Monday, March 31, 2014

Faces of Ethnobiology: Attila Paksi

My Name is Attila Paksi, originally I’m from Hungary, but I’m living in Australia for 4 years now. I wouldn’t call myself an ethnobiologist just yet as my main background is education and technology. So, you may wonder, then how come did I apply for this workshop and congress in Bhutan? Well, everyone has their own journey and I believe this Congress and experiencing Bhutan will play a huge part in both my personal and professional journey.

Currently I’m working as a high-school teacher in Australia and previously worked in many roles related to education in Hungary. I worked as a research assistant and also as an instructor at the Eotvos Lorand University. I was working with new educational paradigms and modern technology without questioning their importance. I also worked as a school teacher and took part in environmental educational activities, like the one on the photo where I was explaining kids the importance of the frogs in our fragile ecosystem. As a teacher, I always believed, that education is crucial to pass on knowledge and skills to the next generation and to make sure they don’t commit the same mistakes as their ancestors. Education is the key to enable humans to live in harmony with themselves and with nature. It does sound valid but a bit naive, right? I started realizing, with the formal, standardized educational system we are working really hard just to achieve the opposite. We want the next generation to value the money even more than their parents. We want them to have knowledge about shares, stock market and superannuation from their very early ages. We want the future farmers to use GMO products with RoundUP chemicals as those products are the latest achievements of science. We want to solve the problem of climate change by transferring all the responsibilities to the researchers instead of trying to do our own actions. We transmit values in modern schools which help to maintain the current state of the society and force unifying cultures.

A couple of years ago I travelled to Vanuatu (South Pacific 
Ocean). Beautiful, unique sets of islands with very friendly people and amazing natural life. The Ni-Vanuatu people still possess the traditional knowledge and skills from their elders, and they still value nature, environment and community in general. Although, as the formal education was introduced, the young ones lost their roots with their own tribe, with their own habits and culture. When I visited a local primary school, the classroom was not looking hugely different than the one I used to in Hungary or in Australia. The same setup, same posters and same whiteboard etc. were used. The kids were learning from books written and printed in the UK or in Australia. They had only one option at school, read the European style fairy-tales and use books highlighting Western-style culture and European or Australian animals or nature events. As those kids entered to the formal education system, their roots were cut and even the possibility to maintain a general interest towards their own traditional culture vanished. 

With my research, I would like to focus on preserving traditional values and also traditional methods of transmitting those values. In Vanuatu I was fascinated by the Sand Drawing as a cultural way of telling stories and teaching traditional skills and knowledge. All around the world, there still exist countless different traditional stories containing useful wisdom and skills that were used for thousands of years and we need to preserve them. Everyone knows and recognizes in some level the importance of biodiversity, but it seems, that diversity in educational methods, in skills and knowledge in approach to life and society is not valued as high. Therefore, my goal is to contribute to turning back the trend of standardizing values and cultures and help maintaining traditional wisdom and skills both in education and in everyday life.

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