Friday, 14 July 2006 - 4:55 PM

Soil Science Knowledge and General Public: How to Bridge the Gap?.

Maria da G. de V. X. Ferreira, Univ Católica de Pernambuco, Rua do Princípe, 526 - Boa Vista, Recife, PE, 50.050-900, Brazil and Carmem S. M. Masutti, Fundação Univ Federal do Vale do São Francisco, Av. Tancredo Neves, 100 - Centro, Petrolina, PE, 56.306-410, Brazil.

Despite environmental awareness has increased around the globe, general society has not shown adequate attitude towards soil. Such trend is also true for water, air and mineral resources, and, in a lesser extent, for fauna and flora, even being biota taken as synonym of environment. Unfortunately, it seems that the worst case scenario is related to soil and mineral resources. Global warming is currently the environmental issue concerning the most as it threatens life. Why is soil left behind given that soil and water regulate life on the planet? Is not water quality, particularly groundwater, largely dependent on soil physicochemical properties? It is time to ask why this is the case and find out ways to address and effectively change this misleading concept. What are we (soil scientists, soil professionals, teachers and professors) doing, or not doing, that has brought us to this point? Several aspects can be pointed out to lead our analysis. Is soil science still primarily concerned with agriculture? Have soil scientists dialogued among themselves? Have soil scientists dialogued with scientists from other knowledge fields? Are soil scientists concerned with what has been taught about soil at school (different levels)? Are soil teachers and professors trying to innovate in their lectures? Are soil scientists trying to reach the general public beyond school? It is important to keep in mind that the process of educating someone means a change in behavior. Teaching is far more challenging and complex than passing along the knowledge gathered by many years of cutting-edge research. In spite of all research that has been done, of everything that has been said or written up to now, no one knows surely how to promote this change in behavior. However, the fact that few professors, if any, are concerned with student attitude towards life is worse than not knowing how to encourage this change. It is clear that what really matters is how much information one has on the subject to be taught. That may explain why environmental issues are still neglected by the majority of the population that has attended school. There is another important aspect to be addressed. The vast majority of the population will not go, or will not go back, to school, including professionals who are making decisions on environmental issues, for example on soils. That means it is urgent to think strategies to carry out environmental education outside school. Four aspects summarize what was said above. First of all, soil has not been taught in a proper way. Also, there is a tendency to see soil from several points of view and do not integrate them. For instance, a course in soil mineralogy, in general, will not discuss the influence of mineral composition in soil fertility, groundwater quality, soil erosion etc. It will deals solely with mineral composition, qualitatively and quantitatively, and its structure. Secondly, extensive research has to be done, especially in certain soil science areas, such as soil genesis, in order to make the soil characteristics data available to many users as possible. Thirdly, soil scientists have to reach soil scientists working on different soil science fields and scientists from related sciences, such as environmental engineers, biologists etc, and police makers as well. And finally, but not less important, it is necessary to find efficient ways to make the information gathered on soil readily available to the general public. Also, we need to find mechanisms to convert this information into knowledge in order to ensure that society changes behavior towards soil.

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