South Rupununi youths being schooled to become ‘citizen scientists’

Several youths of over a dozen villages in the South Rupununi have, since 2020, been paying keener attention to the preservation of the environment through a project undertaken by the South Rupununi Conservation Society (SRCS).

A Katoonarib boy playing an Environmental Education game at the Nature Fair (Credit – Luke McKenna)

Given the success of the project, the grassroots Indigenous-led conservation NGO that is based in the Rupununi has decided to undertake another phase of the project, which would empower the youths to become ‘citizen scientists.’

South Rupununi youths learning the art of basket-weaving as part of the SRDC environmental education programme (SRCS photo)

According to Neal Miller, Programme Coordinator of the SRCS, the project ensures that young people of the South Rupununi are taught about the importance of the environment from an early age.

Two South Rupununi students examining the details of an object during a science education activity in the area. (SRCS photo)

“These young people are our future leaders, who will be responsible for saving the planet; so, it is essential that they are taught from a young age that they have the power to make change,” Miller has said.
While explaining the background of the project, Miller said that since the formation of the SRCS in 2002, the founders of the NGO – some of whom are from the area – have noticed a decline in the local wildlife population, quality of the environment, and preservation of culture at the villages within the South Rupununi.
“In response, the SRCS designed an environmental education curriculum that teaches youths about their local wildlife, environment and culture through weekly lessons. The lessons are led by facilitators from the communities that have been trained by SRCS,” Miller has said.
He said the curriculum is divided into three terms, with the first term focusing on wildlife, the second on the environment, and the third on culture; and the method of teaching avoids the usual “chalk and talk” style, but is instead practical and interactive, in order to engage students.
Giving some examples of the activities in these classes, Miller said they include camera-trapping in order to understand more about mammals; using the binoculars to learn about birds; and basket-weaving to learn more about culture.
“An important aspect of the curriculum is that it is designed to teach children about their local wildlife and environment. Often, in school, children learn about foreign wildlife such as giraffes and elephants, and might not know about the wildlife that surrounds them, such as margays, oncillas and jagarundis. Therefore, all the content in the curriculum is centred on the wildlife, environment and culture of the Rupununi,” Miller noted.
Miller listed 14 communities from which more than 500 children have participated in the programme. They are Karaudarnau, Aishalton, Awarewaunau, Maruranau, Shea, Sawariwau, Katoonarib, Rupunau, Sand Creek, Shulinab, Kumu, Nappi, Moco Moco and Karasabai.
He said that, since 2018, the environmental education project has been supported by the Sustainable Wildlife Management – Programme Guyana; and given the success of the first phase of the curriculum, the SRCS has now designed a second phase of the curriculum, which is focused on citizen science.
“One of the aims of this second phase is to empower the youths to be able to make a positive difference to the wildlife and environment of their community,” he said.
Like the first curriculum, Miller said, the citizen science curriculum is also divided into three terms. In the first term, the children learn what citizen science is; in the second term, they collect data on an issue in their community; and in term 3, they implement a solution to remedy the issue they had identified.
“An example would be that overfishing is an issue in their community, so they collect data on why overfishing is occurring, before implementing a solution such as an awareness campaign or writing a letter to their village council,” he said.
The SRCS has expressed hope that the latter curriculum would enable participating youths to understand that they are never too young to make a positive difference, and to install leadership abilities in them from a young age.
According to Miller, against the backdrop of the success of the two-year curriculum, SRCS hopes to involve more children and more communities over the coming years. SRCS also aims to expand the curriculum to more regions of Guyana, and to help other organisations to adapt the curriculum to their local contexts.
The SRCS has also expressed hope that the success of the project would inspire other communities worldwide to design their own environmental education lessons, in order to inspire and empower their youths.