“From the Forest to the Classroom” Promoting environmental education in an Ecuadorian biodiversity hotspot

By Diego Alonso Portugal Del Pino, Co-Lead, IUCN CEM Nature-based Solutions Thematic Group.

In this blog, I will provide a brief description of gaia-liNc’s first project, “From the Forest to the Classroom” where my team and I will be designing and implementing diverse participatory and innovative techniques to teach environmental education in a rural school in a Tropical Andean forest biodiversity hotspot located in southern Ecuador.

Southern Ecuador harbours an outstanding richness of landscapes. The area constitutes an effective and discrete biogeographical barrier and a transition zone between two other biodiversity hotspots, the Tumbes-Choco-Magdalena in the west and the Amazonian lowlands in the east. In this geographical context, our project locations lie within one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, containing one-sixth of all plant species in the Tropical Andes and a high degree of endemism1.

One of the challenges to implementing successful environmental-friendly practices in Latin America was the perceived disinterest of the public on environmental topics2. The relationship between education and environmental awareness shows that education levels do indeed affect the perception of people towards their environment3. In this scenario, many scientists believe that current pedagogical strategies are not enough to ensure environmental protection, and for this reason, new forms of innovative educational strategies are urgently required4 5.

About the Project

The project “From the Forest to the Classroom” is implemented in partnership with Nature and Culture International Ecuador (NCI- Ecuador) with the overall objective to improve teachers’ knowledge and understanding of the importance of the cloud forest and scientific research to involve students in the long-term conservation of their natural environment, particularly in the areas of  Loja and Zamora. Together, gaia-liNc and NCI-Ecuador will work with 700 students (age 10–12 years) and 29 teachers from 10 schools in Loja and Zamora, building capacities on the importance of mountain forests and scientific research to engage students in the conservation of their local forests.

In addition, NCI-Ecuador has a scientific research station (Estación Científica San Francisco) in the area that has been conducting research on biodiversity, ecosystem services, and climate change for the last 20 years collaborating with international and local scientists. This project will build upon the previous research done, and together with German and Ecuadorian scientists and local-based teachers, we will develop the environmental content of pedagogical material (including a handbook and a workbook).

An important consideration in the project is the transfer of knowledge from the previous research already generated in the scientific station and the exchange of knowledge between the local teachers. By implementing capacity building workshops, we will present a list of the most pressing environmental topics occurring in the area and assist in providing and incorporating the local knowledge that the local teacher may present.

Some other activities proposed as part of the project will include:
  • A pilot application in four schools – the prepared material will be tested and validated first with four pilot schools.
  • Creating and hosting two public events in Loja and Zamora in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of the mountain forests in two locations.
  • Planning one excursion/field trip of these 4 schools to the scientific station.
  • Other potential activities to be confirmed involved observation of ecotones, identifications of flagship animals in the area.
Some of the key areas that we are hoping to cover and are occurring in the area of the project are:
  • Drivers of biodiversity loss being climate change, change of land use, invasive species, overexploitation of natural resources and pollution. These five drivers are identified in the project area.
  • Three ecosystems of the tropical Andean hotspots– lowland mountain forests, paramos, and dry forests, and additionally, a myriad of abandoned areas and farmlands where exotic species have taken control are visible.
  • Ecosystem services.
  • Animal-plant interactions.
  • Water cycle and climate change.
  • Plant nutrition.

Timeline and duration of the project

The project is divided into four stages:

  1. Elaboration of an activity booklet and a teacher’s guide, with scientific information from the scientific station
  2. Transfer and exchange of knowledge to teachers of the schools of Loja and Zamora.
  3. Application of the pedagogical material in the schools.
  4. Monitoring and evaluation

The project will start in March 2021, and it is funded by the Center for International Migration and Development (CIM), which is jointly run by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the German Federal Employment Agency.

In the next couple of months, we will share more news on the project. In the meantime, if you have enquiries or would like to contact us, please feel free to write to me.  

If you want to read more information on gaia-liNc, please visit our website, or follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

About gaia-liNc

gaia-liNc is a German NGO founded in July 2020 with an aim to be a key organization for the integration of Latin American societies to promote the sustainable use of natural resources for people to live in harmony with nature by creating awareness, protecting biodiversity, and further natural assets.

Mr Diego Portugal Del Pino is a member of gaia-liNc, a german-based NGO committed to the sustainable development of Latin America’s communities and their territories.

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