Positive Steps for Conservation Literacy in South Africa

| 5 February 2015

As we move further into the so-called Anthropocene (see note at end), how do we encourage our children to become proactive conservationists? Do you think it’s important, or simply a challenge for future generations to sort out?

As we move further into the so-called Anthropocene (see note at end), how do we encourage our children to become proactive conservationists? Do you think it’s important, or simply a challenge for future generations to sort out?
And what about rural schoolchildren in particular?
Every nation is different but in in our country, which is already struggling with basic literacies, many believe that the focus should remain English and math’s literacy. Certainly NOT conservation literacy, “a nice to have” they might call it.
But then you read another alarmist article – often based on research conducted by reputable scientists - that argues that “we’re ever closer to the apocalypse”.
Or, even worse, you witness first hand, short-sighted land policies that are destroying indigenous wildernesses. And the latter is happening all over the world.
Via the bizhub Conservation Academy, our not-for-profit partners at Good Work Foundation (GWF) are focusing on core-literacies (English, math’s and digital) but have recently added conservation literacy to the curriculum for grade four and five learners.
They believe that conservation is critical. Critical now. Critical today.
“Our primary goal for school-aged learners – as a rural centre of education in South Africa – is to support a dramatic improvement in English, math’s, and digital literacy” says Kate Groch, CEO of GWF.

“However, with a large portion of our blended learning taking place on digital devices, there is an obvious opportunity for students to learn about our natural world at the same time as improving their English and digital literacy.

We say ‘obvious’ for a number of reasons: (1) We are based in Mpumalanga, adjacent to one of the world’s largest natural conservation areas; (2) Tourism is one of Mpumalanga’s biggest economies, and is growing; (3) There is an opportunity to incorporate more people living adjacent to wildlife areas into the economy of wildlife, or at least, to provide them with realistic access to this profession; and (4) Through urbanisation, South Africans are losing their connection to nature and we must address this issue.”

As an example of blended learning in a high-paced, fun, and interactive learning space, GWF regularly create days focused on conservation literacy in their Open Learning Academy at Hazyview Digital Learning Centre. At a recent conservation literacy day, children from a local primary school were able to watch conservation videos on the big screen (“Bush School” originals filmed by South African filmmaker, John Varty), read interactive wildlife eBooks, practise flying on flight simulators, and then experiment on real drones.

“This programme is designed for Grade 4 learners. And it’s not perfect. But what we are getting right is ‘creating a space of wonder, and a space of curiosity’” says Groch.

“As these children grow into teenagers and young adults, we want them to know what a landfill is. We want them to know about carbon emissions, water systems, rhino poaching and recycling.

More than anything, we want for them to have an appreciation and love of our beautiful country and its natural heritage.”

Anthropocene (extract taken from an article that appeared on www.economist.com): Geology deals with the now: the 10,000-year-old Holocene epoch, a peculiarly stable and clement part of the Quaternary period, a time distinguished by regular shifts into and out of ice ages. The Quaternary forms part of the 65m-year Cenozoic era, distinguished by the opening of the North Atlantic, the rise of the Himalayas, and the widespread presence of mammals and flowering plants. This era in turn marks the most recent part of the Phanerozoic aeon, the 540m-year chunk of the Earth's history wherein rocks with fossils of complex organisms can be found. Now there is a movement afoot to change humanity's co-ordinates. In 2000 Paul Crutzen, an eminent atmospheric chemist, realised he no longer believed he was living in the Holocene. He was living in some other age, one shaped primarily by people. From their trawlers scraping the floors of the seas to their dams impounding sediment by the gigatonne, from their stripping of forests to their irrigation of farms, from their mile-deep mines to their melting of glaciers, humans were bringing about an age of planetary change. With a colleague, Eugene Stoermer, Dr Crutzen suggested this age be called the Anthropocene—“the recent age of man”.