Conservation Education in Sichuan Province: Reaching Kids through Educators

The Conservation Education Department of the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding, Sichuan Normal University Graduate students, and me at a three-day Conservation Education Workshop

Hello this is Jocelyn and I’m in the middle of my third week in Sichaun province, China.  I’ve returned to city from traveling for a while and I’ve gotten situated in my apartment, including… unpacking for the first time!!  This week I’ve gotten to shadow several members of the Conservation Education Department at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding, including Professor Sarah Bexell.  Sarah and three other members of the department have just completed a training for graduate students at Sichaun Normal University.  I participated in the training as both a learner and a presenter.

The Conservation Education team worked with the Psychology and Education Department (a graduate-level-only department) at the regions premier university for teacher education.  The philosophy behind this training is to work with future teachers and crafters of education policy to ultimately reach the young students who will inherit the conservation movement.  While the majority of students studied psychology they were interested in working with young people and designing educational programming- and proved to be responsive and eager students.

The workshop gave me a chance to examine what graduate education could be from another perspective than GSSW.  Initially the students all quietly entered the classroom on the first day, whispering to each other in hushed voices.  They sat upright when the workshop began and did not ask questions unless prompted to at the end.  It was a far cry from the experiences I’ve had with chatty and boisterous GSSW students (except before 8 am classes).  We broke into icebreakers quickly though and the differences between our cultures quickly faded.

The workshop lasted three days, including many sessions such as: information on the principles of conservation education (please see my first post China, Pandas, and Global Social Work Practice); teaching techniques in this field; the importance of biodiversity and its loss in China; the global, illegal wildlife trade; animal habitats and behavior; the importance of nature in child development; healthy pet practices; food safety; relating conservation education to kids; and problem-based education techniques.  Personally I gained the most from two workshops.  While I was familiar with the importance of nature in child development from Professor Bexell’s International Social Development class, concepts like Nature Deficit Disorder seem strikingly relevant when living in a city of 14 million people.  An NPR interview with Richard Louv details this recognized psychological concept.  I also found problem-based learning to be a useful empowerment tool.  Problem-based education, as outlined in the workshop, begins with children or youth identifying macro-level problems that concern them (pollution, endangered species loss, etc.) and selecting an issue that they would like to address.  Students identify what knowledge must be gained in order to successfully address this challenge and then the teacher will work to incorporate these concepts into reading, math, science, and social studies lessons.  Students ultimately will make small changes in their lives, behavior, and school community to create change around this problem.  I found this approach to be relevant to the social work theories of a solution-focused approach as youth are given the tools to successfully enact change in their lives.

Presenting to Sichuan Normal Graduate students one successful model of Conservation Education in the United States: my field practicum site, GreenLeaf

While I found these concepts very interesting, ultimately the most exciting moments were when I had to the opportunity to present.  While much of the workshop created education around conflicts, losses, and problems several examples of conservation work with youth were presented—including my work with my foundation year internship.  This past year, my placement was with GreenLeaf, a youth-led urban farm in northeast Denver.  GreenLeaf is an excellent example of social work’s principles.  Youth (mostly of color, refuges/immigrants, or lower socio-economic status) are hired onto the organization’s team to help produce healthy, affordable, organic produce on formerly abandoned lots.  Food is taken home as an alternative currency to the youth crew, donated to hunger-relief organizations, and sold at flexible but fair prices in the community.  The organization is largely youth-led with the students holding responsibility over curriculum projects, community education, crops, and hiring.  I was so pleased to have the opportunity to share all this with the other participants (and trainers) and we had a very productive dialogue afterwards about whether this would be possible in China.  One major difference that the students highlighted is that GreenLeaf farms on vacant urban lots while there are no vacant lots in Chinese cities- land is too valuable.  I also had the opportunity to lead a game on the effects of human population growth on wildlife.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to attend this workshop- it really was an exchange for me and I gained a lot of knowledge from the other students and presenters.

Leading graduate students in a game demonstrating the affects of human population growth on animal habitats (they’re representing wild pandas)
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