Program boosts environmental awareness

Discovering the impact of environmental education on our children’s attitudes about the environment was the basis of a research study on a program developed for and delivered in Cayman to local students.

Tasting leaves

Tasting black mangrove leaves. Photos: Submitted

Learning basic scientific facts is not the only goal of an environmental education program. Children should also be educated on the dynamic interconnections of natural systems, human impacts and solutions, said Marnie Laing, Education Programs Manager for the National Trust.

‘A positive exposure to natural environments early in life may create a lifelong desire to interact with these settings,’ she explained in a Trust press release.

‘If successful, such educational experiences may have a significant effect on the future of a nation’s natural resources. Children may gain a better understanding for the importance of conservation with an increased awareness that there is something to protect.’

Participation in environmental programs such as Martin Keeley’s Marvellous Mangroves program provides an opportunity for children to learn and see first hand how nature may be affected by human actions and how important a healthy environment is to all life, she continued.

In 2004, Ms Laing studied this program while completing her Masters Degree at the University of Rhode Island.

‘It is commonly believed that a lack of stewardship over the environment may be avoided by intervening at an early age with positive, direct experiences in nature,’ she said.

The purpose of her research was to evaluate the effectiveness of environmental education, specifically the Marvellous Mangroves program, in enhancing children’s environmental knowledge, awareness and responsibility.

This study concluded that after participation in the mangrove program, there was a significant difference in environmental knowledge, awareness and responsibility indicators between children who participated in the environmental education program versus those who did not, she said.

Participating students demonstrated a better awareness of mangrove functions such as hurricane protection and only these children indicated concern about the mangroves, impacts to mangrove systems and the importance of protecting coastal areas. Participating children were also able to describe their perceptions about the future of the environment providing a better understanding of the children’s level of concern for problems affecting the local environment.

Children who did and did not participate in the program demonstrated a strong concern for nature, yet students who did participate in the mangrove program were able to express feelings about negatively impacting the mangroves, Ms Laing’s study concluded.

This environmental education program is provided for all primary Government school children in Year 5, and is sponsored by CUC. The program focuses mainly on mangroves, but also allows children to become more aware of the overall natural settings around them.

Hands-on education

Mr. Keeley’s mangrove program emphasizes hands-on training in areas such as coastal ecosystems, the role of wetlands, endangered species, coastline erosion and water pollution. The program also provides the children with activities that teach environmental awareness, knowledge of ecosystems, and current environmental issues.

Mr. Keeley states that interactive education is important for students to develop learning skills. ‘Rote teaching can only accomplish so much because the only learning skill that it engages is memorization. It’s very important to stimulate students’ imagination by making learning fun, tactile and investigative. And of course, good field trips reinforce these techniques.’

Visiting natural settings with children and students offers plenty of opportunities to learn, to grow and to communicate. Along this line, the National Trust is creating more environmental education programs for children. These programs include the Coral Reef Exploration Program, Close Encounters of the Natural Kind and various presentations and activities involving birds, butterflies, bats, native plants and the Blue Iguana.

The Trust is also working more closely with schools as well as having resources available to both teachers and the general community, including a newsletter for all educators called Vision for Knowledge & Discovery.

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