Our aim is to complement the formal education sector by assisting vulnerable students with access to education, offering extra-curricular activities that enhance student learning, and providing fully funded internship and facilitated research placements.
The ALERT Education Centre (AEC) project was developed to undertake a variety of empowerment programmes through classes, workshops, internships, facilitated research placements and field trips. Current programmes at our AECs in Livingstone (Zambia), and in Victoria Falls and Antelope Park (Zimbabwe) include:
1. Conservation Education - The aim is to encourage engagement with the natural environment in which particpants live, and to help them understand the advantages of living alongside and conserving local wildlife, habitat and ecosystems. The course teaches foundation concepts within ecology so particpants can better appreciate the value of the natural environment. This, in turn, enables particpants to adopt and develop practical approaches to conservation and managing their environment so that nature and people co-exist harmoniously for mutual benefit.
One of the main objectives of the course is to help students identify ways humans impact the environment and to encourage them to explore and promote alternatives that reduce or reverse these effects. In order to meet this objective, , learners must appreciate that alternative ways of doing things are available and that these options have long-term, tangible socio-economic benefits for the community, as well as producing benefits for the ecosystem.
Many of the learning activities are delivered through particpant-led problem-based contexts or scenarios (known as “problem-based learning (PBL)” so lessons are highly interactive and particpants are fully engaged throughout. In addition to a deeper understanding of the course content, this pedagogical approach also develops important soft skills such as self-confidence, organisation, team working, leadership, communication and creativity. In combination, these skills strengthen particpants’ ability to analyse, evaluate and challenge current practices and to develop more flexible thinking processes so they can propose and support innovative solutions and adapt them for use with their communities.
The conservation education programme has been written and resourced by a team of qualified teachers and Coventry University psychology and education researchers. A planned programme of research is in place to assess its effectiveness.
2. Basic Life Skills - The Basic Life Skills programme aims to give students experience in developing ‘soft skills’ that will support them in their home lives, future education and will make them both more employable and more responsible citizens. The course shifts the focus from fact or content based learning to personal development. Students are exposed to the skills transparently and have the opportunity to practise them through a large variety of activities and challenges.
These super-curricular lessons are intended to be student lead wherever possible, creating an interactive and enjoyable environment in which to learn and build confidence in their own skills and independence, without the demands and restraints of the normal curriculum. The course is written and resourced by a team of qualified teachers working with academics at Coventry University and John Taylor High School, and has been adapted for use in Zambia from Personal Learning and Thinking Skills courses (PLTS) taught worldwide, and in particular the STRIPE model used in many schools throughout the UK at both primary and secondary level. STRIPE focuses on 6 key basic skills:
S – Self Manager (Organisational skills and motivation)
T – Team Working (Including leadership, communication, co-operation and compromise)
R – Reflection (Reviewing strengths and weaknesses, resilience and target setting)
I – Innovation (Working creatively and testing new ideas)
P – Participation (Appropriate Behaviour for Learning, active participation and respect for others)
E – Enquiry (Asking relevant questions, independent research and analysing, evaluating and summarising ideas)
Lessons focus on each skill in turn, ensuring pupils have the opportunity to use each skill and also identify situations where they would need to use the skill in their everyday lives.
3. English Literacy - Education outcomes for African children, and especially those from rural communities, remain among the worst in the world. English is the official language of both Zambia and Zimbabwe, and without good proficiency in English reading and writing, students will likely be excluded from many aspects of active citizenship, including employment opportunities. English proficiency also helps students to better understand all their school subjects, and to be able to tackle exams, which are given in English. In partnership with Coventry University, ALERT has established English literacy programs at weekly Book Clubs to improve children’s English literacy levels and foster a love of reading. Pupils attending book clubs are tested to establish their current reading age, and then tailored, locally appropriate, assistance is provided to improve literacy using educational materials from AXIS Education, TESSA and Happy Readers. A library system provides pupils access to a wide-range of reading level appropriate books.
4. Fully Funded Internship & Facilitated Research Placements - students of African educational facilities, who otherwise might not have access to the opportunities that we are able to provide, are offered placements to gain practical experience in support of their academic learning. The program seeks to assist in building local capacity for conservation and conservation related tourism, as well as in the field of community development.
To date our project sites have provided 909 months of placements to 126 students from the following instititions. In Zambia from the University of Zambia (Lusaka), Copperbelt University (Kitwe) and Mukwela Youth Resource Centre (Livingstone). In Zimbabwe from the University of Zimbabwe (Harare), Bulawayo Polytechnic, National University of Science & Technology and Sizinda Vocational Training Centre (Bulawayo), BEST College, Educare College, Micronet College, Trust Academy, YWCA Mkoba, Gweru Polytechnic College and Midland’s State University (Gweru), Great Zimbabwe State University (Masvingo), Chinhoyi University of Technology (Chinhoyi), and Bindura University of Science Education (Bindura).
5. Funding Schooling Costs – Many students are unable to meet the costs of attending school. Through this program these costs are met including the students’ fees, uniforms, text books and stationary. In 2014, 106 students in Gweru and Victoria Falls benefitted from an education fund of USD 35,463 (2013: USD 10,464).
Future programmes in development or proposed include: Vocational Training, Numeracy, Business Studies / Entrepreneurship and Health, Nutrition and Physcial Eduction.
Livingstone - 3 students given two month internship placements.
Gweru – 15 students on 10 month internship placements.
Livingstone - 2 students given two month internship placements, 1 student given one month facilitated research placement. 42 students undertook a year-long conservation education course.
Gweru – 18 students on 10 month internship placements. A purpose built classroom was created by refurbishing an underutilised building on land provided by Antelope Park.
Livingstone – 4 students given two month internship placements. 30 students undertook a year-long conservation education course.
Gweru – 12 students on 10 month internship placements. 296 children graduate from the conservation education syllabus (8 weeks).
Victoria Falls - 210 children from Chamabondo Primary School have been part of the conservation education classes (12 weeks).
During 2014 we provided placements to 31 students, for a total of 183 months between them, in the fields of conservation research, marketing, guiding, and hospitality - amongst others. Also, during the year, USD 35,463 (2013: USD 10,464) was paid out to fund educational placements from primary to university level for 106 vulnerable children and young adults, benefitting 41 children at Midlands Children’s Hope Centre in Gweru and 65 children in Victoria Falls.
On the 11th of September 2014, Gweru-based Midland State University signed an MoU with ALERT and Coventry University to further develop our conservation education programme in Zimbabwe. Heavily involved in this process was MSc Facilitated Research Student Ruth Armstrong, of Edinburgh Napier University. Meanwhile following a meeting with Copperbelt University based in Kitwe, Zambia, an MoU has been prepared between ALERT, Coventry University and Copperbelt University which includes an agreement for all parties to work together to improve upon our conservation education programmes and extend their capacity in Zambia. This work combines science with local knowledge, to ensure we deliver a conservation education curriculum that positively impacts upon students’ attitudes and behaviours, and is culturally appropriate for the children and communities we reach.
The AEC in Gweru works in collaboration with Mkoba 4 Primary School teaching conservation education to the Grade 6 children. In 2014, the AEC has started also teaching a second school - Takunda Primary School. – from which 60 students have so far graduated. School authorities from both Takunda and Mkoba 4 Primary School have informed us that, after attending the AEC in Gweru, most of their students improve in their general performance at school. Conservation education has also been extended into the community further, including lessons for adults. AEC Gweru has had 652 graduates since opening. Ruth Armstrong’s study for her MSc was to research the AEC Gweru’s conservation education curriculum to assess its effectiveness. Preliminary results show that there is a significant difference between those who attend the AEC and those that did not, with the majority of AEC students retaining the information they learnt about conservation and, over time, developing a more positive attitude and perception towards wildlife and the environment.
In 2015, three students joined our conservation research projects in the Zambezi National Park for a combined total of 18 months, whilst a fourth student joined our community projects for a period of three months. The students came to us from Chinhoyi University of Technology, the University of Zimbabwe, and Great Zimbabwe State University. In Livingstone two month internships in catering were offered to two students of Mukwela Youth Resource Centre, as well as one student and one graduate of Copperbelt University, each on a one month conservation research placement. At our Antelope Park project site 34 students were given placements from 2 to 12 months in wide variety of conservation and tourism fields, totalling 230 months of placements.
Painting the classroom in Gweru