Evaluation and Planning for the ‘Schools in the Forest’ Education Programme
Volume 2 Number 2 - October 2005
Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary’s educational programme ‘The School in the Forest’ is now 12 years old. We work with schools, individuals and NGOs at local, regional, national and international levels. Our concern is to bring about a shift in attitude and alliance within human society with respect to the natural world. We encourage long and intensive exposure to the tropical forest environment, to open up different sensibilities and dimensions in children. We are now reviewing our residential programmes, with the various participating schools and educational networks, by inviting feedback and consideration of shared concerns. We are urging a collective reflection of environmental and global issues in order to bring about effective and meaningful action. We suggest that the severance between humanity and nature has complex roots. A far deeper awareness is needed to address this.
Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary (GBS) has been running its residential School in the Forest educational programme for 12 years. Operating over two to three weeks, the programmes emphasise a multi-dimensional way of living. Children are exposed to nature and natural history through forest exploration, enquiry, community life, solitude and reflection. Encouraging them to use their bodies and senses to experience their visit is a central tenet of the programme.
We process the learning through dialogues and sharing. Exchanges are usually quite lively and thought provoking, and most of the time children respond with their own observations and questions and are generally quite attentive. In essence, GBS educational programmes are born from the sense that the perception of beauty brings about meaning, affection and joy, and as a result learning and action.
Linking with Schools
We have been encouraging contact with many schools, hoping to build momentum in environmental awareness with more educators and more schools. Our aim is for teachers to use their own locality, for exploration and environmental education, and for us to offer them complementary support. There is a preference among schools (with one or two exceptions) to focus on natural history, environmental pollution and wildlife etc. However, little work is done on using the body and senses to experience the environment. In our view, all these dimensions go together. We believe that there is a critical, more fundamental connection between the wider world and us (as organic beings) and that we need to experience links through our senses and bodies along with our minds and hearts.
Having said this there is a realisation that, specifically with the shorter programmes, childrens' experiences at GBS may not necessarily transfer well into the rest of their lives. How can we make this bridge?
Following feedback from visiting schools, in the form of letters and dialogue between GBS’s education team (internationally scattered), we have come up with a number of recommended changes for the School in the Forest programmes:
- Children spend more time with us.
- Children come in smaller groups, say 10, maximum 12. We feel that groups of 10 + are too large (unless they have already visited before) to allow for the space to feel things, and to disengage from the human /social world.
- Children come more than once. We feel that young (age 11-13years) urban children are not adequately prepared for their visit, in order to take full advantage of the experience, both in terms of theory and knowledge and basic comfort and familiarity with nature.
- We establish a meaningful dialogue between the schools and GBS, to understand how children develop throughout their schooling. For instance is it possible to conceive of a sustained environmental curriculum over five or 10 years that might include campus-based activities? Can we revisit themes over the years in new and creative ways so that children can build on their experiences and knowledge?
- Link some of the exposure at the Sanctuary to mainstream subjects so that the experience here infuses some of the learning at school.
- We articulate better what it is we wish to see happening from these encounters. What do we want children to do? Develop naturalist skills? Develop school gardens? Cultivate organic vegetables? Make alternative life style choices? Respond to current global environmental problems?
One of the points raised was of sensitivity. Many thought that this could perhaps be the one thing that can make a difference. Sensitivity, of course, cannot be quantified; but there is a recognisable quality of seriousness that comes about in a person when they start to feel responsible for things. A shift in priorities away from self-gratification and personal fulfillment takes place. We believe that meaningful contact with nature is important in this respect and are keen to examine how we can collectively facilitate this.
We have received feedback on our recommendations from four schools and are waiting to hear from others. Everyone agrees that a closer cooperation between GBS and the schools could generate a more meaningful and exciting nature curriculum. One school has suggested thematic approaches that carry on throughout the year, for example the study and observation of life cycles, while another school will definitely send children several times throughout their education. Others agree that this is a good idea; but find it difficult to fit in to their existing schedule. Workshops or exchanges between GBS and teachers may be the single most significant activity to pursue.
We are constantly examining what we can do so that children visiting GBS or elsewhere, are profoundly touched by the beauty of the living world, by life, by their own amazing bodies, by the warm aliveness in things. For us, this is obviously about maintaining and generating something within us, keeping places ringing with aliveness. It is also about having a dynamic exchange between the schoolteachers and adults concerned so this becomes a seamless process. We are all really more interested in developing programmes that get people ‘in the gut’. Then we can leave the rest to life and the universe - so to speak!
Le programme éducatif « L’école dans la forêt » du Sanctuaire Botanique de Gurukula a maintenant 12 ans. Nous travaillons avec les scolaires, les individuels et les ONG au niveau local, national et international. Notre but est de provoquer un changement à l’intérieur de la société humaine dans son attitude et sa liaison par rapport au respect du monde naturel. Nous favorisons un contact long et intensif avec l’environnement de la forêt tropicale pour faire émerger de nouvelles sensibilités et dimensions chez les enfants. Nous sommes en train de revoir nos programmes locaux avec la participation de nombreux réseaux liés au monde scolaire et au monde éducatif en sollicitant des discussions et des échanges sur des problèmes communs. Nous avons besoin d’une réflexion collective sur les problèmes environnementaux et globaux afin d’aboutir à une action effective et pleine de sens. Nous pensons que la séparation entre l’humanité et la nature à des racines complexes. Une sensibilisation aussi profonde que possible est nécessaire pour atteindre notre objectif.
El programa educativo del Santuario Botánico de Gurukula (Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary), ‘escuela en el Bosque’ fue iniciado hace 12 años. Nosotros trabajamos con escuelas, individuos y ONGs a nivel local, regional, nacional e internacional. Nuestra preocupacion es promover un cambio de actitud de la sociedad humana hacia la naturaleza. Nosotros promovemos una exposicion larga e intensiva hacia los bosques tropicales para abrir diferentes sensibilidades y dimensiones en los niños. Nosotros estamos actualmente revisando nuestros programas residenciales con las escuelas participantes y redes educativas, invitando a la retroalimentaciόn y consideraciones de preocupaciones mutuas. Urgimos a una relexion colectiva de temas ambientales y globales con el fin de concretar una accion efectiva y significante. Nosotros sugerimos que la profunda separaciόn entre la humanidad y la naturaleza tiene raices complejas. Una reflexiόn mucho mas profunda es necesaria para solucionarla.
About the Author
Suprabha Seshan is the Coordinator for Education and Research at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, Alattil P.O., N. Wynad, Kerala 670644, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org