The Gifts of Nature: a case for conservation education

Listening to the sonorous melodies from chirping birds around me in my normal walkway to and from work. There’s a joy in witnessing the conversations that go on among these birds, even though I do not understand whatever it is they say but I find orderliness in them. There’s a patience with which they naturally take turns without chirping randomly in a chaotic manner; these orderliness and patience bring calmness to the soul. Looking at tree tops, one would see birds’ nests; the simplicity with which these birds live their lives fascinates my mortal soul. In them I find the joys and free gifts of nature, from God, for me to ponder on and wonder in awe of. These birds – Robbins, Crows, Pigeons and Blackbirds – form part of the landscape and soundscape of this transient moment – period – in my sojourn in this world, and glory be to God for His blessings and creations. I want to savour this moment, this period, and enjoy the bliss that comes from these sonorous birds, and this experience reminds me of years gone by.

When I was a child we lived in a rented condominium apartment on Lagos Island. The house had Brazilian architectural influence on it, just like many other houses that were built during the colonial and pre-colonial eras Lagos Island; as I discussed with Dr Abosede George of the University of Columbia in New York in our interview on her Lagos migrant histories project. Two of the main features of the skyline and soundscape of Lagos Island when I was growing up were the movements of and sounds from pigeons and bats. In those days we had a bird house – usually occupied by pigeons – in the loft of our house and there were bats on the palm tree in the neighbouring compound to ours. I remember the screeching of the bats and their daily migrations back and forth to the palm tree.

Those two birds were commonly found on the Island. Pigeons were commonly seen around where used to be a major shoe retail store – Bata store – in Lagos in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Then, there were the sanctuaries for bats at racecourse area on the Island. As for the racecourse it has historical significance in the history of Nigeria. It was where the independence parade was conducted in 1960 at the end of a century of the British colonial rule in Nigeria. It also housed the national assembly complex during the third republic in Nigeria’s democracy. Back to the birds, in those days it wasn’t uncommon that people would get catapults to hunt the bats in particular, and gradually as I grew older the presence of those birds became part of the bygones of the city’s skyline and soundscape. The birds were replaced by skyscrapers, and air pollution due to rapid urbanisation, sounds from power generators, cars, high population density and growth of Nigeria’s private sectors with the Island as the hub of it all.

This childhood experience of mine can either be looked at as nostalgia or as a way to recreate the good from the past and infuse it into the present in order to have a better future. At a time that the United Nations (UN) is emphasising Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with Nigeria as one of the member states that have wholeheartedly committed to the SDGs, it is important to integrate the conservation of the environment and wildlife into the national curriculum at the compulsory education levels. While my experience with the natural world was limited – as a child growing up in the city – I can still remember those years when pigeons and bats formed parts of my everyday lived experience. To better protect these gifts from God there is need for students to learn about them in school, read books about them, do projects about them engaging their families and friends in the needs to protect nature.

For instance, The Nigerian Montane (Ngel Nyaki) Forest Project in Taraba has been a huge success and its research team led by Dr Hazel Chapman of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand has taken the project to a higher level by engaging the local communities’ children in conservation education through outreach programmes in schools. There is also a similar project in Lagos state but on waste management is by The Wecyclers – a socio-enterprise – co-founded by Mrs Bilkiss Adebiyi-Abiola. The organisation has been able to engage children in waste management through the production, sharing and explanation of waste management with the aid of educational materials on waste management and onsite visits by schools to their waste management facilities.

The two approaches to environmental issues are helping in the conservation of the natural environment, because one reduces waste pollution in the environment and emphasises recycling, thus, (hopefully) reducing the amount of natural resources that would be demanded. The Ngel Nyaki Forest Project is helping in conserving the natural habitats by protecting the biodiversity of the forest, hence, helping to nurture a sense of appreciation of the natural environment in the consciousness of the people. In 2017, EdusoundsNg produced two podcast episodes on the Ngel Nyaki Forest Project in Taraba and The Wecuclers Recycling Project in Lagos.

Recently, The Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) was reported to have said it is updating its national curriculum provision, it is important that conservation education is integrated into the civic, science and security education curricula, because taking care of the environment should be everyone’s civic responsibilities, which hopefully would lead to a safer society for all due to the wellbeing benefits such an environment would provide to the people. As for individual schools, teachers, educators, parents or adults that are interested in integrating conservation education as part children’s education experience, they can use a thematic approach in engaging children. Through this thematic approach to conservation education children will be able to read books on the natural environment; do outdoor exploration of the natural environment by studying particular animals, plants or other physical features within their immediate environments; contextualising their findings locally, nationally and globally.

A creative writing task can be given to children. For example, they can be asked to go out and take picture of a local bird around them. The bird can then be researched on on the internet or in physical books, other reading materials like newspaper articles, magazines or through the use of other audio-visual materials like DVDs and recorded audio sounds.

Below is a sample template of how a thematic approach to conservation education can be carried out in an educational setting or at home as part of a home-school or afterschool experience.

Children can be given a task that could include them writing about:

  • any common bird around them.
  • what they’ve observed about the bird, i.e. the bird’s physical features and attributes (English language and grammar)
  • the daily or seasonal routines of the bird (Science)
  • the impact of people domesticating birds on the environment (Conservation: wild vs domestic)
  • the bird’s diet (Science)
  • any local fact, myth, tale or fable about the bird (Social studies)
  • other parts of the world where the bird can be found (Geography)
  • how to make and actually make a bird’s nest (Craft)
  • how to draw, colour, paint or write with a feather, and actually produce a piece of such an art work (Art)
  • comparing wings’ spread dimensions to body heights, using units’ conversions and graphs (Maths)
  • the influence of birds in the design of flying objects like aeroplanes and drones
  • the impact of modern technologies on birds
  • Scriptural stories or verses on birds, e.g. Qur’an: 27: 16; 16:79; and 67:19 (this was inspired by a friend, Ibrahim Raji, who shared Qur’an: 16:79 and 67:19 with me)

Please note that the suggested task above remains a suggestion. Feel free to design your project according to how it best suits your situation.

*Kindly note that EdusoundsNg has no business relationship with either The Nigerian Montane (Ngel Nyaki) Forest Project or The Wecyclers.

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