|Conservation Education: a Planning Guide (Peace Corps, 1995)|
Wherever there are humans, there is "development". Wherever there is development, humans are interacting with the environment. People satisfy their basic needs by harvesting and using the earth's natural resources--water, air, plants, fish, wildlife, and soil. In the process, however, people can severely harm or destroy the environment that supplies these resources. Too often, human activity damages the environment's capacity to satisfy human demands; when this happens, the quality of people's lives inevitably suffers.
No nation is free of environmental problems. Poverty, overpopulation, poor planning, and an overemphasis on short-term economic gain without regard for its environmental consequences are only a few of the causes of environmental degradation. Fortunately, environmental problems are no longer considered inevitable. Throughout the world, national governments and private groups have begun to realize that improved management of their countries' natural resources means an improvement in the lives of their citizens.
International aid agencies have also been increasingly addressing environmental considerations. Their assistance has included designing environmentally sound development projects, encouraging appropriate technology alternatives, funding technical training opportunities, conducting environmental assessments, and supporting environmental research. In many cases, however, large donor agencies neglect one crucial area: the application of community education to environmental management. Frequently, education is an afterthought in environmental projects, the short sentence at the end of a series of recommendations, and a frill to be included only in the event of a surplus of project funds.
This is a critical omission, as it turns out, because community education is vital to the success of environmental management efforts. Rooms full of management plans and research results will do nothing unless they are taken off the shelves and implemented. For this to happen, all community members -- government leaders, farmers, the general public, school children, citizens' organizations, -- must be motivated to do their part in managing their environment wisely. The most reliable way to obtain people's cooperation in this endeavor is to demonstrate how it will benefit them. This, in short, is the role of conservation education.
Broadly defined, conservation education is any type of education that brings about improved natural resource management and reduces environmental damage. It can include a wide range of subjects, especially within science and natural resource management, and can be directed, formally and informally, at a variety of target audiences. Its objectives are to 1) help people become aware of and appreciate the value of natural resources and the ecological processes that maintain them, 2) help people know and understand what threatens the well-being of their environment, how the environment should be managed, and how they can contribute to its improved management, and 3) motivate people to do what they can to improve environmental management. The task of meeting all three of these objectives distinguishes conservation education from other types of education and instruction. Teaching people to appreciate their environment is not effective conservation education if their behavior does not change also. Likewise, motivating people to act in an environmentally responsible manner does no good if people take the wrong actions out of ignorance.
Conservation education in this manual is also distinguished from technical training, not by subject matter as much as by target audience and purpose. Technical training is a process of teaching present and future professionals the skills they need to do their jobs. Thus, teaching forestry to future forestry extension agents or soil management to future agronomists is technical training. Teaching schoolchildren the value of planting trees or farmers the value of soil conservation techniques is conservation education.
For conservation education to be effective, it must be tied closely to the environmental and social characteristics of the community itself. Each education program's objectives, information, communication methods, and audiences must be carefully identified if the program is to realize its ultimate goal -- improved environmental management. Arbitrarily designed efforts stand little chance of success.
The purpose of this manual is to help the reader design and implement conservation education programs that will effectively bring about improved environmental management. Chapters describe how to gather environmental and social data needed for designing appropriate education programs, how to judge the strengths and weaknesses of various conservation education methods, ranging from mass media to nature centers, and how to implement and evaluate educational efforts. The manual is designed to supplement the Peace Corps ICE manual "Teaching Conservation in Developing Countries," which presents practical information on implementing various types of conservation education projects. Each chapter ends with a series of questions which the reader can use to ensure that no important factors are overlooked. It is critical to select an education method and to implement a program only after running through the assessment procedure outlined in the manual. Otherwise, the risk is great that inappropriate methods will be used and that the potential of the conservation education efforts employing them will go unrealized.
The manual is intended to be useful to a wide range of people, whether they are working in small villages or large ministries in the capital city, and whether they are trained in a particular environmental specialty or "generalists" with broad backgrounds. Readers already trained as conservation educators or with a background in natural resource management may already be familiar with the environmental problems addressed in Chapters 2 and 3, which are included especially for "generalists"; however, they may find some of the information useful content for conservation education programs. Environmental specialists should find the process presented in the manual helpful in designing appropriate education programs.
Generalists, meanwhile, should not hesitate to consider a role in conservation education because of a lack of specific technical training. The resourceful generalist can often find sufficient technical assistance; it is most important to have an interest in working with people and a concern for their welfare.