Nature Ambassadors – education for environmental sustainability

Nature Ambassadors – education for environmental sustainability

Sowing awareness, watering it with technology

“Jifunze bila Mipaka, hifadhi kwenye Jamii, the motto of a new education project taking place in Tanzania, In this, which appears to most as a magic formula, is contained the full meaning of Nature Ambassadors’ mission. It is the project motto in Swahili language, and firmly articulates the two priorities of the Nature Ambassadors team as they launch a new initiative managed by SeedScience.

‘Jifunze bila Mipaka’ means ‘learn without borders’. The boundaries, in this context, refer both to traditional  walls of classrooms, physical limits that the students will overcome as they immerse themselves in nature and the world, and learning to go beyond, feeling without limits as a learners

“Hifadhi kwenye Jamii’ means ‘preserve within the community’. In fact, the second objective of the project is to bring learning and conservation to the field. In practice, this means that the students collect observations on the species around them, beginning to learn more and more about the richness of their environment. This database of data will also be the starting point for selecting flagship species. This will mainly be done by teachers and community members. These will be species that they consider important and that they believe should be conserved or protected.  

A Tanzania-focused mission

Set in Tanzania, where Nature Ambassadors has its roots, this dual mission holds invaluable and unique strengths. Highlighting them is Ronald Felix, Tanzanian biology teacher and project member, starting with “developing good communication skills and the ability to work in a team, but also cultivating curiosity and the desire to learn new things in young people”. From a more logistical and organisational point of view, there is to be appreciated “the extreme flexibility, of the project, never to the detriment of the level of innovation, and the ability to manage time with balance, both for teachers and students”.

The question of time is complex, it is a challenge in a context where there are always many things to do, even in everyday life. Kelly Koller, American educator and project member, is well aware of this and points to it as one of the most complex aspects to be tackled in project implementation. First on the list, however, is ‘access to technology, both in terms of bandwidth and the availability of devices to share ideas and use powerful technologies such as iNaturalist in different locations in the Morogoro and Pwani regions of Tanzania, where the project is taking place’.  And then there is the idea of the unknown, which can be frightening or disorienting: ‘this is new for both teacher facilitators and Nature Ambassadors.  We are working hard to prepare, but it is always a challenge to tackle something that has never been done before”.

The team’s plan and dreams

Fortunately and invariably, the education team has a clear plan. “A large group of teachers has already committed to an online course to develop technology skills and to learn how to take students outdoors to learn and use iNaturalist techniques and develop a database of identifications that will be a resource for local conservation efforts,” explains Kelly. “Soon the teachers will participate in an in-person workshop that will focus on applying all the skills learned in the online course and developing plans on how to integrate and apply the practices in their classrooms.  Teachers will also be able to collaborate with each other and stay in touch during the implementation of the plans over the next year’.

Team members and Tanzanian secondary school teachers during one of the meetings of the online course.

The culmination of the initiative, from an educational point of view, will be the presentation of the students’ projects towards the end of 2024. Ronald also looks forward to this moment with enormous expectations for the region. Many relate to ‘society’s awareness of the importance of preserving nature’. Also essential is the role played by technology, ‘thanks to which the knowledge gained can be disseminated rapidly’. And there is also the joy of knowing that this can be replicated: with a little adjustment, it can yield great results.

Article by Marta Abbà with the contribution of Ronald Felix and Kelly Koller.

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