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.
Last month was full of activities at the AEC for children from Takunda Primary School in Gweru, as 60 students completed all six modules of the conservation education curriculum; African Animals, African Habitats, African Countries, African Cats, and Tracks and Signs.
Also in June, 14 students from Shawnigan Lake High School in Canada visited the AEC. They brought with them a generous - and very useful - donation of whiteboards; one large board for the second classroom we plan to open soon, and 20 smaller boards, which will be used across all our education projects. Before they left, the students painted a sign across the entrance to the AEC, reading ‘Tinokugamuchira Nemufaro’; We welcome you with happiness.
Another generous donation of a projector, from volunteers Ryan Woolsey and CJ Johnson, will be extremely useful in enhancing conservation education lessons through screening wildlife documentaries for the students.
Meanwhile, at Mukamusaba School in Livingstone, a new topic called Sustainability was introduced to conservation education students. The aim of this subject was to show how intensive farming practices can have a negative impact on the environment, and how these effects can be reduced by using smaller scale sustainable methods.
To introduce the topic, six key words - agriculture, crop, farm, yield, intensive, and sustainable - were defined and discussed with the students. In groups, guided by a staff member or volunteer, the children were asked to discuss various pictures of farming practices in Africa; identifying the advantages and disadvantages of each method. The session closed with a discussion on how sustainable farming methods are beneficial, not only to the current generation, but also for future ones.
The following session explored the differences between large scale intensive farming operations, verses small scale sustainable projects, in more detail. In pairs, students were given a series of statements concerning different farming methods - large and small - and were asked to identify if each was an advantage or a disadvantage in terms of environmental conservation.
With the end of term approaching, in the next session our conservation education team introduced students to a ‘Forest Sustainability’ game; reinforcing the message of sustainable forest resource use in a fun and interactive way.
ALERT is currently carrying out Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) mitigation trials, using a lighting system to deter predators from approaching livestock enclosures at night, in the Matetsi Conservancy in Victoria Falls. Children from Breakfast Primary School within this conservancy have been attending conservation education lessons, carried out in conjunction with Coventry University in the UK. Two-hour sessions, over the course of six days, taught students the importance of conserving wild flora and fauna, combining lessons with interactive games to reinforce the learning in an enjoyable and memorable way. Assessments were carried out before and after teaching, to monitor changes in attitudes towards nature conservation.
During the first lesson, called ‘Amazing Zimbabwe’, students were encouraged to feel proud of their environment, to create an emotional connection to Zimbabwe’s biodiversity and to foster a sense of ownership. As the children may take their everyday environment for granted, they were encouraged to see it through the eyes of others; appreciating its uniqueness and ecological importance. A roleplay activity involved them acting as ‘tour guides’ to recommend places of natural beauty, plants, and wildlife that tourists should see.
Day two’s lesson focused on the impact deforestation has on food chains. After learning the concept of what a food chain is, the students were told what happens when something causes it to break. They learned about the causes and effects of deforestation, and how it can be controlled. Zimbabwe holds a National Tree Planting Day on the first Saturday of each December, so the children were encouraged to participate in this year’s event to plant a tree and show their commitment to helping to tackle deforestation.
‘Problem’ animals are a concern amongst rural communities, so in the next lesson students were taught how people can adapt their lives to co-exist more harmoniously with wildlife. After considering the resources that humans and wildlife compete for, lists of local ‘problem’ animals were created. In groups, the students explained why it is difficult for people to live alongside these animals and then considered ways in which resources can be shared without causing conflict.
In a play-based learning activity, the children considered the following HWC scenario: One day you come back from the fields and your mother is very upset. There are baboons in her kitchen! They have scattered everything around and eaten the lunch she had carefully prepared for the family. Your mother wants the baboons killed immediately, but knows that the rules of the National Park say you cannot do this. What do you think your family could do?
The following lesson, ‘Living with Wildlife’, continued the theme of adapting to live alongside wild neighbours. Following a warm-up game involving hyenas, the children were asked to make positive statements about the species, most of which were based on the fact that hyenas didn’t attack livestock and therefore the students didn’t hate them. To encourage them to consider the benefits of living with wildlife, students drew a picture of an animal and were asked to list its qualities. They then considered why tourists spend money to see this animal, what they are doing to live harmoniously with it, and what strategies they can use if they come across this animal in the wild.
The ‘Conservation Game’ played at the end of this lesson, involving poachers, conservationists and lions, demonstrated the need for local people to become conservationists to stop the loss of their wildlife heritage through poaching.
Lesson five concentrated on the African lion and its importance within the ecosystem. Students were asked to share their personal feelings about lions; most of which were understandably negative in response to their experience of lions killing the family’s livestock. To encourage a more positive attitude, students were told about the decline in lion populations in comparison to the increasing human one. They were also taught ways that lion attacks on livestock could be reduced.
The course ended with a visit to Lion Encounter’s site and the opportunity for students to meet the lions face-to-face.
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.
Support the AEC
If you would like to support the activities of our AEC operations please click here.