The aim of the ALERT Education Centre (AEC) through its 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.
This term, 43 students from Takunda Primary School in Gweru began their conservation education lessons by listening to presentations given by project volunteers about the countries they live in. In three smaller groups, they were then tasked with putting together a presentation about Zimbabwe covering the same topics they had just heard about: their country’s political structure, social structure, religious structure, language, economy and currency, and educational system. This interactive approach promotes students’ engagement with a topic, helping them to understand and remember what they have learned.
Firstly, students were taught about what conservation is and why it is important. Then they were divided into groups and given 30 minutes to discuss the following questions:
- What would happen if the natural world is not conserved?
- What is the importance of having animals within the ecosystem?
- What are the threats to wildlife conservation and what can be done to conserve wildlife?
Each group then presented their answers to their peers. As a significant threat to wildlife is the invasive effect of littering, the students were taught about recycling and encouraged to remove litter from outside their school and homes.
- African Animals
In this module, the class learned that animals in the savannah grasslands are divided into two main groups: vertebrates and invertebrates, which can then be divided further into mammals, birds, insects, amphibians, arachnids, and reptiles. They were then taught the different characteristics and adaptations of Africa’s ‘Big Five’: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. After drawing a picture of each animal, the students listed the characteristics underneath and wrote about how each species has become adapted to living within a savannah habitat. To end the lesson, the students were shown what a food chains is, before creating their own food chains using images from magazines.
- African Habitats
Students were introduced to the four main African Habitats: savannah grasslands, rainforest, desert, and mountains. They learned about the differing climate, vegetation, and animals in each habitat and why all are important to the overall ecosystem. This module’s activity was a quiz, which went down very well with the students. Next, they were spilt into groups to discuss the threats to different habitats, including deforestation, pollution, global warming, and desertification, and how each can be tackled, before presenting their answers to the rest of the class.
- African Countries
This module looked at some of the different countries that make up the African continent, along with their wildlife and threats to conservation. Students learned about the Congo and Algeria in more detail; their individual climates, languages, political conflicts and, of course, the variety of wildlife found in each country. They were then asked to roleplay, imagining what their lives would be like if they were members of ethnic groups different to their own.
- African Cats
Lion conservation was the first topic to be discussed in this module, as the class looked at the reasons for the fall in species numbers, including hunting, poaching, loss of habitat, and human-lion conflict. The students were shocked by the extent of the decline, but were positive in their response to the need for communities to conserve lions, and the understanding of how lion presence brings financial benefits through tourism.
The next lesson focused on the leopard and cheetah, with students learning about both cats and the threats to their survival, as well as possible solutions to these threats. To consolidate the lesson, the class was divided into three groups, each representing one of the African cats. The students were tasked with learning more about their cat; the special skills it has to survive in its environment, its biology, why that particular cat is important, the problems it faces, and how it can be saved from extinction. With each lesson, the students have become more confident when presenting their findings to their peers, with everyone taking an active role within their group.
- Tracks and signs
In the final module, students were taught about tracks and signs; how to recognise them, and what information we can find out from them. They also learned how to tell plants species apart, what benefits different plants provide, and how to conserve them. Once again, they discussed the topic in small groups and then shared the outcomes with the rest of the class.
As well as periodic revision throughout the syllabus, a quiz was held at the end of the course to see how much knowledge the students had retained. In three teams, they answered questions from each of the six modules, with all teams performing well. Formal assessment was also carried out with a written exam in which the majority of students scored more than 50%. Some achieved as high as 97%.
Throughout the course, students were encouraged to participate in classroom discussions; an important learning tool to engage students and motivate them to think for themselves. Discussions encourage dialogue between peers, and also allow the class teacher to assess the extent of an individual’s understanding.
To celebrate their achievements, the students will now spend a day at Antelope Park and will each receive a certificate of completion.
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.