With help from clothing retailer Cotton Ginny, York PhD student Michele Paule Martin is researching environmental education in the Seychelles islands.
Her research on the 115-island archipelago off the east coast of Africa is part of Martin’s larger doctoral investigation into improving environmental education practices in schools worldwide.
Right: Laurie Dubrovac (left), former director of marketing & communications at Cotton Ginny, and FES student Michele Paule Martin
Through the Cotton Ginny Graduate Student International Research Fund in Environmental Studies at York University, Martin has received a $5,000 grant. She is using the money to buy cameras and computers to document environmental education activities in Seychelles schools and workshops she is conducting with primary and secondary school teachers and environmental educators.
“This award has boosted my confidence in the value of my research," said Martin. "It has also significantly financially supported some of the expenses that this participatory-action research project has incurred. Much of the equipment that has been purchased with the funding is not available in the Seychelles and has been of great benefit to all of the teachers participating in the research project.”
The Seychelles has a unique ecology and half of its land area is protected nature reserves. Although there is still much work to do to achieve environmental sustainability in the islands, Martin believes the Seychelles government is more committed to environmental education and conservation than large industrialized countries like Canada.
“The small island Creole state of Seychelles is in fact deeply engaged in efforts to re-orient education towards ecological and social sustainability and has valuable insights to exchange with educators and scholars in other parts of the world,” said Martin.
Left: Martin leads a professional development session in environmental education for teachers in a Seychelles secondary school
Cotton Ginny, which makes its garments from transitional cotton and 100-per-cent certified organic cotton, established the award to enable a graduate student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies to conduct research abroad. To reflect the company’s commitment to the environment and to the communities supporting cotton production, the award is granted to a student whose area of study is related to sustainable commodity production, environmental sustainability, global citizenship and/or poverty reduction.
The 85,000 people living on the Seychelles islands are immigrants of French, African, Indian and Chinese descent. This hybrid culture escapes classification as Western, non-Western or indigenous, making it an ideal place for Martin to conduct her project as most research to date on environmental sustainability in education has been conducted by and in Western cultures.
Martin, who is of Canadian-Seychellois heritage, is in the third year of her York PhD program and living on the islands with her husband and children. She has eight year’s work experience as an environmental educator in the Seychelles and speaks all three national languages.
Right: Brigitte Philoe (top), a teacher and member of Martin’s research group, engages her student wildlife club in water projects
As part of her project, Martin is conducting professional development sessions with a group of primary and secondary Seychellois teachers to discuss how to improve environmental education. Participants are also implementing and documenting environmental education activities in their schools and community.
With her research, Martin hopes to investigate and improve the role that educators play in helping schools and society shift toward social and ecological sustainability. Improving this shift involves finding or creating different ways to promote wider discourse and collaboration between educators and researchers across different cultures, such as writing scholarly journals, developing Web sites and creating teacher networks.