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New plan to grow nature education

By LI HONGYANG | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-20 09:48


Key targets include increased awareness and participation in 1 billion events

It's perhaps only natural that a growing number of Chinese children are not only learning about, but also learning to love ecology.

This comes as the country and world place greater emphasis on protecting and restoring the systems that sustain life on our planet.

On Nov 22, the Chinese Society of Forestry approved the nation's first plan for the long-term development of nature education from 2023 to 2035.

The society office's deputy director Lin Kunlun said the plan aims to standardize practices, guide participants, rally diverse forces, enlarge the capable workforce and develop quality products to bolster nature education.

"It will improve public awareness and expand nature education's influence," he said.

Key targets for 2035 include over 1 billion instances of participation in nature-related activities, establishing 1,000 demonstration bases for nature education, accrediting 5,000 institutions, and training more than 50,000 educators in the field.

Currently, 1 million nature-related activities attract 100 million individuals annually. The country is home to nearly 20,000 nature education institutions and roughly 300,000 practitioners, the plan said. The plan advocates for the increased engagement of government and schools.

"Schools should incorporate nature education into instruction and extracurricular activities," Lin said. "Students are encouraged to also engage with it outside the classroom."

Qin Dagong, a teacher at Peking University's Center for Nature and Society, told China Environment News in November that nature education is intended to establish a stronger connection between the public and natural world, in turn, fostering a sense of awe and voluntary commitment to conservation. However, there is still a long journey ahead.

He was quoted as saying that, during the initial years, they conveyed the essence, concepts and value of nature education to both the government and the public in ways that would not invite skepticism. Today, he calls for changing perceptions to encourage young people to embrace nature education as a profession that their parents would not question.

Surveys show that private organizations remain the industry's backbone.

These institutions, primarily small and micro-enterprises, continue to grapple with such challenges as talent shortages and insufficient funding, CEN reported.

But the sector is nonetheless being propelled forward, largely by the passion of those involved.

It needs greater government support in terms of venues, funding and policy, CEN quoted insiders as saying.

They are also seeking more assistance from stakeholders such as education departments and businesses.

The new plan aims to increase venues by encouraging national parks and nature reserves to set up education areas and include them in their design and construction, while ensuring their actions abide by regulations to avoid detriments to resources and research.

It encourages the establishment of diverse cooperation platforms to promote nature education innovation in urban and rural areas. Key regions include the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei cluster, the Yangtze River Delta, the Greater Bay Area and the Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle.

On the national level, it calls for coordination among government bodies such as those in charge of forestry, education, culture and tourism.

The plan also proposes international openness and cooperation through platforms such as the Belt and Road Initiative.

The hope is to build upon and accelerate the progress achieved in recent years.

The 2021 China Nature Education Development Report showed that 2014 was a significant year for nature education, with a 300 percent increase in the number of institutions compared with 2013.

In 2017, the China Education Association of Forestry set up its Nature Education Branch.

A major milestone occurred in 2019, when the National Forestry and Grassland Administration issued a notice on making full use of various types of nature reserves to promote nature education. This marked the first government-issued directive guiding China's nature education efforts. The Chinese Society of Forestry set up the Nature Education Working Committee the same year.

In 2021, China's first national park list was announced. This has better positioned the government to use education and recreation to share environmental protection achievements with the public.

Last year, nature education was incorporated into the 14th Five-Year Plan for Forestry and Grassland Protection and Development.

However, some players have been criticized for prioritizing metrics such as the frequency of events and attendance figures while neglecting the depth of how the principles are embraced, China Green Times, a media outlet affiliated with the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, reported.

The media outlet said organizers have paid insufficient attention to what individuals think about nature and whether their activities actually change behaviors, it said.

Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden's communication department head Wang Ximin told the outlet a mindset shift was needed so that educators did not appear distantly "omniscient".

In September, the botanical garden started a program that encourages students to label plants they find on their campus.

"We don't insist they learn about the plants. Instead, we start with common plants we see all the time like camphor and hanging bellflowers to get them to pay attention to how they share living spaces with these flowers," Wang was quoted as saying.

"Today, in the digital age, as long as we spark kids' interest, they can easily look up the plants online to learn about them on their own."

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