Environment and conservation education a must in schools

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IT was break time at Mthimukhulu Primary School on the outskirts of Magwegwe West Suburb in Bulawayo, a spring hare had just strayed onto the school playground where children were playing.
Within minutes, the boys were chasing the hapless little animal around. In no time, it was being kicked around while those who had no courage to join in just covered their faces to avoid watching the ruthless kicking and tossing of the poor hare.
When the school bell rang to signal the end of the break, all children rushed back to their classes, leaving the poor hare shivering with a broken hind limb and the trauma.
The school’s groundsman took the hapless animal to the headmaster who ordered its immediate killing.
Back in the classrooms, the closer these children get to nature is through some ill-equipped science corners which, in most cases, lack creativity on the part of the teachers.
The educators are not guided by conservation experts to design these corners.
As a result, they are normally strewn with bones, snail shells, old tins and stones.
With the emphasis of the new curriculum on environment education, it is important for environmental education to be given priority in all schools.
The schools environs are not properly decorated except in a few instances. Some children are even seen plucking flowers or shrubs and destroying trees because they are not aware of the importance these play in their day-to-day lives.
The abuse of the helpless hare emphasises the importance and need for teaching conservation education in schools.
Environmental studies, taught as a subject, does not fully address the coexistence of children with nature thereby leaving a huge gap between the subject and conservation education.
Most schools in the cities are on the outskirts of residential suburbs; near polluted environments due to the rampant dumping of waste.
This scenario exposes children to different kinds of hazards such as animals and snakes, making it important for the children to be educated on the dangers of these animals and reptiles.
However, presented with such a scenario, it is important for both the local authorities and the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to ensure that conservation education is prioritised and is made part of the school curriculum in order to entrench conservation values in children who are the future custodians of wildlife and natural resources.
Environmental NGOs can do a great deal to support efforts by schools to improve the environment for children as part of their efforts to promote natural areas or ‘green spaces’ for children and adults.
Although environment related literature has been distributed in most schools, the materials is stashed away in store rooms and libraries because such issues are regarded as too complex to address. This is despite the benefits environmental education brings to both the schools and pupils.
Research has shown that children and adults with access to green space around the school or home spend more time outdoors.
They also relate better to neighbours, commit less crimes and cope better with major life issues.
Children exposed to green spaces engage in more creative play, interact more with adults and perform better in school.
Exposure to natural settings fosters affection for the natural world – a fundamental requirement for sustainable development.
Access to nature is an essential part of every child’s environment, necessary for mental health in the same way that clean water is to physical health.
Most schools have desolate and rundown physical surroundings.
The excuse of cost is commonly used for these poor quality environments, but the problem often has relatively little to do with expense.
Successful schools are more than just buildings, furniture and equipment.
The quality of their environment does much to support or undermine the potential for meeting children’s needs.
Schools often support a formal approach to learning, separated from children’s everyday culture, environment and preoccupations.
This is reflected in buildings isolated from the community and in bare classrooms with little evidence of environment and nature conservation concerns.
Most schools are spatially organised to allow only for attention to a teacher and blackboard at the front of the room. Little attention is given to the flexible and creative use of space, to the use of local materials or to the possibilities for working alone or in groups on a range of activities.
Most schoolyards, for those schools that have them, are barren, undecorated spaces that fail to take advantage of the many inexpensive and simple ways in which the outdoors can be improved to serve as a place for physical exercise and sports, for play and informal learning.
A poor environment contributes to indoor air pollution which is the most serious toxic threat to children’s health.
In poorly vented classrooms, the concentration of different gases is many times higher than the worst cases of outdoor air pollution, and contribute to acute respiratory infections that are still the most common cause of respiratory diseases among children.
Teachers who spend long periods indoors, and the children who stay with them, are at highest risk of respiratory illness, chronic coughs and eye problems.
Outdoor air pollution also contributes to asthma, pneumonia, coughs and other ailments in many urban areas; the burning of papers and other materials such as tyres and plastic bottles in open pits is a serious threat, especially for children learning and playing near them on a daily basis.
Contaminated water from streams and other open water sources used by the children to water gardens may be very dangerous as the water may be heavily polluted with chemicals from industrial effluents; many industries avoid disposal costs by illegally dumping toxic waste.
Thus, it is imperative that environment, culture and conservation education be given priority in schools

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