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Forestry education is out of fashion

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
June 27, 2010
Publisher Name: 
The Jakarta Post
Ahmad Maryudi
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The past few decades have witnessed the increasing importance of forest resources for humankind. Not only serving the global demands on timber and interest in economic well-being, forests are also seen as vital in providing environmental services and amenities for humans, providing habitats to endangered species, supporting the sustenance of daily life of the local people, and recently mitigating climate change.

All this makes forestry education more interesting and important in the years to come. Forestry education clearly face huge challenges to nurture students to become professional foresters, who can understand the developing contexts and the emerging issues, and can quickly adapt to the unfolding future of the world's forests. The bottom line is that the foresters can elaborate on the new nuances in the forest management, serving the spectrum of interests.

However, a collaborative review by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Southeast Asian Network for Agroforestry Education (SEANAFE) and the Indonesian Network on Agroforestry Education (INAFE) published in 2005, found that the forestry curricula in the particularly forest-rich developing world still lagged behind such challenges.

Experience from my university also suggests so. Over the past few years, efforts to craft so-called "competence-based" forest curricula have been regularly carried out, usually on a five-year basis, but the outcomes remain as they were, containing the following shortcomings.

First, they are rather a list or compilations of forestry and forest-related subjects, instead of a holistic curricula system aiming for particular goals and objectives.

The interlocks between subjects are often missing. The consequence is that, as observed, new graduates often stutter in the work place.

This year's efforts do not look promising either. For instance, producing general foresters is now preferred with the offer of a single forestry study program, than previously four of management, conservation, forest silviculture and forest products technology. The curricula is squeezed into a more compact one, limiting new issues to come across as a logical consequence.

More importantly, despite the promises on accommodating the diverse landscape of interests, the curricula is still developed based on the importance of technical and conventional scientific forestry, focusing on timber production, which was the center of forestry education for some hundred years.

While there is limited space for elaborating on new issues, some classical forest sciences are paradoxically offered in number of subjects. For instance, silviculture is now split into silviculture of natural forests and plantations. Similarly, there is now an additional of teak forest management to the previously only forest management, and many more. This is unnecessary; as such can either be fostered in research or offered in the more advanced degrees.

Here it is not to say that basic/classical forest theories are no longer major. They are important as they always were. Forestry students have to indeed have scientific understanding on forest processes. Many policy inflations in Indonesia stem from either poor understanding on the philosophy of forest science or the distortion/manipulation of the science in policy creations.

For instance, licenses of timber utilization prior to conversion are usually based on the wrong assumptions in defining "unproductive forests", as many are still in the otherwise condition. Whether this is also a deliberation, many scholars argue. This means that students should still be equipped with the basic forest philosophy to enable them to identify whether particular forest policies drawn upon contradict the science.

In addition, in the coming years, one of the most challenging studies in Indonesia's forests is how to understand processes of forest carbon storage and emissions, as the country has engaged in REDD efforts. All this requires strong knowledge on biological processes in forests.

Thus, the important basic forest sciences should remain there and be the core of forestry education. But the new challenges simply require beyond such technical aspects. Multi-disciplinary schools are now becoming more popular, fostering problem-driven themes such as forest governance, national international forest regime, biological diversity, poverty alleviation and so on. This can be adopted to improve our forestry education.

To sum up, in embracing the complexity, forestry education now has to nurture students in the way that they will be well-equipped with knowledge on human systems and sociology, as well as socio-political contexts and inter-sectoral communication skills given forestry is no more a sectoral issue. Therefore, once they graduate from university, they will have been well-prepared to respond to the challenges.

For practicality, the new themes need not to be unveiled into new subjects. They can also rather be nuanced into existing ones. For instance, while lecturing on theories of classical forest sustainability of annual cuts, the professors can draw upon some new different perspectives on sustainability, for example, social, ecological and even historical and cultural values. This will enable students in drawing links among the perspectives.

The writer is a lecturer at the School of Forestry, Gadjah Mada University, currently a member of the Global Expert Panel on the International Forest Regime led by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).


Extpub | by Dr. Radut