Learning for life: Environmental education at ATREE

ATREE believes that unless children connect with the environment in their neighbourhoods they cannot relate to broader and remote environmental problems. Therefore, conservation education is an important part of ATREE's outreach and education programme. ATREE is in a unique position to impart hands-on, field-based conservation education using in-house resources - its natural and social scientists and research associates.

Method

ATREE emphasizes a learning-by-doing approach, in which children interact with their environment in a structured manner and learn how to value nature and conserve what sustains us all. This learning draws from the 'Learning for Life' approach where the head, heart and hands (3Hs) are taken into account to help children and teachers think (head), feel (heart) and do (hand), rather than limiting learning by cognitive skills only.

The Web of Life game that allows children to discover how elements in nature are related to each other

Our focus has also been on regaining a rooted local perspective on conservation by focusing on local landscapes, their rich natural resource, and conservation issues. We believe that appreciation of local dimensions of conservation will foster a more 'owned' understanding of global issues rather than the other way around.

Our experience has shown that education and awareness are synergized by strategically linking them to field-based interventions and action-research. These provide real-world opportunities to educate both rural and urban children through hands-on activities on biodiversity related challenges and solutions. Learning opportunities and activities integrated into the school curriculum go a long way in fostering a sense of stewardship to ones community and surroundings, while making basic concepts clear.

ATREE believes that conservation education is a permanent process in which individuals gain awareness of their environment and acquire the knowledge, values, skills, experiences, and the determination, which will enable them to act individually and collectively to solve present and future environmental problems.

Principles guiding ATREE conservation education approach

  • Hands-on, field based experiential learning - learning for life with head, heart and hands. It is linked to ongoing research programmes.
  • Learning must transcend the classroom, and the local land/bioscape must be the field laboratory.
  • Learning should impact student knowledge, awareness, and skill sets on conservation and linked issues.
  • Conservation education feeds into a local natural resource and biodiversity monitoring system. This could influence long-term changes to the landscape.
  • Learning impacts students, their families, and the communities.
  • Learning in conservation should include governance as well as biophysical issues, apart from biodiversity, ecosystems, agro-ecology, and livelihoods.
  • Inter-dependence and links will be a focus area - e.g. livelihoods and biodiversity, ecosystem health and biodiversity, ecological services and energy.
  • Programmes must aim for a teacher-lead effort.
  • Links to be established with existing government programmes pertaining to education and natural resource planning and management.
  • Conservation education should generate long-term monitoring information that schools can use for positive action.
  • Conservation education can be at the field level with schools, colleges and local communities. It can also be at the pedagogical level, where applied research leads to positive change or interventions at the local, regional or national level. It may also apply to policy change as the programme grows.
  • Conservation education is not viewed as just a programme to be implemented, but also something that we need to sensitise the organization staff to with regular inputs, and provide internal environmental guidelines to be followed.

Conservation education programme at ATREE

The six field sites, or community-based conservation centres - CCCs - in Kanakpura, MM Hills, BRT WLS, KMTR, Natham and Vembanad have been ideal catchment area for children and teachers from local schools and colleges in the last decade. In five of these sites (barring Vembanad), conservation education has been part of the larger Conservation and Livelihoods Project (C&LP). The need for conservation education has been driven by the observation that children are not familiar with biodiversity in their backyard. Knowledge of local biodiversity and bio-resource utilization and management are not passed down the generations, with the result that vital traditional knowledge on biodiversity and its management is being eroded. In 2008, ATREE carried out an assessment of potential for conservation education across four community-based conservation centres in order to develop a practical response to the need for sustained awareness on environment and conservation problems. Principles of ATREE conservation education approach that arise from this study have been shared above.

ATREE is also RRA - Regional Resource Agency in Karnataka, for the Department of Biotechnology's (DBT's) Natural Resource Awareness Club - DNA Club. Through the DNA Club, ATREE has facilitated conservation education programmes in Ankola, Ujire, T. Narsipura, Dharwad and Bangalore. ATREE regional offices in Delhi and Darjeeling, and headquarters at Bangalore also provide space for opportunity-based urban student interactions.

Conservation education at the field academies
Kanakpura
Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary
Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve
Natham
Vembanad

ATREE's role in Department of Biotechnology's Nature Awareness Club - DNA Club