Above: Some of the 500 participants at the second national China Nature Education Forum in November. Richard Louv and Yan Baohua, front row, third and fourth from the left.
Nature education is growing quickly in China.
One year ago, the very first national China Nature Education Forum, held in Xiamen, Fujian Province, was supposed to be a small gathering of no more than 100 people, but it attracted more than 300 participants.
This year, Nov. 13-15, the second China Nature Education Forum was held in Liangzhu Cultural Village, a beautiful small town at the outskirt of Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang Province. About 500 participants joined the event on site, including nature education practitioners from various non-profits, social enterprises, and business, as well as researchers, relevant governmental officials, funders and journalists. Due to the limited space of the venue, the Organizing Committee had to turn down nearly half of the people who signed up.
In order to get a picture of the current status of the nature education field in China, a team led by Dr. Wang Qingchun from Beijing Forestry University conducted a survey on the development of nature education.
According to the report, released during the 2015 Forum, nature education institutions showed a spurt of development: among 286 institutions surveyed, 63 percent were established since 2012.
What are the factors that have contributed to the growth of nature education?
1. Demand. Increased economic development means that people can afford to offer their children more opportunities for fun and education. Especially for the new generation of parents, who have received good education and are experiencing improved economic status, children’s wellbeing is their foremost concern. Because China’s cities have grown so quickly, some parents notice that their children’s daily life is very different than when they grew up. Parents also notice that their children are increasingly attached to electrical devices.
2. Nature education practitioners and potential practitioners see a big potential market for nature education in education and health. Undoubtedly, Richard Louv and his work related to nature-deficit disorder has played a major role in inspiring people in China. Some folks who have worked for environmental education (EE) and/or education for sustainable development (ESD) now see nature education – connecting children and families directly to nature — as a means of encouraging wider participation, as well as a way of generating income to support their institutions. The ultimate aim of EE and ESD is to protect the environment and nature, which are what we call “common pool resources.” Everyone is affected by them, but many individuals may find these concepts abstract, and do not necessarily see them as personal or family priorities. In contrast, parents see that nature education – which happens outdoors in the natural environment – nourishes their children’s minds and bodies. As a result, nature education is becoming a voluntary choice by parents and children.
Especially in the context of urbanization and industrialization, connecting to nature is now seen by many as essential to children’s mental and physical health.
3. Environmental organizations are exploring social participation models for better nature protection. Organizations like Shenzhen Mangrove Wetlands Conservation Foundation are exploring the establishment of nature education centers and/or nature schools at nature reserves and parks. These centers and schools offer more opportunities for the public to enter into nature, learn about nature, and participate in nature conservation activities. Public participation in nature is now believed to be an important factor for effective conservation.
4. A young generation of nature interpreters is growing up. Over the past ten years or so, Green Camp of University Students in China, as well as a few regional nature experience training camps for college students, have trained a batch of young people who are passionate for nature and have the courage to pursue a new type of job, either by joining a nature education institution or by creating their own organizations.
Among the other major findings of the Beijing Forestry University survey:
- Business has become a new force for nature education in China: 54 percent of the 314 nature educators who completed the survey reported that they work for business, including social enterprises, while the corresponding numbers for non-profits and government-affiliated identities were 22 percent and 9 percent respectively.
- The geographical distribution of nature education institutions is uneven, with higher concentrations in Beijing, and in Southern and Eastern China,which are the most economically developed region. But Southwestern China has the richest biodiversity, gaining the most national and international attention on nature conservation. According to the survey, the rest of the provinces had less than 10 nature education institutions.
- New Media are the major tools that nature education institutions use for communication. Wechat, a mobile text and voice messaging app, was reported by 89 percent of the participants as a major communications method, while the corresponding percentages for internet and Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) were 65 percent and 39 percent. The percentages for traditional media, such as newspapers, TV and journals were 19 percent, 12 percent and 11 percent correspondingly.
- Lack of trained professionals in nature education was reported as the major challenge facing nature education institutions (63 percent). The next highest ranked challenges were lack of funding (40 percent) and marketing (37 percent).
Although the field of nature education is growing quickly and has great prospects for the future, it is still new and small. The annual Nature Education Forum, initiated by the nature education practitioners, will provide a platform to connect with researchers, funders, governmental officials, and of course their peers. We will also continue the annual survey of the field, and we hope to conduct a longitudinal study to record the development of nature education in China, which will tell us more about trends and future directions.
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