South Rupununi children benefit from traditional knowledge and eco-friendly education

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In efforts to conserve the culture of indigenous peoples, environmental education classes were recently offered to some 360 children in South Rupununi, Region Nine.

A strategic curriculum was developed by the grassroots group South Rupununi Conservation Society, under the Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme Guyana. 

The curriculum consisted of classes that ran for three full school terms but the classes were not a part of the national education programme. Instead, these children- primary and secondary level- were taught during their spare time at the community centres. 12 communities in the region participated, with over 360 students completing it this year. 

Each term the participants were taught different topics with the objective of preserving the culture of the indigenous peoples. The group’s programme Coordinator Neal Millar explained that 324 classes were divided with the first term focusing on wildlife, the second focused on habitat, hydrology, and geology and in the final term, culture. 

Two facilitators, who are also teachers, were trained for a week prior and then implemented the classes which taught about the local animals. Millar said one of the projects had the children set up cameras to observe these animals. 

Boasting about the benefits of the project, Millar said: “This lesson in particular is very interesting because students might live in a community the whole time and they might not really see like a jaguar or a deer because you know they’re very careful about how close they are to humans,”

“They found such an abundance of wildlife there, it really opens their eyes.”

A student presentation during the South Rupununi Conservation Society exhibition after completing the courses. (South Rupununi Conservation Society/July 19, 2022)

Other classes saw these children being engaged in fishing, using the arrow and bow, learning traditional skills, languages and learning how to maintain the environment. 

“A lot of people might have been overfishing or over hunting and not realizing the impact this was having on their wildlife or on their environment.

“To resolve this, we wanted to implement an environmental education programme. And instead of going after the adult population, we aim for the children,” Millar said.

He emphasized the importance of teaching children because they are more open to new ideas and learning new things. In addition, knowledge about the indigenous culture was not being passed down because the children spent less time at home. Millar said the through the classes, elders in the community could share stories and traditional ways. 

“Before when there was no school, children used to be in the farm with their families, they used to be in the bush, where this knowledge was just passed down naturally,”

“So the last term focuses on traditional knowledge, there’s lots of stories and different beliefs, the village elders come in and give a lesson about them,” Millar said.

The national school curriculum is not focused on local content, hence the group developed the curriculum and after consulting with the communities, the project took off in 2019.

It is currently at villages from Karasabi, in the South Pakaraimas to Crowdar in the South Rupununi. But the COVID-19 pandemic caused the project to be delayed. This is the second consecutive year that the classes have run for the full school year. 

Following the execution of the programme, the communities hold an exhibition, where the students display what they have learned. The second year of the curriculum, ‘system science’, will start in September and is expected to run through 2022 to 2023.

The group is seeking avenues to expand the project to other regions but Millar said funding would be needed for such an expansion. Each curriculum would be focused on the eco-system in that region, he explained. 

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