The problem with education? Children aren’t feral enough

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‘Instead of being encouraged to observe and explore and think and develop, children are being treated like geese in a foie gras farm.’ Illustration by Belle Mellor

George Monbiot writes in The Guardian What is the best way to knacker a child’s education? Force him or her to spend too long in the classroom. An overview of research into outdoor education by King’s College London found that children who spend time learning in natural environments “perform better in reading, mathematics, science and social studies”. Exploring the natural world “makes other school subjects rich and relevant and gets apathetic students excited about learning”.

Fieldwork in the countryside, a British study finds, improves long-term memory. Dozens of papers report sharp improvements in attention when children are exposed to wildlife and the great outdoors. Teenage girls taken on a three-week canoeing trip in the United States remained, even 18 months later, more determined, more prepared to speak out and show leadership, and more inclined to challenge conventional notions of femininity.

A child holding some acornsA child from south-east London holding some acorns she found on a forest trail in Wales. Photograph: John RussellStudies of the programmes run by The Wilderness Foundation UK, which takes troubled teenagers into the mountains, found that their self-control, self-awareness and behaviour all improved. Ofsted, the schools inspection service, reports that getting children out of the classroom raises “standards, motivation, personal development and behaviour.”

Last week I saw the evidence myself. With the adventure learning charity WideHorizons, I spent two days taking a group of 10-year-olds from a deprived borough in London rockpooling, and roaming the woods in mid-Wales. Many had never been to the countryside before and had never seen the sea.

I was nervous before I met them. I feared that our differences might set us apart. I thought they might be bored and indifferent. But my fears evaporated as soon as we reached the rockpools.

Within a few minutes, I had them picking up crabs and poking anenomes. When I showed that they could eat live prawns out of the net they were horrified, but curiosity and bravado conquered disgust, and one after another they tried them. Raw prawns are as sweet as grapes: some of the children were soon shovelling them into their mouths. I don’t think there was anyone in the group who managed not to fall into the water. But no one complained.

In the woods the next day we paddled in a stream, rolled down a hill, ate blackberries, tasted mushrooms, had helicopter races with sycamore keys, explored an ant’s nest, broke sticks and collected acorns. Most had never done any of these things before, but they needed no encouragement: the exhilaration with which they explored the living world seemed instinctive. I realised just how little contact they’d had when I discovered that none of them had seen a nettle or knew what happens if you touch it.

But what hit me hardest was this. One boy stood out: he had remarkable powers of observation and intuition. When I mentioned this to his teacher, her reply astonished me: “I must tell him. It’s not something he will have heard before.” When a child as bright and engaged as this is struggling at school, the problem lies not with the child but with the education system. We foster and reward a narrow set of skills.

The governments of this country accept the case for outdoor learning. In 2006 the Departments for Children and Schools, Culture, and the Environment signed a manifesto which says the following: “We strongly support the educational case for learning outside the classroom. If all young people were given these opportunities we believe it would make a significant contribution to raising achievement.” In 2011 the current government published a white paper proposing “action to get more children learning outdoors, removing barriers and increasing schools’ abilities to teach outdoors”.

So what happened? Massive cuts. The BBC reports that 95% of all outdoor education centres have had their entire local-authority funding cut. Instead of being encouraged to observe and explore and think and develop, children are being treated like geese in a foie gras farm. Confined to the classroom, stuffed with rules and facts, dragooned into endless tests: there could scarcely be a better formula for ensuring that they become bored and disaffected.

George Monbiot rockpooling with children from south-east londonGeorge Monbiot rockpooling with children from south-east London. Photograph: John RussellWhen children are demonised by the newspapers, they are often described as feral. But feral is what children should be: it means released from captivity or domestication. Those who live in crowded flats, surrounded by concrete, mown grass and other people’s property, cannot escape their captivity without breaking the law. Games and explorations that are seen as healthy in the countryside are criminalised in the cities. Children who have never visited the countryside – 50% in the UK, according to WideHorizons – live under constant restraint.

Why shouldn’t every child spend a week in the countryside every term? Why shouldn’t everyone be allowed to develop the kind of skills the children I met were learning: rock climbing, gorge scrambling, caving, night walking, ropework and natural history? Getting wet and tired and filthy and cold, immersing yourself, metaphorically and literally, in the natural world: surely by these means you discover more about yourself and the world around you than you do during three months in a classroom. What kind of government would deprive children of this experience?

Twitter: @georgemonbiot. A fully referenced version of this article can be found at ; follow @NAEE_UK 


2012 : This blog in review

Rock IMG_8940 Rockface

A big THANK YOU to all my regular visitors to LearnFromNature!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 46,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 11 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

White House Summit on Environmental Education

The White House convenes a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss the importance of environmental education and the core concepts and principles that contribute the most to environmental literacy, including panel discussions with environmental education leaders, remarks from several Administration officials and a panel on the Federal government’s on-going commitment to the field of environmental education.


‘Environmental education’ celebrates with milestone edition!

The summer issue of ‘EE’ promises to be a bumper harvest magazine! We are inviting you to contribute…


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As the current Curriculum Review in the UK debates the very essence of what people think about environmental education and its close cousin ‘education for sustainability’ (ESD), as well as what the future of ‘EE’ is within the curriculum – the timing of this special edition could not be better.

EE100 will focus on ‘the state of environmental education’ in the places NAEE covers – All of the UK plus supporters and partners in China, United States and Pakistan.  We aim to include all sectors – the Early
Years/Foundation Stage, Primary, Secondary, Higher Education, Further Education, Continuing Education, as well as community and youth groups fostering a connectedness between children and their natural and built environments.

We are inviting ‘you’, to contribute to will be a very special magazine.
We are well into planning for this special milestone magazine, and now
wish to ensure we include the widest possible range of ideas from you, our

We are giving away 2 FREE memberships in a draw. 

What we are looking for…

*  a very short comment (100 words maximum) or report (500-words or more) on
what is happening in your work place – what is working, what’s not…

* your favourite website and/or book about the
environment/education, children and nature, the outdoors

* if you are a member already, your favourite article or case study from a past edition of ‘EE’

When sending photographs to accompany these items, remember to gain
permission and follow NAEE’s guidelines about files explained in the e-journal.

As this is a print magazine with a potentially wide reach, partners or
groups who would like to sponsor pages, should please contact for more details.

The deadline for copy is Easter.

Please send queries in the first place to Henricus Peters, NAEE CoChair and Managing editor, via comment

‘World Environmental Education Day’ – good time to review our crucial relationships with the environment, especially children and nature

English: WWF Camp in Tuscany. All the year chi...
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‘Every January 26th we celebrate the World Environmental Education Day. This has its origin date from 1972 with the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on Human Environment held in (Stockholm, Sweden, June 1972) ‘ . Stated at

Is ‘Environmental education’ as a pure course/theme still relevant? What ‘is’ EE and how does it function alongside other, closely related thematic approaches such as  ‘education for sustainable development‘ , ‘experiential learning’ ….? Comments below,  or at!/LearnFromNature, and

English: Diagram showing aspects of sustainabl...
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Every January 26th we celebrate the World Environmental Education Day. This has its origin date from 1972 with the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on Human Environment held in (Stockholm, Sweden, June 1972) in which it outlined the need for criteria and common principles to offer the people of the world inspiration and guidance for preserving and enhancing the environment.

The Environmental Education is a dynamic and participatory process that seeks to awaken in people an awareness that allows the environmental problems identified with both general (global) and specific level (environment where it lives).

It also seeks to identify relationships and independence of interactions that occur between the environment and the man and is also concerned to promote a harmonious relationship between the natural and human activities through sustainable development, all with ensure the sustainability and quality of current and future generations.

Let us recall some points of the treaty which states:

The man is simultaneously creature and moulder of his environment, which gives the material sustenance and bringing the opportunity to develop intellectually, morally, socially and spiritually.

On the long and tortuous evolution of the human race on this planet has reached a stage in which, thanks to the rapid acceleration of science and technology, man has acquired the power to transform, in countless ways and in a unprecedented scale, the surroundings.

The two aspects of the human environment, natural and artificial, are essential for human welfare and the enjoyment of fundamental human rights including the right to life itself.

Today, man’s ability to transform his surroundings, used with discernment can lead to all peoples the benefits of development and offer the opportunity to honor their existence.

But misapplied or recklessly, it can cause incalculable harm to human beings and their environment.

Around us we see multiply the evidence of damage caused by human in many regions of the earth: dangerous levels of water pollution, air, land and living things, major disruption of the ecological balance of the biosphere, destruction and depletion of irreplaceable resources and serious deficiencies, harmful to the physical, mental and social of the man, created by him , especially one in which he lives and works.

In developing countries, most environmental problems are caused by underdevelopment.

Therefore, developing countries must direct their efforts towards development, bearing in mind their priorities and the need to safeguard and improve the environment.

The natural growth of population continuously presents problems for the preservation of the environment, and should adopt appropriate policies and measures, as appropriate, to address these problems.

Of all the things in the world, humans are the most valuable. They are the people that propel social progress, create social wealth, develop science and technology and, through their hard work, continuously transform the human environment.

We have reached a moment in history when we must shape our actions throughout the world with more request that may have consequences for the environment. But by ignorance or indifference we can cause immense and irreparable harm to the earthly environment on which depend our lives and wellbeing.

By contrast, with a deeper knowledge and wiser action, we can achieve for ourselves and our posterity a better life in an environment more in line with the needs and aspirations of man’s life.

The Conference calls upon Governments and Peoples to work together to preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of man and his posterity.

The treaty aroused great expectations in the world, in the year 1975 within the framework of United Nations programs, was held in Belgrade, capital city of the Republic of Serbia, the International Seminar on Environmental Education with the participation of about 70 countries.

However, is not until the decade of the eighties when America fully engage to this environmentalist culture.

It is important to be aware of the environmental damage suffered by our planet and how to reverse them, to avoid, climate change and other phenomena that affect both ecosystems.

The main objective of environmental education is to create awareness among people and especially in the government as to the need for participation to preserve and protect the environment.

Currently intends to teach from nature, using it as an educational resource, we must train to improve and appreciate the environment, must be presented and learn correct behavior toward the environment, not just knowledge. This is the conception of nature as an inexhaustible source of resources to our service, but as a fragile ecosystem has its own requirements that must be respected in our own interest and survival.

It is necessary to create new models of sustainable development, we must ensure that small actions have a positive impact on the environment.

Click here for source Blue Channel 

Children and Nature Network 

Africa truth : Could big cats be facing extinction?

The Lion King
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In the 1990’s, visiting the Ngorongoro Crater and hearing about tales of lions and humans in other East African savannah-grassed national parks in the mid-1990’s, I am acutely aware of the vital importance of these very fine beasts. The possibility that the miss-called ‘kings of the jungle’ (only some live in rainforest) may be headed for extinction is tragic and must be acted against….

Humans can learn a lot from them say two noted conservationists – so we must preserve these noble beasts. By Anthea Gerrie in The Independent.

Forget The Lion King and its “Circle of Life” – Disney’s depiction of a brave Africa kept perfectly in balance by nature’s biggest predators may be no more than a fairy tale within a generation. This is the shocking prediction of Dereck and Beverly Joubert, the world’s most famous living big cat conservationists. They have been in London this week to launch a show of Beverly’s stunning wildlife photographs at the National Geographic, for which they are Explorers in Residence, but they are more anxious to get over an alarming message that has been falling on deaf ears.

For nearly 30 years living with lions, leopards and cheetahs in the bush, the impossibly glamorous but utterly dedicated couple has been watching the subjects of their life’s work disappearing before their eyes.

“There were 450,000 lions when we were born and now there are only 20,000 worldwide,” says Dereck, white-ponytailed and ramrod-straight at 55. “Leopards have declined from 700,000 to 50,000, cheetahs from 45,000 to 12,000 and tigers are down from 50,000 to just 3,000,” his elegant wife and collaborator adds.

The bleak prospect is that our grandchildren will never be able to see these animals – or even the elephants, buffalo, zebra and antelope who survive by fleeing their predators – in the wild.

“We’re expecting mass extinctions of big cats within 10 or 15 years unless something is done about it,” Dereck says. He’s looking to African governments to do this, without whose change of heart and legislation all efforts to save the beasts will be fruitless.

“Look at tigers – despite all the conservation efforts going on around them, there are less than 900 left in India, and whatever happens to tigers will happen to lions. We are in real trouble.”

“Every year, 600 male lions are taken legally in safari hunts in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia – seven countries in total,” Beverly adds. “You can shoot leopards in all those countries too, and 2,000 a year become a legal hunting trophy.”

What does it mean? “If you take out the top predator, you remove the impetus for migrations to happen,” says Dereck, who with his wife has won five Emmys, a World Ecology Award and an induction into the American Academy of Achievement as well as an order of merit from Botswana. This is now their permanent home; they live there among the cats for nine months at a time before venturing back into civilisation for a quick blast of editing and urban life.

“Take the predator pressure away and elephants and buffalos will stay in one place, picking up diseases,” he explains. “They’ll work the same waterhole, defecate in the ground they’re feeding on and the parasite load will increase.

“The jackals and hyenas will multiply without lions preying on them, knock out the medium-sized prey like antelope, impala, zebra and wildebeest, and then start collapsing themselves.

“You’ll end up with big prey species like elephants growing in intense numbers and then imploding, with everything below them wiped out. If we were systematically trying to kill off the world’s top predators, we couldn’t do a better job of helping the ecosystem towards destruction.”

It’s a story the couple claim the world just doesn’t want to hear.

“No one’s talking about it because they don’t have any solutions. The story of Africa today is that the big cats are disappearing – and that’s something we could take action to prevent.”

With the National Geographic behind them to fund films such as The Last Lions, a cinematic release which this year gave them an opportunity to create some human empathy for the scary cats, the Jouberts pray the animals who have been their neighbours for more than a quarter of a century will still be around for them to study, film and learn from by the time they become pensioners.

“Lions – which are very social animals – and humans have so many parallels, we have been able to take many life lessons from them,” Dereck says.

The first is the power of companionship to aid survival as well as lend comfort: “If a lioness is sick, she can be a passenger for a day or two and feed with the pride, unlike leopards, who are solitary animals hunting in the forest,” he says. “The day she gets sick, that leopard is going to go hungry.”

“When we watched the lions hunting buffalo, it was so hard for a single lioness, but we knew when they worked together they would be successful,” Beverly adds. “At the same time, if the buffalo herd stayed strong, and kept all their horns facing out, they would be fine until one of them created fear and paranoia and they were disturbed – then we knew the lions would make a hit.”

The second lesson is that humanity must hold together because fear and paranoia lead to self-destruction. “Governments, politicians, religious leaders build on the fear embedded on us when we’re children – we need to understand the fear within ourselves and become more balanced.”

The value of teamwork is a third lesson to be learnt, they say. “Eight to 10, the size lion prides form themselves into, is also the most effective size for a human team. At that size you can get things done and have personal relationships with the others in the group. A group of 50 will start to create a common enemy and break back down into groups of eight to 10.”

While they are distinctly unsentimental – “we never intervene with what we see happening and make a conscious decision not to engage with the animals” – they have learnt that a little engagement is what may ultimately persuade humans to help to save threatened species.

“We had to deter the little leopard we followed for three years who astonished us by climbing into our vehicle, because we wanted to maintain her trust without compromising her integrity in the wild,” Dereck explains.

They did it by turning on the engine of their vehicle to mimic the growl of a disapproving mother, and Legadema, the subject of their film Eye of the Leopard, never jumped into the car again.

“She convinced us we had to do something for them because we understand so clearly that with poaching for bush meat, poisoning by cattle farmers, safari hunts for sport and the trade in medicinal plants, only by creating real empathy for the cats do we have a hope of arresting what will otherwise be an irreversible decline,” Beverly says.

The reason they allow themselves hope comes from a final life lesson they learnt from Legadema, who turned out not to be a very good hunter. “What we learnt from her is that with determination and perseverance, keeping on talking to more people, trying to put over the message even if no one appears to be listening, you can prevail,” Dereck says. Given that these Emmy winners have cultivated an audience of more than a billion wildlife enthusiasts, you can only hope there’s at least half a chance they might get heard.

‘Living with Big Cats‘ and ‘Big Cat Odyssey’ are out now on DVD.

Visions of Africa will show at the National Geographic Store in London’s Regent Street until 5 September

UK zoo leads way with online conservation and environmental education

Two okapis at Chester Zoo, England.
Image via Wikipedia


The Pros and Cons of zoos are many and varied – here’s an example of an advantage which includes ‘Environmental education‘. Mark Kinver, Environment Reporter at BBC online explains

A UK zoo has launched a website that it hopes will help bridge a growing divide between young people and conservation.

Chester Zoo‘s Act for Wildlife site hopes social media, video and blogs will increase gadget-obsessed youngsters’ interest in wildlife.

It will allow users to find out more about the effort to save species, put questions to staff working around the globe and follow their fieldwork.

Organisers hope it will help establish a network of online conservationists.

The zoo commissioned a poll that showed that 66% of adults felt that 10-year-olds were more interested in technology than wildlife.

The survey of 2,094 adults, conducted by YouGov, also found that 94% of adults felt that biodiversity conservation was important, yet only 15% actively helped a cause.

“The survey is a somewhat depressing summary of the world today,” said Dr Mark Pilgrim, Chester Zoo’s director general.

“While we are playing with games or chatting to our friends online, somewhere in the world at the same time, a rhino is being poached for its horn or a species is facing a battle for survival in its own territory.”

Starting at home

As well as supporting work to protect species such as orangutans, Asian elephants and black rhinos, Act for Wildlife has also included a project called UK Wildlife.

“Although it is not the sort of work people would normally associated with a zoo, we are a UK-based organisation, and we must not forget that conservation also needs to start at home,” explained project manager Michelle Duma.

“It is no good us going out and working on projects in Africa or Asia and getting people to care about their wildlife, if we cannot do that here in the UK.”

Ms Duma told BBC News that a web-based resource was “absolutely the way to go”.

“Not only does it allow our zoo visitors to go online and see what is happening and keep up to date with our projects, but it also means that we can broaden our reach and talk to the whole of the UK and further afield,” she said.

“The projects that Act for Wildlife is supporting are sending us regular updates on what they have been up to, information about themselves. What we are trying to do is for project members to tell their story themselves.”

One example was project members in Assam, India, posting images of their work with local villages to reduce conflicts between people and elephants.

“Then people can ask questions and engage in a conversation,” Ms Duma added. “If they want to know more about a particular thing, they just have to ask.”

Source :