WCN Celebrates 10 Years of Environmental Education with a Book Launch

On June 19, Wildlife Conservation Nepal (WCN) officially launched environmental education textbooks for classes 4 and 5 in the districts of Chitwan and Rasuwa, while at the same time celebrating 10 years of their engagement with environmental education in schools. Despite the monsoon rains, which often make travel very difficult, government officials and teachers from the Chitwan and Rasuwa District filled the conference hall of Hotel Annapurna located in the heart of Kathmandu. Other guests were ministry-level government officials, school teachers, embassy people, and various NGOs. The Joint Secretary from the Ministry of Education, Mr. Mahashram Sharma, ceremonially made the text booksofficial. He applauded WCN efforts and urged them to continue their work. The mood was festive and celebratory featuring a music duo playing traditional Nepali instruments, a short documentary film highlighting WCN’s environmental education work over the last ten years, and several speeches by government officials expressing support for the work that WCN is engaged in. DFE consultant, Hanne Hübertz, who has been involved with WCN’s environmental education efforts for the last five years, held a presentation on findings and recommendations.

Nepal has been listed as the 4th most vulnerable country to climate change impacts. This awakes a sense of urgency about how children, who will have to face the consequences of our changing climate, can tackle environmental problems in the future. Teaching about the environment with care to develop a higher understanding of causes and solutions in countries with a quickly degrading environment like Nepal is thus of great importance. WCN’s Nepal Prakriti Pathshala (Nepal Mobile Nature School), or NPP, has a strong focus on promoting hands-on educational methods, which teach about the environment in the actual local setting and focus on learning about concrete solutions to the problems found in the surroundings. It is about connecting theory in the classroom to the reality and environment on the ground.  

Danish Forestry Extension’s and WCN’s work in Environmental Education

DFE’s and WCN’s partnership began in 2008 when a project was launched in the Kathmandu Valley focusing on the problems of urbanization and the pollution and environmental degradation that children living in the urban areas face. The goal of the project was to offer students on the spot awareness raising in environmental issues, in line with the existing curricula and working alongside the official school system, but using alternative integrative outdoor learning methods of teaching that help school children link the knowledge they have to actual experience.

As DFE expert, Hanne Hübertz, notes: “School children all over the world often have knowledge of environmental issues, but are unable to relate that knowledge to other environmental, scientific or social issues. Environmental education and outdoor learning link knowledge with experience, concern and action. This makes environmental education and outdoor learning one of the most long term solutions to the global environmental crisis.”

So how does this effort look in reality? Imagine a minibus painted with animal images from Nepal against the backdrop of a sunset – the mobile nature school, filled with nature interpreters, volunteers, and outdoor learning materials, traveling from school to school promoting hands-on, outdoor environmental education. The nature interpreters and volunteers received training on outdoor learning methods from DFE experts trained as nature interpreters in Denmark. This mobile environmental outreach model was designed to encourage teachers to adopt more hands-on methods when they teach about the environment and for school children and their families and local communities to gain a higher awareness of local and global environmental problems and possible solutions. WCN also promotes the ‘school to home to community’ concept, which is based on the idea that children can relay messages they learned in school to their homes and to the wider community, by staging plays, for example, or building rainwater harvesting units or planting tree plantations, thereby spreading the knowledge and information they learn in school in their surroundings.

The project was a success and continued to expand into rural areas, focusing on the poor and marginalized communities who directly depend on natural resources in their daily lives. Today, WCN has three vehicles that act as mobile schools and travel across the country. They cover the three main physiographic regions of Nepal in Rasuwa, representing the high uplands, Kathmandu, which lies in the middle hills, and Chitwan, in the Terai lowlands. WCN always works in close cooperation with the Department of Education (DoE) and has to date reached over 300 schools.

Influencing Local Curricula

One of the biggest achievements of the project has been WCN’s collaboration with government resource centers of the DoE in Chitwan and Rasuwa in developing respective local curricula on the environment, nature and conservation for the primary level (grades 4 and 5). Thirty schools worked with WCN to develop the local curriculum and teachers worked voluntarily on the content of the school books, which are now published and can be put to use. Thus, while changing the national curricula can be a slow and arduous process, and is made difficult by the current political instability in Nepal, there are ways of achieving impact at scale by addressing local curricula, which may be modified on the request from dedicated local schools and teachers.

In addition, NPP has managed to publish manuals and training materials for teachers and volunteers, produce radio programmes and newsletters on environmental education and even took part in the making of a Nepalese/Danish children’s TV series about Nepalese nature and culture, known as Maya and Max, inspired by the Danish popular TV series, Lille Nørd.

WCN has made a strong contribution to environmental education in Nepal. Together with dedicated schools and teachers NPP has proven that it is possible to develop and practice an interactive Nepalese model of environmental education, based on hands-on methods. The five years of collaboration between DFE and WCN have given a strong foundation and solid methods for outdoor environmental education and changes are slowly starting to be seen. It has been a true grassroots effort beginning with a few dedicated individuals working directly with students and teachers, to changing local curricula to incorporate NPP methods. With the teachers as agents of change and a dedicated Ministry of Education further impact at scale can be achieved.