The real challenge for ‘Ocean Literacy for all’

Moheshkhali Kids

As UNESCO prepares for a global Ocean Literacy roadmap, the real challenge is getting the message right for diverse communities and cultures around the Planet.

The narrative of ‘Ocean Literacy’ is currently available and promoted by some organizations from the global north, with all its concepts, principles, and framework improvised using Eurocentric narratives and philosophies of education exclusive to some parts of southwestern Europe northern America.

Now, as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and its Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe based in Venice, Italy has started to facilitate a roadmap building process for the ‘Ocean Literacy for all’ campaign, it should prioritize making this campaign about assisting the conceptualizing and preparatory process of local Ocean Literacy programs around the globe.

It is evident that the question is not about disciplines of science that contributed to the Ocean Literacy concepts, principles, and frameworks developed, for example, by COSEE members Scientists and educators in the United States are certainly the fine people to do that, to interpret the sciences and construct a new narrative to mainstream Ocean conservation into education in the global north.

The challenge is, the narrative should not be universal, and it does not need to be.

Let us explain. It will be problematic if not unnecessary to make this principle ‘the earth has one big ocean with many features is a must-have one for Ocean Literacy. Because people in many non-European societies easily relate to the global ‘interconnectivity of the ocean. For example, people can best relate to the ‘interconnectivity of Ocean Basins without rendering them into ‘one’ in many places. There are places where the ‘seven seas’ approach is culturally more helpful for the people to acknowledge the interconnectivity and act accordingly. And there are places where this ‘oneness’ is inherent in the culture. It’s nothing new to ‘learn.’

Jibanananda Das

For more than 210 million people in Bengali Linguo-cultural regions in Asia, the narrative of the Severn Seas connects people to the Global Ocean as a unique, interconnected water body. So do they need to memorize/follow a new ‘principle’ of ‘one Ocean’? Or is it more reasonable that they build the sustainability approach upon this cultural strength? Bengali or Bangla is the seventh most spoken native language in the world by population. And, even in the last century, famous poets like Jibananda Das (pictured here) connected the audience with the notion of the global Ocean without necessarily building a narrative of singularity.

Like that, people in different Oceanscapes around the planet have different worldviews and associated narratives for linking our well-being to that of the Ocean.

So, it’s nearly impossible to have a ‘universal’ narrative or template message for all nations. And that’s not a challenge. That’s an opportunity to build upon local strengths and improvise messages that make sense to communities around the planet.

Besides, the limitations of formal education need to be taken into consideration. We have generations who already have passed through it without exposure to Ocean Literacy, ages who have critical roles as decision-makers in the society and state. Also, there is a massive gap in education and general Literacy among regions. In many regions, Ocean Literacy campaigns or programs will not be able to reach out to most of the people if strategies equally accommodating informal and public education sectors are not prioritized in the roadmap.

I will make some points about what any global or multi-national roadmap on Ocean Literacy should include for avoiding making it another ‘parachuting’ campaign. These issues need to be considered for getting the message across the north-south divide. These considerations are essential for preventing undermining and alienating local communities by telling them ‘Ocean Literacy’ is a new thing they need to learn. And, finally, these considerations are essential for effective use of resources by building on local strengths; the very shortlist will look like this.

  1. The program development process for the campaign and preparation of the contents should be bottom-up.
  2. The main focus should be facilitating local communities and other stakeholders in different Ocean basins to develop their concepts and principles of Ocean Literacy rooted in their society and culture and build the framework according to their institutional requirements. Also, the content should be prepared in the communities, translating from a ‘universal’ one must be avoided.
  3. As the sectoral target of the campaign, informal education sectors, public education, outreach, youth work, for instance, should be given equal importance.

UPDATE 1: With a small group of conservation educators and experts, back in June 2018, I have started contributing to developing a local Ocean Literacy for the Bay of Bengal basin. Now we have many colleagues joining us. Keep an eye on the program’s website for updates

UPDATE 2: National Marine Educators Association in the U.S. has awarded me an Expanding Audience Scholarship for 2019. With other members of NMEA, I will prepare a framework to build local Ocean Literacy programs for informal education. The main focus of such a framework should be facilitating local communities and other stakeholders in different Ocean basins (particularly in the underrepresented countries) to come up with their narratives and principles of Ocean Literacy rooted in their society and culture.

1 Comment

  1. Well said. In order to reach the message to those that actually make the difference, we must speak their language and see through their eyes. This happens effectively when programs are developed from the bottom. Involving the community always has great impact because it gives ownership to them.

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