The aim of ALERT’s conservation education programme is to encourage children and local communities’ engagement with the natural environment in which they live, and to assist them in understanding the advantages of living alongside and conserving local wildlife, habitat and ecosystems.
It has been an exciting four weeks at Mukamusaba School in Livingstone as the conservation education students explored the principal of species interdependence. The topic looked at the relationships between organisms within an ecosystem. It aimed at teaching how organisms depend on each other and the environment for survival, and also establishing human dependence on nature.
Chains and Webs: In introducing interdependence to the stude have been learning aboiut nts, it was explained that species in the wild do not exist in isolation but are always interacting with different organisms and also with the physical environment. The first lesson looked at helping the students to understand how organisms in an ecosystem depend on each other for food. At the beginning of the lesson the students were put in pairs in preparation for a ‘’runner and scribe’’ activity. Each pair was required to write four words on their white boards (Interdependence, Producer, Consumer, and Producer). One of the pair (the runner) then had to move around the room looking for the definition. Once found, they had to memorise the definition, return to their partner (the scribe) and recite it. Between the two of them, the students then decided which word it was a definition for and the scribe wrote it down. After two words, they swapped roles.
Students were then given nine cards, each containing the name of a different animal or plant. They were asked to order the organisms into three different food chains, based on which organism eats each other, and then to connect the organisms with arrows to indicate the flow of energy in the food chain. After that, the students merged their three separate food chains to form a food web, with more arrows added in to make it a complex network. At the end of the lesson, the class discussed the food chain in detail to understand how organisms depend on each other.
Depend on me: The following lesson focussed on human dependence on nature and how humans use natural resources for survival. The session also tackled the impacts of human activities on the ecosystem and interdependence that stretches beyond food. The concept of human interdependence was introduced with a simple exercise during which each student drew a picture of themselves in the centre of a whiteboard and around it, four people who are important to them. For each person, they wrote two sentences; one describing what they do for that person, and the other what that person does for them. The class then related human interdependence to how organisms in nature depend on each other. The lesson ended with the students working in groups of five to discuss how wildlife affects human agriculture, how humans depend on nature, and how conserving the environment can benefit ourselves.
Populations: In this lesson, the focus was on understanding how sampling is used to estimate the size of a population, it’s trends and cycles, as well as how population trends are affected by other organisms in the ecosystem. Following an introduction and demonstration, students went outside in small groups to randomly sample a one metre by one metre area, counting the approximate number of ants within that area. Back in the classroom, numbers were recorded and the mean number of ants calculated. The students then learned that the number of ants within the small area they had sampled can be used to estimate the population of ants in a much bigger area. The final part of this lesson looked at how different populations interact with each other and how these interactions bring about a balance in the ecosystem.
Pest Control: The final lesson in the topic of interdependence aimed at understanding how pesticides and poisons regularly used by humans can affect many other organisms in the food chain, causing problems for the whole ecosystem. After defining key words, the class was split into groups to look at how pesticides build up in the food chain. On their white boards, each group drew one big circle to represent a cat. They then drew seven smaller circles inside it to represent seven mice. In each of the seven circles, 30 dots were drawn to represent locusts. The students then had to work out how many doses the cat would consume if each locust was carrying a dose of pesticide. A discussion followed on how insecticides used on crops can affect humans and also the possible effects of eating an animal affected by insecticide on the food chain. The lesson concluded by looking at different methods used to control pests and their advantages and disadvantages.
About ALERT’s Conservation Education Project
Our conservation education syllabus was developed by ALERT in partnership with Coventry University and David Brackstone of John Taylor High School. Evaluation of the effectiveness of the syllabus in changing attitudes towards a more positive view of conservation has been undertaken by Coventry University as well as by Ruth Armstrong, of Edinburgh Napier University. ALERT has also established a tripartite agreement between ALERT, Copperbelt University (Zambia) and Midlands State University (Zimbabwe) to improve conservation education provision in these two countries.
The syllabus has four main objectives:
- to increase participants’ awareness of their environment and assist them in developing sound judgement in the management of natural resources;
- to involve participants in activities to increase their understanding of environmental issues;
- to encourage participants to develop the ability to view situations from an environmental point of view, and to undertake simple investigations and interpret the results, and;
- to emphasize to participants the potential of the environment as a source of benefits and therefore something to conserve, manage and sustain.
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.
About ALERT Education Centres (AEC)
Conservation Education is one aspect of the work of our ALERT Education Centres. The AEC operations at Livingstone (Zambia), Victoria Falls and Antelope Park (Zimbabwe) are all aimed at supporting the formal education system by offering extra-curricular activities to enhance student learning, and assisting with access to education for vulnerable students. Current programs include the provision of classes in conservation education, basic life skills, and English literacy. In addition, we provide funding to pay the fees of vulnerable students to take part in education from pre-school to university level, and fully funded internship and facilitated research placements for university level students. Future programmes will incorporate classes in numeracy, health & nutrition, physical education and business studies/entrepreneurship, as well as a variety of vocational training. The AEC is operated in association with Coventry University (UK), Midlands State University (Zimbabwe) and Copperbelt University (Zambia), and with the assistance of David Brackstone of John Taylor High School (UK). The first AEC, at Antelope Park, was opened in 2012 by the then Zimbabwe Minister of Education, Mr. David Coltart.
Join us at the AEC
ALERT offers a Conservation Education internship for those keen to gain hands-on teaching experience, while contributing to the protection and preservation of Africa’s wildlife. Interns will help in preparing and delivering lessons both in the classroom and on field trips. The syllabus encompasses environmental conservation, ecology and biodiversity, sustainability, and wildlife ecology and management. If you are interested in an internship at the AEC at Antelope Park click here full details.
Make a donation to support our work.
If you are able to contribute to fund our conservation education programme, you can make a donation here.