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Biodiversity Education at a Natural World Heritage Site: Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. World Heritage Convention

Volume 2 Number 1 - April 2005

Donavan Fullard



Résumé en Français

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Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, in Cape Town, is situated on the slopes of Table Mountain and falls within The Cape Floristic Region which has been inscribed as South Africa's sixth World Heritage Site.  This is the first time that a botanical garden has been recognised as a natural World Heritage site. In the following article Donavan Fullard describes the Kirstenbosch Environmental Education Programme and explains how it supports the mission of the World Heritage Convention: To encourage participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage.

The mission of the programme is to inspire and enable people from all walks of life to take responsibility for their environment.  The programme primarily targets the learners/youth, from the disadvantaged areas and under-resourced schools from the Cape Flats in the Western Cape, to participate in its exciting and curriculum linked, garden-based and outreach greening programmes which cover a wide variety of themes, learning programmes and activities.


The people of Cape Town are immensely proud and excited about the honour that was bestowed on their garden - for the first time a botanical garden has been recognised as a natural World Heritage Site. However, in my opinion, a great number of Cape Town’s people living on the Cape Flats (an area created during the Apartheid era) do not share in this excitement, either because they are not aware of or feel indifferent to this achievement because of its ‘non-relevance’ to their lives.  Socio-economic factors such as poverty, unemployment and crime are the high-priority issues in their lives.  Friedman, H (2003) in her article 'Survival of the greenest in the Cape', says that "to most kids living on the Cape flats, the term ‘wildlife’ means negotiating a daily gauntlet of gangs, violence and drugs”.  One of the aims of Kirstenbosch’s education programme is to offer these children (from strife-torn townships like Mitchell’s Plain, Khayelitsha, Lavender Hill) the opportunity to experience ‘wildlife’ of a different kind – the rich biodiversity of a world famous indigenous botanical garden.

Environmental Education Programme

Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden offers an environmental education programme to all learners in Cape Town and surrounding areas, but particularly to those from disadvantaged areas.  The programme is located within the education directorate of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) a government parastatal, formerly known as the National Botanical Institute.  It focuses on four key areas:

  • a Garden-based education programme
  •  school indigenous greening (Outreach Greening) programme
  • teacher professional development
  • resource and curriculum development.

The aims of the programme are:

  1. to develop effective environmental education and interpretation programmes that respond to international and national environmental policies and legislation
  2.  to make the gardens more educationally relevant and accessible to all teachers and learners, particularly those who in the past did not have the opportunity to visit
  3. to contribute to transformation in education through our programmes and networks
  4.  to promote the education value of indigenous gardens in schools
  5. to ensure effective communication and networking within SANBI, and between SANBI and the public and others involved in environmental education
  6. to contribute to the transformation process by appointing staff from previously disadvantaged groups wherever possible, and providing support and mentorship to enable staff to develop to their full potential

The important role of education to attain sustainable development is recognised globally.  Willison, (1997) argued strongly for botanic gardens to engage in 'stronger' forms of education for sustainability.  She describes this as a "holistic approach to education which emphasises the interrelationship of disciplines".  In South Africa, education plays a critical role in ensuring improvements in the quality of life of all people, the eradication of poverty, reducing inequalities and promoting sustainable development and growth (Wagiet, 2002).  I also believe that in South Africa environmental education has, and can still, contribute significantly to transformation and development. 

At Kirstenbosch, we strive towards offering an environmental education programme that adheres to the principles of EfS and is aligned to our national curriculum statement policies.  In addition, we strongly associate with the following definition of environmental education - describing it as a ‘responsive process of change’ involving the development of capacity to ‘collaboratively develop capabilities (tools, resources, action competencies) to deal with and encourage change in local contexts’ (source unknown). 

In the past, our key focus areas functioned in isolation whereas now; we strive towards integrating our various programmes to achieve a more meaningful and holistic approach.   I will briefly give an overview of our programmes.

Garden-Based Programme

On average about 8 -11, 000 learners from Grade R – 12 participate in the activities offered per year as part of the guided school programme.  The programme is very popular and primarily supports formal education with exciting, hands-on activities that engage learners with indigenous plants and issues related to the sustainable use of these plants. Themes (with a variety of learning programmes) on offer include Introduction to Kirstenbosch and Fynbos, Plants and People, Ecology, Water, Biomes, Plant reproduction, Plant adaptations and Travel and Tourism.  Biodiversity issues are addressed in all these programmes, but since the transition from the Botanical to Biodiversity institute, we have begun with the development of a new Biodiversity programme.  The programme focuses on experiential learning and learners are actively encouraged by education officers to participate in their groups through discussion and debating of issues.  Learners are also encouraged to reflect critically on environmental issues and to make connections between the issues they encounter and their lives.  An example here is their experience in the Useful Plants Garden where the sustainable use of useful and medicinal plants are not just explored, discovered and investigated, but also probed and linked to their lives from a socio-cultural perspective.

The Kirstenbosch Outreach Bus provides transport for learners from under-resourced schools to attend the programme.  The most visits recorded are from schools of Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha – these areas were identified by President Thabo Mbeki for socio-economic upliftment.  Our programme has been fortunate to receive funding from the National Lottery Fund, which makes it possible for us to provide transport to 50 schools, from disadvantaged areas, to bring a group of 180 learners on a free visit to our Biodiversity Education and EfS programmes for the next three years (2005-2007).  An environmental audit will be carried out at each school and the impact of our programme will be closely monitored and evaluated by staff members as well as external consultants.  The selection criteria used to identify schools, included schools that have been on our outreach greening programme and never visited the garden, schools that have shown commitment to the environment, schools that visit regularly but have difficulty paying and schools with learners with special needs. 

Outreach Greening Programme

Currently we have developed 46 indigenous school gardens on the Cape Flats (Nyanga, Langa, Gugulethu, Mitchell’s Plain, Manenberg and Khayelitsha).  These schools are part of the Kirstenbosch indigenous school gardening programme and are all at different levels of involvement with the programme, ranging from first to third year and beyond.

The aims of the Outreach Greening programme are:

  • to establish indigenous, water-wise school and community gardens
  •  to encourage ecological awareness and environmental responsibility
  •  to develop gardening skills to enable economic empowerment and local environmental action
  •  to promote the educational value of indigenous plants and gardening
  • to develop partnerships between communities and organisations.

We have received funding from the government’s Department of Environmental affairs and Tourism as part of the Greening of the Nation project to ‘green’ schools and communities over the next three years.  We have selected 17 new schools from the Cape Flats who will join our three year outreach greening programme, as well as several community organisations such as an HIV/AIDS group, womens' empowerment group and community greening groups.

The first two years of the indigenous school greening programme focus on horticultural training of ‘Green Teams’ (representative of all stakeholders – learners, teachers, ground persons and community members) at schools and garden development.  To ensure sustainability of the project we introduce a series of workshops with teachers from year two.  Teachers collaboratively develop teaching and learning support materials to use in the garden as a resource for education.

With the integration of our garden-based, outreach greening and teacher professional development programmes we promote a strong ‘action competence approach’ to environmental education (Jensen & Schnack, 1997). The development of skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and interpersonal skills, form the basis of our work and is what we try to promote and achieve through our programmes at Kirstenbosch.  By introducing learners and teachers to our programmes, we hope to stimulate the development of a ‘critical perspective’ that will hopefully lead to ‘concrete action’.
A success story as evidence of our goal was achieved when West End Primary school (from a disadvantaged community in Mitchell’s Plain) visited our programme for the first time at the end of 2003.  Both learners and teachers found the programme to be extremely invigorating and of great value to them.  They successfully applied to join the outreach greening programme in 2004, and have since converted a sandy and barren part of their school yard into a beautiful indigenous garden.  Learners, teachers and ground staff are working side-by-side to take responsibility for their environment and contributing to whole school improvement.  One teacher at the school commented “The garden has given new meaning and purpose to our lives at school which under normal circumstances were dominated by negativity and frustrations”.

Teacher Professional Development

The Kirstenbosch programme has always played a crucial role as a service provider in the implementation of the education transformational processes, specifically Outcomes Based Education and the Revised National Curriculum Statement Policies (RNCS).  Currently staff are supporting foundation phase educators with the implementation of the RNCS within SANBI’s context through a process of participatory action research.  As part of post-graduate research, staff members collaborate with teachers and curriculum advisors from the provincial education department in the development of new and special programmes, teaching and learning support materials, etc.

Resource and Curriculum Development

The development of teaching and learning support materials to support our programme and that of the formal curriculum are key features of the Kirstenbosch programme.  The centre offers a wide range of resources and facilities available to educators.  The Greening Manual published in 2002 is an excellent indigenous gardening handbook for South African Schools developed by staff.  A brochure and support materials on biodiversity will be developed in 2005 to assist teachers with their programmes at school.


Kirstenbosch environmental education programme strives at all times to provide quality education about, in and for the environment to contribute to the building of a responsible and environmentally active citizenry. 

The challenges that the programmes face, which include funding and staff capacity, are strongly outweighed by the strengths of the programme.  These include highly motivated, qualified and experienced staff with a strong belief in lifelong learning, visionary and informed leadership.
We realise that Kirstenbosch, as a world renowned botanic garden as well as a World Heritage site, has much to offer EfS and that we are ideally placed to work with local communities, especially through our outreach greening programmes, to resolve environmental problems.  In so doing, we endeavour to support UNESCO’s World Heritage mission to encourage participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage.


1.  Friedman, H (2003) Survival of the greenest in the Cape.  The Teacher
2.  Jensen, B. & Schnack, K. (1997)  Environmental Education Research, Vol. 3, No.2.
3.  Wagiet, R.(2002)  Education a crucial vehicle for sustainable development –  WSSD. Education News bulletin
4.  Willison, J (1997) Roots 15, p20-22 Botanic Gardens and Education for Sustainability.


Le Jardin Botanique National de Kirstenbosch à Cape Town est situé sur les versants du Table Mountain et appartient à la Région florale du Cap qui a été inscrite comme sixième site du Patrimoine Mondial de l'Afrique du Sud. C'est pour la première fois qu'un jardin botanique a été reconnu comme site naturel du Patrimoine Mondial.  Dans l'article qui suit, Donavan Fullard décrit le programme d'éducation environnementale de Kirstenbosch et explique comment il soutient la mission de la Convention sur le Patrimoine Mondial: à encourager la participation de la population locale à la préservation de leur patrimoine culterel et naturel.

La mission du programme est d'inspirer des gens de tous bords et de les rendre aptes à prendre des responsabilités pour leur environement. Le programme vise avant tout les étudiants/jeunes des régions désavantagées et des écoles en manque de moyens des Cape Flats dans le Western Cape pour les faire participer à ses programmes excitants de verdissement reliés par curriculum, tant basés au jardin que tournés vers l'extérieur et qui couvrent une variété de thèmes, de programmes d'enseignement et d'activités.


El Jardín Botánico Nacional de Kirstenbosch, en la Ciudad del Cabo, está situado en las laderas de Table Mountain, y cae dentro de la región florística del Cabo, y ha sido inscrito como el sexto lugar en Sudáfrica declarado Patrimonio Mundial.  Fue el primer jardín botánico declarado Patrimonio Mundial.  En el artículo que sigue Donovan Fullard describe el Programa de Educación Medio Ambiental de Kirstenbosch y explica como apoya la misión de la Convención de Patrimonio Mundial: el promocionar la participación de la población local en la preservación de su patrimonio cultural y natural.

El programa se propone inspirar y permitir a la gente de todas partes a reconocer su responsabilidad por el medio ambiente.  El programa sobre todo se dirige a los jóvenes de zonas menos aventajadas y de los colegios bajos en recursos de Cape Flats en el Cabo occidental, para que participen en sus apasionantes programas, relevantes al currículo, con actividades tanto dentro como fuera del jardín, relacionadas a una gran variedad de tremas, programas educativos y otras actividades.

About the Author

Donavan Fullard is Deputy Director of Education, Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden, Private Bag X7, Claremont, Cape Town, South Africa.  Tel: 021 -799 8670. Direct line: 021 – 7998696. Email: Website:

Details of this Convention can be found at: