Research Summary

The subak cultural landscape as environmental education: Knowledge, attitudes, and experiences of Balinese teachers, student teachers, and students

Making the Case for Place-Based Environmental Education

The Journal of Environmental Education

Located on the island of Bali, Indonesia, subaks are ancient rice farming communities as well as religious and cultural centers. Subaks are vulnerable due to risks from climate change and loss of cultural heritage over time. Yet, few efforts are in place to preserve the environmental and cultural heritage of the subaks. Place-based education, which is an approach to teaching that uses the local context to teach about a variety of subjects, ranging from math and science to history and culture. The authors of this study believe that a place-based environmental education program could significantly increase preservation efforts among community members. This study assessed the knowledge, attitudes, and experiences of Balinese teachers, student teachers, and students in order to develop a place-based environmental education program to help preserve subaks.

Participants for this study were drawn from a sample of schools ranging from primary through postsecondary in a Cultural Landscape Heritage area in Bali. A total of 718 participants (160 teachers, 268 student teachers, and 290 students) were randomly sampled from these schools. Participants’ age ranged from 9 to 59, and an equal portion of males and females were sampled in order to compare potential gender differences. The participants came from a range of educational backgrounds spanning the natural and physical sciences, the social sciences, and humanities. The survey questions assessed the participants’ attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge regarding subaks and the cultural landscape. The survey results were analyzed using statistics.

Overall, the study found that respondents had limited knowledge about and experiences with subaks. For the majority of questions on the survey regarding subak knowledge, respondents answered that they were unsure or that they were knowledgeable but could not explain that information to others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, teachers knew more about subaks than students and student teachers. Results showed that experience with subaks was also limited in terms of both cultural experience and experience with agricultural activities. Most of the participants had never or only once visited the one of the two subak museums in the area. Local temples and lakes were the most frequently visited destinations related to subaks.

Attitudes regarding subaks were overwhelmingly positive. Specifically, participants felt positively about raising awareness, promoting environmental education, and preserving subaks. The only negative attitude was in regards to a statement that the local schools were doing enough to preserve subaks; most respondents disagreed with this statement, indicating an appetite for such programs. Participant attitudes may have been so positive because subaks are seen as a cultural achievement for the Balinese people. Additionally, subaks are often in the Balinese news, which likely made the participants more aware of the importance of subak conservation. Overall, results showed no significant differences between genders.

Due to how the authors selected participants, this study may have missed surveying certain age groups. There were no participants over the age of 59, which left out an older generation that may have been more knowledgeable about subaks due to their age. Additionally, there was a significant age gap between student teachers and teachers, and perceptions among young adults may not be represented in the results. Thus, results may not be representative of the community as a whole.

The authors believe the communities around subaks have an appetite for a place-based environmental education program since there was a gap in knowledge and a stated need for schools to do more. As with other place-based education programs, the authors recommended connecting to pre-existing community resources, such as the two subak museums in the region. Similarly, environmental educators should use local knowledge to help develop the program. In this case, the subak farmers could provide valuable. The authors recommend further studies that use methods such as interviews and focus group discussions with farmers and other community members. The authors believe that these methods would create a better understanding of the cultural traditions and environmental management systems that are already in place among the subaks, all of which are critical for developing successful place-based environmental education.

The Bottom Line

Place-based environmental education is more likely to be successful when a community has limited knowledge of local environmental issues yet an eagerness to engage. This study showed that teachers, student teachers, and students in Bali, Indonesia had limited knowledge and experience but overwhelmingly positive attitudes regarding local sustainable rice farming communities called subaks. The authors recommend that the local schools use the subaks as to teach about sustainable environmental management and cultural traditions. Place-based environmental education may help to preserve the subaks because it integrates knowledge of cultural heritage and environmental practices.