Why are children losing their connection to nature? In South Africa for example, we have the third-highest level of biodiversity in the world due to our country’s unique physical features such as having two different oceans – the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. However, environmental education is one of the most neglected topics in this country and this places a huge strain on our environment and education system. If our children, the next generation, continue to lose their connection with nature, who will fight for it? With escalating pressures on marine ecosystems caused by pollution, overexploitation, recreational activities and a rapidly changing climate, is there a sustainable future for the next generation? This has been a growing concern in all parts of the world and that’s why environmental educators from all corners of South Africa are taking action to bring nature back to the classrooms.
For the past 19 years, a community of South African environmental educators who are passionate about the conservation of marine life have been gathering annually at the Marine and Coastal Educators Network (MCEN) National Conference to resolve this enormous problem. Sustainable Seas Trust’s Nozi Mbongwa and Stephanie Martin attended the conference to engage with other environmental educators from different organisations. Nozi and Stephanie presented their work that aims to create a waste wise generation through education, capacity building and skills transfer. At the conference, environmental educators engaged with each other and shared resources and activities that support environmental teaching in the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS).
The 19th MCEN conference took place from the 13 – 18th January 2019 at the Garden Route National Park – Tsitsikamma and NG Youth Centrum – Hartenbos. Melaney De Morney of SANParks spoke about engaging the youth in conservation science and said, “introducing environmental education at an early age is the key to building a relationship with the environment”. She also spoke about the importance of understanding biodiversity through three important elements: environmental education, research and outreach to ensure that our future scientists don’t lose their connection to nature.
It was enormously useful and inspiring to see the passion that environmental educators share to better our country’s education system. Justice Bilankulu from the Pretoria Zoo, more formally known as the National Zoological Gardens, presented his work on a case study of the education officers in a science centre environment in Pretoria. His work focused on comparing the different methodologies that environmental educators use to teach in their classrooms. He found that the majority of the educators do have the adequate information or knowledge to teach at the centres. However, they lack the resources to support teaching in their classroom. It is quite unfortunate that these science and environment focused centres are not well supported as they provide schools with extra curricula that connects to CAPs and is more appealing to children as it is fun, simple, interactive and relatable.
We need more educators who are willing to share skills and knowledge to bring better education and child learning experiences into our classrooms. These educators have already taken a stand and are taking action. They are working hard to equip this generation with tools that will sustain our resources and ecosystems. This movement will continue to have a boundless positive outcome across South Africa’s natural environments, conserving our vitally important biodiversity and enhancing our education system.