Addressing the Nature Education Deficit
BNHS Conservation Education Centre

Dr. V Shubhalaxmi, General Manager (Education), BNHS in conversation with Sanskriti Menon, Editor, Education for Change describes how her work is helping address the ‘nature education deficit’ in Mumbai. An entomologist and a Fulbright Fellow, Shubhalaxmi has been with the BNHS for about twenty years. As the head of the BNHS Conservation Education Centre (CEC), she has shaped a number of nature education programmes and helped CEC reach out to over 15000 people every year.

EfC: You’ve been with BNHS for several years. How did you fi rst get interested in wildlife and who or what has shaped your interest?

V Shubhalaxmi (VS): Being a science student, I was always attracted towards wildlife, however being a student member of BNHS, the interest grew stronger and finally when I got recruited there was no stopping for me to explore the wilderness of our country.

EfC: When did you make the transition to education about environment and biodiversity?

V Shubhalaxmi (VS): It may sound strange but I started my career with BNHS in 1993 as an Administrative Assistant where I worked in accounts and office administration for three years, but I meanwhile I pursued with my M.Sc. by research which finally helped me to get into the education officer post when the vacancy was open in 1997, since then it has been a self-learning and exploratory phase for me.

EfC: What is the main thrust of the conservation education programmes at BNHS?

VS: Our education and communication is about Biodiversity. We feel that people, especially in Mumbai, are aware about issues like plastic waste and pollution and they experience these in their day to day life. 

But, seeing and touching a delicate thing like a plant tendril or watching a butterfly emerge – these are experiences that city people rarely get the opportunity for. The ambience of the CEC, the forest silence and sounds, these are perhaps restful and rejuvenating. People come back again and again just to experience the forest. Some participants in our programmes at CEC don’t want indoor sessions – they just want to be in the forest. 

So, our main aim if to facilitate these experiences for people and to garner support for biodiversity and wildlife. We of course have a number of programmes that go deeper into learning how to care for biodiversity.

EfC: What are some of the major conservation education initiatives of BNHS?

VS: The major educational activities are being carried out through the BNHS Conservation Education Centre at the edge of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. We have regular day-visit based programmes, online courses as well as custom designed educational programmes for colleges, corporate groups etc. (See box)

The key thing about our programmes is that we are seeking to transform. So, we incorporate activities for seeing, doing, experiencing. Activities such as ‘Breakfast with Butterflies’, ‘Meal with Moths’ and ‘Fun with Frogs’ are highly interactive and combine nature education with fun. These are followed up with support for people to set up their own Butterfly Gardens. They can buy host and food plants from us, as well as contact us for advice.

EfC: Are you seeing change, are people getting more involved?

VS: We’ve had families coming for programmes because the children had a school picnic at CEC. Students who were involved in nature club activities have come back as volunteers, and some have gone on to do doctoral research in wildlife. We have been offering summer internships for students. Every year, eight to ten students become involved in conservation work way in some or the other manner.

EfC: Which parts of your work do you enjoy most of all?

VS: I enjoy material development including books for teachers and slide shows etc, as well as designing innovative programmes that people would enjoy as well as learn from. The aspect I feel most involved in and concerned about is getting schools to integrate research into nature education. I personally believe that every student should take up a small research project involving data collection, collation, interpretation, analysis and presentation. I’ve been guiding teachers and students to take up such studies in and around their schools. For example, students of Gold Crest school in Navi Mumbai is in the middle of a concrete jungle, but we took them for several field trips. Different groups made observations about different aspects of the local environment. Another school in Alibag was able to make a number of nature observations in their own school campus.

For more information contact:

Dr. V. Shubhalaxmi, Center Manager,
Conservation Education Centre
Near Filmcity, Filmcity road, Goregaon (E),
Mumbai - 400065, Maharashtra, India.
Ph: 91-22- 28402931

Programmes at Conservation Education Centre

There are mainly three types of programmes:
  • Short duration experiencing nature programmes offered to interested individuals, families, educational and corporate groups at a charge
  • Longer term education projects for which we seek donor funding
  • Courses, such as on Leadership in Biodiversity Conservation and Entomology, offered in blended learning form in distance mode with components of field trip, field work, chat sessions and face to face sessions
The short duration programmes are of several types and typically involve a day visit to CEC with outdoor and indoor activities. We also offer camps with a stay at the CEC. We have developed thematic packages such as ‘Child in the Wild’ which is about survival strategies, ‘Eco-warriors’ which provides insights into community linkages with the forest.

We also develop a few special programmes every year providing unique nature experiences, such as ‘Breakfast with Butterflies’, ‘Brunch with Birds’, ‘Meal with Moths’, and ‘Fun with Frogs’. These are highly interactive, combining nature education with a few fun activities as well, such as face painting with nature patterns, comparing the human body to that of other species such as the ability to jump, leap, run, or weight or arm span etc.

We also organized a Green Lifestyles workshop last year.

For those who are interested to go much deeper into wildlife investigations, we have the Scientist for a Day programme. Participants help to survey the flora and fauna of the forests around us. We have been conducting monthly surveys of plants, birds, herps etc.

School Outreach
BNHS conducts lectures and educational sessions at schools in Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai. Students are taken for nature trails and also introduced to the project method.

Volunteer Training
Organized every year, the Volunteer Training helps young and old volunteers work out a schedule and learn to contribute to and manage some of the educational programmes. The work contribution of the volunteers is immense since we have a pretty small staff otherwise. The volunteers bring in their own experiences and enrich the content and quality of the programmes too.

Educational Materials
A number of field guides, posters, slide shows and activity books have been developed. Educational Activity Trunks including exhibits, activity support materials etc have also been developed. The CEC staff themselves use these in conducting some of the outreach activities in schools.

No comments: