You may know the theory that the dugong, aka the sea cow, was most likely the source of olde-worlde myths about sirens and mermaids (here at Time Out, we’re sceptical of the theory – we don’t want to believe that mermaids aren’t real). But did you know that the second largest herd of dugong in the world can be found in UAE waters? The UAE’s seas, with their rich coral reefs and sea-grass beds, are home to many diverse species – some of which, such as the dugong and hawksbill turtle, are endangered.
No prizes for guessing that humans play the villain in this scenario. From destroying feeding grounds with our fishing to invading their beach nesting areas with our hotel resorts, there is little we don’t do in terms of damage.
So what’s the solution? Change often starts with education, and that’s why local project Be’ati Watani (meaning ‘My Environment, My Country’) has been working to engage our kids with pressing environmental issues for more than nine years. And now, it’s just upped the game.
Be’ati Watani is the brainchild of the Emirates Wildlife Society and the WWF, who recently joined forces with Dolphin Energy. Together, they’ve turned a project that started off as a paperback into a bilingual, online, interactive programme that took 10 minutes to teach us at Time Out about dugongs. And they made it fun to boot.
But marine wildlife isn’t all your kids will learn about. The programme offers eight levels that cover everything from climate change to UAE wildlife. Levels are full of quizzes, games and activities galore, and though they’re aimed at six- to 14-year-olds, we promise you’ll get a kick out of it too (look out for the hermaphrodite hammour fish – will wonders never cease?)
But wait – it also gets serious. With each level treated as a course, children progress through the programme year after year, taking tests, getting grades and even earning certificates and prizes. Thoroughly impressed, we caught up with Ida Tillish, acting director general of EWS-WWF.
So the Be’ati Watani project has certainly come a long way.
It has. At its inception in 2002, Be’ati Watani was distributed via booklets. It has since transitioned with modern technology, from booklets to a CD format, to become interactive and fully online. It has evolved over the past nine years in order to connect better with the current online generation.
How is the online version different from the CDs?
We’ve expanded the modules from four to eight, giving a more in-depth view of the environmental issues we face.
Be’ati Watani has been endorsed by the Ministry of Education…
The programme is being promoted as an extra-curricular activity. When a school signs up, their students will not only be able to take part in the programme, but they will also have instant access to an internal student portal. Kids are very active online these days and are more motivated by two-way communication. So in a further effort to get students involved, a blog has been incorporated into the student portal. This will allow students to interact with each other about environmental issues. Meanwhile, teachers can access private school portals, enabling them to register their students for the final test. The system will automatically grade tests and provide results as well as certificates to the students.
Sounds great. So what’s next?
In the UAE, the programme has been widely successful, reaching more than a million students over the past eight years. Now, in its online format, we’re expecting to reach a lot more, and we’ve already received a great deal of demand from other countries in the region. So starting with Qatar, we’re working with our partners to roll the initiative out across the region in the next two to three years.
To try the programme for yourself, see www.beatiwatani.com