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Implementing an Education Programme at a New Botanic Garden

Abel Barasa Atiti
National Museums of Kenya
Nairobi Botanic Garden
PO Box 40658
Nairobi, Kenya


Home | Contents | Abstract | Introduction | Creating an Education Policy | The Implementation Process | Training and Support | Securing the Necessary Educational Resources | Planning the Educational Programme | Publicising the Educational Programme |
Developing External Links | Evaluation | Conclusion | References


Abstract

A new modern botanic garden is being developed in Kenya at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) site in Nairobi. Recently, it started implementing an education programme to prioritised target groups of schools, teachers and tourists.

By utilising the existing plants at the site, classes from primary schools around Nairobi were invited for interactive and hands-on sessions at the Garden. Within six months, more than 1800 pupils and 80 teachers from the schools had participated in the education programme. This overwhelming initial response has enthused me to go ahead with the implementation of the education programme without waiting for a complete development of our garden.

Environmental interpretation for the non-captive audience is quite challenging, especially for a new botanic garden with limited garden collections. However, I have started making some progress in this area through thematic interpretation of our existing plant collections. I have adopted an interpretative approach that is entertaining and relevant to the needs of our non-captive audience.

In this presentation, I will share my experiences and the challenges of developing and implementing an education programme at a new botanic garden. I will discuss the various stages I went through during the implementation process.

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Introduction

Every new botanic garden is unique in terms of location, size, available facilities and even groups to be targeted. From my experience, one does not need to have a completely developed botanic garden to start an education programme. I have already started implementing an education programme at our botanic garden even though it is still in its initial phase of development.

It is essential to recognise that there are several stages in implementing an education programme at a new botanic garden. These include:

With a well motivated education staff, the path towards a successful implementation of an education programme should proceed smoothly. Inevitably setbacks will occur to the implementation process. Education staff will need to compromise, adapt and co-operate to avoid difficulties which may arise.

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Creating an Education Policy

There is need for every botanic garden to have a written education and awareness plan. Such a plan should identify audiences, the core messages to be targeted to each, and the facilities and activities involved in putting these messages across (Botanic Gardens Conservation Secretariat, 1989).

Apart from equipping a garden with a document that can help raise funds for its education programme, an education policy also provides a framework within which a garden can develop its educational programmes. Developing an education policy can be a daunting task especially if one is involved in setting up a new botanic garden.

There are three points to consider when developing an education policy:

In essence, a policy document should specify:

Many gardens throughout the world are now playing an important role in the provision of environmental education. In a new garden, it is much easier to make efforts to elaborate a clear mission statement outlining the main goals of the garden in education. On target groups, the potential range of groups that may visit a new garden is quite enormous. It is necessary to clearly outline in your policy the groups that you will prioritise on. Set your priorities according to the messages you will want to get across and the facilities that are available.

When creating your policy, consider the different categories of resources available. There is need to specify the minimum number of educators required to start the education programme and to take into account how financial resources will be procured. Discuss the available garden collections and the existing infrastructure. Because of constraints of time and resources, a new garden should consider how changes can be prioritised and included in manageable steps within the garden's overall development plan.

I must emphasise here that a policy which is developed through consultation with all parties directly concerned is more likely to be implemented effectively.

When I was creating the education policy of our garden, I had a lot of consultations and discussions with my colleagues.

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The Implementation Process

New botanic gardens may adopt a wide range of implementation strategies for their education programme. However, whatever the detail, there should be arrangements to have the full support of all the garden staff.

The first step towards the implementation process is to have a member of staff responsible for education. The main task of such a member of staff is to indicate the ways in which education can be approached, the types of provision, and the way in which evaluation can be made. For a new garden, some of the challenges to the implementation process include lack of training for education staff and inadequate resources.

To effectively implement an education policy, there are a number of tasks that the education staff should perform.

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Training and Support

Educators at a newly started botanic garden are likely to have little or no training in botanic garden education.

At the time I was assigned the education role at our garden I had poor perception of the education function of botanic gardens. To make matters worse, there existed no modern botanic garden in our country to collaborate with. To enhance the implementation process, training in botanic garden education became necessary.

Formal training may be expensive for a new garden and more emphasis should be on less formal training, e.g. attending education congresses, study tours and staff exchanges with other gardens. Study tours and attachment to other botanic gardens greatly enhanced my perception of botanic garden education more than a formal training would have achieved. However, where a garden can afford formal training, the education staff can greatly benefit in acquiring relevant education approaches and strategies. During the implementation of our education programme, I received a lot of support from my colleagues. It is therefore important that the garden should fully support the efforts and action of its education staff if the implementation process is to be hastened.

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Securing the Necessary Educational Resources

There is no doubt that a new garden has limited educational resources, but the garden itself whatever its state is the greatest resource of all. For instance, when I started implementing our education programme we had very few garden collections.

The only developed part of our garden was a small nursery and a plant house consisting of rare and threatened plant species. However, the site has mature trees and a river which have provided adequate educational themes.

Educational materials need not be highly sophisticated though. Resources such as pupils' activity sheets, simple teachers packs and leaflets can easily be developed at the garden. I have been able to prepare a draft of teachers pack for primary schools through a consultative process with teachers and educators in other botanic gardens. The easiest way to secure some of the necessary educational resources can be through requests to other gardens and relevant organisations. Through such requests, I have been able to secure a significant amount of educational materials from other well established botanic gardens. I have adapted some of these resources so as to meet our garden's needs.

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Planning the Education Programme

Based on the available resources, I started planning the education programme in stages. I had to set the education programme against its aims and objectives after identifying and prioritising the target groups. To succeed well, I planned to focus on one programme at a time. I started by focussing on environmental education programmes for primary schools. I realised that working with small groups of school-children and their teachers provided opportunities for dialogue and participatory development of programmes and resource materials. During the planning phase, I wrote down a strategy on how I was to achieve objectives of the programme. I set my measurable targets and then decided on how well I was to evaluate the programme.

Depending on the programme you have developed, the type of educational approaches to be followed are important. A wide range of educational approaches exist — guided or self-guided tours, talks and lectures, interactive exhibitions, field excursions, outreach programmes, interpretation, workshops, training courses. Whichever approach you adopt, take into account that different target groups require different approaches.

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Publicising the Education Programme

The education programme developed should be publicised with a view of attracting audience and informing people about services on offer. Effective publicity can also assist in attracting sponsorship.

Some of the channels I effectively used to publicise our education programme included personal contacts during conferences and seminars, circulars to schools, leaflets, events at the garden, participation in flower shows, newsletters and more recently, the internet. In most cases, I tried as much as possible to use the less expensive channels.

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Developing External Links

It is very crucial to maintain close links with educators in other gardens and relevant organisations to ensure the sharing of skills and information. Through such links, it is also possible to secure educational resources for the education programme.

As soon as plans to develop our garden were ready, we applied for membership to Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).

Our garden has created and maintained close links with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, National Botanical Institute and many others.

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Evaluation

If an education programme for a new garden is to be implemented successfully, then appropriate arrangement for evaluation must be put in place.

Evaluation involves gathering, analysing and interpreting evidence about the quality of an education programme and its impact on the target groups. The accumulation of evidence about progression and achievement in learning will depend upon skills of observation and interaction with the target groups. I must reiterate the fact that both the education policy and education programme of the garden need to be evaluated. It is important to involve other staff in the evaluation process.

Evaluation at the garden can take two forms formative and summative. During formative evaluation one has to assess the design of the education programme as it is in process, test where useful and feasible, with the aim of eliminating problems before they occur. Formative evaluation becomes very important in enhancing the quality of the education programme. Summative evaluation is carried out at the end of the process, to assess the success of the product.

An educator at a new garden may wish to know the answers to a number of questions after a successful implementation of an education programme, e.g:

I have used a range of techniques to attempt to answer these questions. During school visits, I make observations of how well pupils complete tasks in their activity sheets.

Observation of activities can provide existence of learning and achievement. I also use questionnaires and interview visitors to establish their views about the value of a given programme. I carefully record observation both planned and spontaneous to assist me in the overall assessment. Detailed records of visitors numbers is quite helpful hence I always keep good records of them. Post-visit evaluation can be carried out where one can visit schools that have been to the garden. Sometimes I ask teachers to send samples of pupils work pertaining to their visit as part of post — visit evaluation.

In essence, an educator's skills of observation, interpretation and questioning are crucial to the evaluation task of an education programme.

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Conclusion:

While every new botanic garden will endeavour to tailor its education programme to its specific circumstances, it is important for one to carefully plan the programme, assess the audience being targeted, and then decide how effectively to present the programme to the audience. It is equally important to carry out evaluation so as to determine what succeeded, failed and why it failed.

Since education has been regarded as an overwhelmingly important function of botanic gardens, educators at a new garden should not wait for its complete development before implementing an education programme. However, one should not be very ambitious to try and undertake too much too soon.



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