Diaspora voices • Asia
March 16, 2023
Diaspora voice: Denise Matias on Education for Sustainable Development at Palawan State University

In February, we successfully tested an updated curriculum on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. EUDiF’s Hala Tarabay spoke to the lead expert, Professor Denise Margaret Matias, about her experience in supporting Palawan State University. In this interview, Denise shares her experience in knowledge exchange as an expert on ESD and as a member of the Filipino diaspora…

Just as it is at the centre of global discussions, in the Philippines, sustainable development is at the top of the agendas of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) and the Palawan State University (PSU). Palawan is the last ecological frontier for the Philippines and raising awareness of its value among youth and empowering them to take action to preserve the island’s uniqueness is a shared top priority for PCSDS and PSU.

In partnership with EUDiF, PCSDS, and PSU teamed up with diaspora professional Denise Margaret Matias to update its environmental science curriculum to bring it in line with national and global trends in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Having updated the curriculum, Denise then led a training of trainers for 20 teachers from the different campuses of PSU. Subsequently, Denise and the trained teachers pilot-tested the updated curriculum with 25 students.

Project officer Hala Tarabay has been closely involved in the design and implementation of this project. In this exchange, Hala and Denise discuss the collaboration with PCSDS and PSU, hoping it can inspire other local authorities to explore opportunities to work with the diaspora for environmental protection.  

Hala Tarabay: Denise, this was not your first experience in Palawan. Could you tell us more about your relationship with the province and PSU, and what motivated you to be part of this action?

Denise Matias: I first visited Palawan in 2007 during the National Caving Congress, which was held at the Puerto Princesa Underground River. I found Palawan beautiful then but only saw it as a tourist area. It was during my master’s research in 2012 in an Indigenous community that I realised there was more to the place than just picture-perfect sites. There were real challenges for the people directly depending on Palawan’s natural resources, and this is what motivated (and still motivates) me to be part of this action: there is a lot of work to be done in Palawan and one effective way to reach a lot of people is through education.

Within the action, you organised a training of teachers on education for sustainable development ESD. What are the key teaching skills needed for ESD, and how did you identify the skills gaps before creating the curriculum?

EUDiF suggested a needs assessment as the very first step of the action and I created an online survey for people living in Palawan and the Philippines in general to give input on the ESD needs of the province and the country. Through the help of PSU’s Curriculum and Instructional Materials Development Office (CIMDO), I was able to get over 800 responses to my survey. It was tough to go through all of them, but it was also a big help in identifying local problems that needed to be addressed in the curriculum. I also organised a reconnaissance trip to PSU and held focus group discussions with key people and I learned that there was no standard curriculum between the College of Science and the College of Teacher Education to teach the Environmental Science General Education course. This was a good opportunity to create one.

UNESCO’s priority action areas for ESD include advancing policy, transforming learning environments, building capacities of educators, empowering and mobilising youth, and accelerating local level actions. How are these international priorities reflected in the curriculum you created, and how has your previous experience in Palawan and the Philippines helped you integrate international goals at the local level?

As part of the needs assessment, I looked at the current curriculum being used by the College of Science to teach the Environmental Science General Education course. It was quite in line with the priority action areas for ESD for 2030 and I only needed to update it based on the answers of the survey. I added topics such as local and international environmental laws and policies, systems thinking, flipped (inverted) teaching, UNESCO MAB Youth, and science communication. My experience as a Professor at the Biosphere Reserves Institute of the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development helped me in prioritising international topics that would be of local relevance to Palawan as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

You are being very humble! The updates you introduced were substantial and a true reflection of your knowledge of the local community and environmental science. The partnership between the university and the diaspora is the first of its kind in Palawan. How do you think it can be nurtured and what other initiatives can come next?

PSU was very supportive and even gave me access to their Google Classroom. I can now keep in touch with the teachers through this account. During the last day of the pilot testing, the teachers and I had a final discussion, and they suggested  replicating the training on the external campuses of PSU. We even identified funding opportunities to apply to. Additionally, in the long-term, I would like to replicate this in the universities in Albay Biosphere Reserve and Puerto Galera Biosphere Reserve, and other provincial universities in the Philippines.

Do you have any recommendations for local authorities interested in bringing in diaspora expertise on specific topics, as you have supported PCSDS?

Local expertise can be supplemented by diaspora expertise and often it only requires reaching out (especially if funding is available). I am lucky to be living in the EU where programmes such as EUDiF exist, which make it easier for diaspora professionals like myself to engage. In the case of higher education institutions, the Philippines also has its Balik Scientist Programme that can fund diaspora expertise to engage back in the country. Connecting diaspora expertise with local institutions is a big opportunity for the country and the government should consider prioritising this, not only focusing on the financial remittances that the diaspora brings to the economy.

Prof. Dr. Denise Margaret S. Matias
Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development / Hochschule für nachhaltige Entwicklung Eberswalde (HNEE)

Denise Margaret Matias is a Professor at the Biosphere Reserves Institute of the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development. Before joining BRI, Denise held research and postdoctoral positions in projects focusing on grassland sustainability in Mongolia, climate change adaptation, and indigenous forestry livelihoods in the Philippines. Originally from the Philippines, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in biology, she moved to the EU and finished her master’s in environmental sciences and policy from the Central European University and her Ph.D. in Agricultural Sciences at the Center for Development Research (ZEF) at the University of Bonn. She is an Associate of the Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP) Asia and is engaged in international science-policy as one of the lead authors of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Nexus Assessment and as a member of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Selection Committee for its International Climate Protection Programme.

Denise is currently based in Germany; you can connect with her on LinkedIn here.

For full details on the action that Denise is a part of, see the action page.

Related news
Local climate action with diaspora support in Palawan, Philippines
October 12, 2022
We are excited to announce EUDiF’s first action in Southeast Asia! This addition to our Diaspora Professionals 4 Development (DP4D)...
Read more
Diaspora voices • Asia
Thoughts from abroad: Philippines’ 123rd year of independence from Spain
June 12, 2021
To mark the Philippines' 123rd year of independence, Gia took the time to reflect on what it’s like to be a Filipina student in France in 2021 and contrast it with the experiences of Filipino revolutionaries who lived in Europe as students in the 1800s.
Read more
News • Asia
Event takeaways: Asia & the Pacific Regional Meetings
February 15, 2022
On 18 May 2021 and on the 1st of February 2022, we hosted our Regional Thematic Meetings on diaspora engagement,...
Read more
Request for
diaspora expertise
Apply now
Send request
Apply for expert support
Want to know more about our diaspora development experts?
Learn more
Expert login
Sign in
Want to know how
to become a diaspora expert?
Learn more