southern Polish town. From the beginning he oriented his outdoor lessons to observation of local reptiles that were dwindling. They constitute a humble category of endangered species, unlike the more dramatic larger ones that more easily command people's empathy, but part of Grzegorz's philosophy is to teach appreciation for all parts of the local ecosystem. He trains the young people to care for the local habitat in ways that encourage the animals. He has developed a program for young people from participating schools in the region, who monitor the reptile population and keep records of hatchlings. As a result of their enthusiasm and high levels of participation he successfully established Poland's first and only protected reserve for reptiles and amphibians in the local area.
Upon completing Grzegorz's training program, the young people become part of the park staff and help manage the everyday activities of the park as well as the care and monitoring of the animals. The regional government has observed that the project appeals to people and has potential for generating income from tourism, and it has agreed to provide support for the training of more teachers and students.
Hoping to spread his idea to other parts of Poland, Grzegorz has started the Greenworks Foundation, which has begun to conduct seminars around the country for teachers. Greenworks is helping to start small "seed" groups, which establish similar parks in other parts of Poland. Grzegorz hopes to have instituted the program in 41 different schools from all parts of Poland by the year 1999.
In October 1996, Grzegorz co-organized and hosted the first Central Europe regional environmental conference for Ashoka Fellows in the Polish town of Rytro. Earlier that year he won Poland's first Annual International Award for the Preservation of Reptiles.
Grzegorz comes naturally by his passion for science and living beings. He spent much of his childhood in his grandmother's gardens observing the creatures who lived there and how they interacted with one another in that little ecosystem. During high school, Grzegorz was a member of a mountain hiking/touring club that took him to different parts of Poland.
While at university studying to be a biology teacher, Grzegorz was a very active member of the Nature Exploring Club. His membership in this organization gave him the opportunity to explore much of Central Europe's natural beauty, and it was during this time that he decided to dedicate his life to preserving it and teaching others to appreciate its beauty and charm. Since 1989, he has been teaching high school biology and perfecting his techniques and ideas about "outdoor" education.
Grzegorz is a firm believer that the nongovernmental movement is a critical component of the development of Poland's civil society. He has been volunteering for many organizations in need of assistance and has strong and diverse ties to many nongovernment organizations working in Poland and Central Europe.