Education in Africa: Primary and Secondary Schools
Education is the key to empowering people in Africa who live near the gorillas to become stewards of their shared ecosystem.
When the Fossey Fund began working with local communities in Rwanda on conservation strategies, education was the first development investment the communities requested. The Fund now supports education on every level in the areas where it works, from nursery schools to universities.
Supporting education in Rwanda
For many years, the Karisoke™ Research Center, with help from Partners In Conservation at the Columbus Zoo (PIC) and other supporters, has supported education for children of its staff, as well as other children who attend the schools near Volcanoes National Park, by donating books and school supplies to primary schools and paying for secondary school students’ fees and uniforms. The Fossey Fund purchases bicycles for teachers at the Bisate school (in the town nearest the park) and has provided language training for both teachers and pupils. With support from the East African Children's Education Fund (EACEF) we also provided a new, modern six-classroom building to replace one with mud walls that had crumbled.
In addition to providing school fees, supplies and infrastructure, Karisoke staff regularly conduct conservation education programs in primary and secondary schools located around Volcanoes National Park. Programs include puppet shows, presentations on the environment and conservation, inter-school competitions, and a special science day.
In 2009, Joseph Karama, Karisoke's conservation education manager, began delivering a new animal science and conservation module, developed by Disney's Animal Kingdom and supported by PIC, to primary schools around Volcanoes National Park. The program introduces the children in grades 3 and 5 to the diversity of the animals in the neighboring forest, their ecology (with emphasis on the mountain gorilla) and threats to their habitat and existence, as well as shared actions that even children can take part in to help protect the animals. About 750 children in three schools participated in 2009, 1,364 children in four schools participated in 2010, and in 2011 two more schools were added to the program, with 1,698 children participating. Twenty children from each of four schools were taken on a day's nature walk in the park in 2011 and children from six schools wil visit the park in 2012.
In addition to the Disney curriculum, Karama initiated Youth Action for the Environment, a program that re-established conservation clubs at six schools near the park and engaged the students in projects geared to the needs of their communities. A leadership workshop trained one teacher and one student from each school who recruited club members and led them in designing their projects. The clubs discussed the problems faced by their communities and schools and the actions needed to solve them, then carried out activities that included solid waste management and composting; growing fruits and vegetables; tree planting; and developing a tree nursery. The completed projects were showcased for the public and received awards. An advanced leadership workshop helped the leaders develop more ideas for the coming year. Karama hopes to inspire students in other schools to begin similar clubs.
In 2011, Karama gave a three-day training workshop to one student and one science teacher from the six secondary schools we work with. They learned about field techniques and the scientific process; how to choose a research question and develop a hypothesis; and how to collect and analyze data and present findings. The pair from each school then led other student members of their school's nature club in a pilot study titled “Monitoring the Seasonal Patterns of Migratory Bird Species in the Areas around the Volcanoes National Park."
At least 600 secondary students participated in this pioneer citizen science project to monitor the long-term changes in the area’s bird population and determine how the population responds to changes in land use. A total of 72 bird species were recorded by the students, although none of the expected five migratory species were observed. The preliminary results were published in the student-run Gorilla Magazine, a project of High School Review, which Karisoke is supporting to provide the Citizen Science participants with a way of sharing their work with other students.We sponsored the printing of a special edition on the June gorilla naming ceremony, and the October issue, which also carried articles on citizen science and gorillas. Three hundred copies of each issue were distributed to schools in Musanze.
The Citizen Science initiative is expected to continue with a new group of students every year.