Over 25 000 learners get the opportunity to leave the classroom every year to enjoy a learning experience in nature, at environmental education centres run by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA).
WESSA runs five education centres, three in KwaZulu-Natal and one each in Limpopo and the Northern Cape, where science teachers, environmental scientists, conservationists and tour guides treat children to a host of educational nature activities.
“Our centres are located in unique and protected environments, which many students have never been exposed to. The best way to protect these environments is through education and awareness,” said Matthew Cocks, General Manager of the centres.
The centres offer a number of education programmes, based on the CAPS curriculum, and also help children to develop other life skills.
“Our programmes help teachers and students understand specific habitats, scientific concepts and facts contained in the CAPS curriculum. As our programmes are outdoors, fun and practical, learners also develop soft-skills such as creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, risk awareness and a sense of community and environmental upliftment,” Cocks explained.
When learners arrive at the centres, they are introduced to the guides and the environment through a set of fun activities. Then they go into nature and take part in a number of activities and experiments that teach them about the environment.
“The mini Stream Assessment Scoring System programme is one of our most popular programmes. Learners enter a stream or river to catch and identify invertebrates, which gives them an idea of the health of the river and the water quality. The goal is to enable participants to leave with practical ways to protect their own environment in their communities and schools,” said Cocks.
Jani Louw, a teacher from St Patrick’s College in Kimberley, said her group of learners had an incredible time at the Treasure Beach Environmental Education Centre in Durban.
“This camp truly enriched the lives of our learners. Not only did they have tons of fun, but they were taught about our natural resources in way that inspires,” said Louw.