Nature Conservation Foundation

Supported by: Wipro

Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) is a wildlife conservation research-driven non- governmental organization headquartered in Mysore and with offices in Bangalore and field stations across different geographical locations in India. We work to contribute towards knowledge and the conservation of India’s wildlife heritage through research and innovative conservation solutions and work in a range of wildlife habitats across India, from coral reefs and tropical rainforests to the high mountains of the Himalayas.

We also study human resource use and its impacts on wild species, ecosystems, and local communities and use this knowledge to design locally appropriate conservation strategies and interventions through collaboration with communities and local Government bodies. NCF also focuses on conservation, nature education, and public engagement at our long-term geographical field sites and the larger citizenry using various media and tools.

The Nature Classrooms Program is nested within the Education and Public Engagement Program (EPE) engages children and adults in nature observation and creates and distributes nature learning materials. In November 2018, we started the Nature Classrooms project with support from Wipro Foundation and we are in the second phase of our work. We work closely with school spaces, teachers, and educators in various civil society organizations to connect and enable school learning to ecology and the wonders of the natural world.

Nature Classrooms’ vision is to connect and enable primary school teaching-learning with the natural world and ecological processes. Our long-term strategy is to build a core nature education team; develop and deliver collaborative training workshops and courses for teachers, and educators on nature learning; develop trialed-tested teaching-learning resources with curricular and pedagogic goals for effective nature learning for teachers and educators of primary-school going students – moving towards the middle-school grades using existing EVS school curricula; developing a stand along nature learning in schools curricula for educators; and conducting short-term research projects that will help inform our work and long-term goals.

The Program will continue our focus on the following objectives:

  1. help educators and children recognize and develop a sense of curiosity, wonder, empathy, inquiry, and a deep sense of connection, and interconnectedness with nature while recognizing, and valuing lived experiences, local geographies, and social- economic-cultural contexts.
  2. through collaborations designing, developing, and helping deliver age-appropriate, locally-culturally relevant learning about nature and biodiversity, their habitats, and their interconnectedness.
  3. building and sharing with educators and schoolteachers the skills, educational practices, and resources required to investigate and learn about nature. We will also continue to develop and strengthen our outreach and implementation model to take these ideas and learning to multiple contexts as well as disseminate them more widely in the formal and informal education communities.

Our geographical reach is via our partner organizations and the teacher educators we collaborate with as part of our training workshops including through the Wipro Foundation network organizations. These organizations are based in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, and Gujarat. The schools we are in direct engagement with currently are in the peri-urban areas of Bangalore through our partner organization the Fig Tree Learning Centre.

In the year 2022-23,’ we have had exciting developments in terms of our reach, recognition, and strengthening arms of our work. We have also gone through changes and attrition in the team leading to some challenging times and therefore having to rethink the scope and focus of some aspects of work that we had initially planned for. During the quarter review processes these challenges have been discussed with the Wipro liaison points with discussions on the way forward. We are working towards rebuilding our team, working on our strengths and outreach. The enthusiasm and belief in our team continue to grow and so does our impact. We are moving towards the strategy of direct engagement with just 1-2 schools with partner organizations. Our regular deep engagements will continue through collaborations, training, and co-creation of teaching-learning nature resources with individuals, schools, and education organizations, through the Wipro Partner organizations, and networks including the Earthian Sustainability Fellowship Program.

We had taken a break from facilitating the CoP in Nature Learning sessions that took place every alternate month last year. We hope we can revive this during the next quarter in collaboration with other STEM-focused organizations, and schools such as Eikas Foundation, Marudham School, SeasonWatch, and Aavishkar.

Over this year and the next two years, we are building on content, designing, and trialing our nature teaching-learning resources and curriculum by collaborating with experienced educators and designers. We are strengthening the content and scope of our training workshops by using the learnings, inputs, and experiences from the last three years and exploring exciting new, relevant educational interventions such as poems, storytelling, social-emotional learning tools, and methodologies.

All this will build on trialing, designing, and offering courses to two different stakeholder groups: students, and researchers from the conservation sector working, interested in nature/conservation education as a module as part of NCF’s PhD coursework and NCF’s Conservation. Leadership courses: as an open scaffolded course for any adult wanting to engage with nature learning in their communities, as homeschoolers, and education professionals. We will also be working towards research projects that will focus on teacher training Institutions in India and trialing if we can offer content and training to select teachers when covering the EVS subject. We hope to do this in conversations and collaboration with APF given their expertise and reach across India.

Our new Nature Classrooms fellowship program will kickstart in April 2023 and we are excited to work closely with Ms. Chemi Lhamo from NCF’s High Altitude Program over the next two years. She will be working with select schools, students, and teachers in the Spiti Valley and building, and strengthening the Program’s nature education and outreach efforts.

Plans for next 1-3 years

Through early immersive experiences in nature, nature stories, lived experiences and opportunities to explore and develop a fascination, connection, and love for nature we hope that we can foster wonder, empathy, and curiosity in all teachers and students through Nature Classrooms. We passionately believe that it will be these deep emotional connections that will translate to how they treat, respect, and nurture our planet and its multiple inhabitants.

Nature teaching-learning resources and pedagogical approach: In continued collaboration with experienced education professionals, ecologists, designers, and illustrators we are working on various nature learning themes that correspond with the primary school EVS textbooks. Themes related to “Water” and “Art” are almost complete and undergoing trials and refining. The themes of “Food” and “Animal Homes” are in the planning stage. These consist of lesson plans across acre groups, activities, and resources that can be used by teachers and students. During this year we will also be working with a nature illustrator on completing at least 2 display Anchor Charts for classrooms by highlighting local nature in the school, area, and surrounds. Some of our older resources like the “Story of the Fig and Fig Wasp” and “Our Senses” are undergoing a redesign based on feedback from educators and designers. A couple of resources from the Suttha Muttha project supported by the Bangalore Sustainability Forum are also almost complete and will be going through a design process soon. Many of our resources are used as examples, and tools during our teacher, and educator training workshops in addition to being uploaded on our website as open source for anyone to use and adapt. Based on critical feedback, and brainstorming with colleagues and other educational professionals we are also refining and restructuring our Nature Learning pedagogy and framework. We are keen to expand the scope of both and be able to showcase clearer linkages to school learning and curricula during our workshops and as examples on our website.

Teacher engagements: We will be continuing with our strategy of conducting workshops, and training programs for teachers, and educators on improved EVS teaching practices through consistent, long-term associations. We hope to also make inroads in facilitating a peer network of nature educators (with primary school teachers and educators across partner organizations). This network will enable peer learning and the co-creation of resources. Teachers and educators from the Early Bird, SeasonWatch teacher network, and Wipro Foundation’s sustainability educators’ groups are likely to be part of such networks. To start with we plan to host at least two open (online/in-person) workshops for teachers and educators to encourage and facilitate the integration of nature learning within school learning this year. The Wipro Earthian Program is also keen for us to offer a nature learning course for their winning school’s teacher network. Through the Nature Classrooms Fellowship program starting in April 2023, we will also be working closely with select schoolteachers and students from the Spiti Valley. In April 2023, we have been invited along with the SeasonWatch team to conduct a two-day nature immersive workshop in the Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh for the NCBS field station team based there, select teachers in nearby schools, and interested DIET teachers. We will also be trailing out a few of our developing SEL-focused modules during the workshop.

Integrating, and strengthening Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Nature Learning: Through an internship program with a master’s student we will design and develop modules, and activities to integrate SEL into nature learning. During her internship with Nature Classrooms, she will be developing a module that focuses on the emotional well-being of teachers through nature-based Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). She aims to encourage teachers to adopt an inclusive, empathetic, and compassionate approach toward environmental education by incorporating SEL into their lesson plans. In the initial months of her internship, she plans to survey teachers to gain insight into their relationship with their emotions and nature, and subsequently identify a target group of teachers (who engage with environment education) to pilot her module. We also hope these modules and learning can be shared and incorporated by SEL-focused educational NGOs and individuals.

Nature Classrooms Fellowship Program: From April 2023 we are launching the Nature Classrooms fellowship for nature educators, and we are thrilled to bring Chemi Lhamo from NCF’s High Altitude Program on board as our very first fellow. Chemi has over five years of experience as a communication professional in the Indian non-profit and conservation sector. She has been actively developing and implementing innovative nature education initiatives in the Spiti region. Through this fellowship program, Chemi will be trained, and mentored by the Nature Classrooms team on our approach, pedagogies, and tools while strategically strengthening her existing nature education projects. We will co-learn, co-create, and document locally specific, culturally relevant nature learning resources, and stories with select schools and schoolteachers in the region, and develop a plan for sustained nature education with the community. We are extremely excited to work closely with Chemi and the Spiti & Ladakh teams over the next two years and collaboratively strengthen nature education in the landscape.

Course in Nature Learning for schoolteachers: Based on our experiences in school spaces, with the teachers we have been engaging with, and the nature learning modules and curriculum we are creating we are planning to develop a course for interested teachers, and educators. We hope that this course will gain traction and can then be offered in teacher training institutes.

Courses and Workshops: conservation community and the education projects in other NCF Programs: There is a large community of conservation/wildlife educationists who would also benefit from these training sessions and courses, and we hope to offer them during conservation conferences and as workshops over the next two years. The team has been invited to conduct the Conservation, Nature Education coursework component for the new 2023 NCF PhD batch of 12 students and as part of NCF’s Conservation Leadership modules. In mid-March 2023 we conducted a three-day intense nature learning workshop for NCF’s High Altitude team working on education and outreach in Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. We collaborated with the team’s conservationists and nature educators to analyze existing education strategies, and the challenges faced so far, and worked out possible ways forward. Using Nature Classroom’s pedagogy and framework as a guide, the educators will also be developing with our inputs culturally locally relevant modules for the landscapes. We are excited about this new collaboration since it will also be linked to the Nature Classrooms Fellowship Program. Before the onset of winter in the Valley we will also visit and spend some time with the team.

Popular Articles for the Public on Connecting Learning to the Natural World and a Nature Learning Handbook: We hope to publish a few popular articles in different formats on our ideas, and experiences of integrating school learning with the natural world. We will document our approaches, resources, relevant research findings, and case studies in the form of a handbook for reference and distribution. This process has already started, and we will be working on this between 2023 and 2024.

Communities in Practice – Nature Learning: In conversation with other Wipro Partner organizations that facilitated a session during the Wipro Annual Meet 2022, we will assess how we can continue building collaborative communities of science and nature education practitioners. If there is continued interest, we see this as a vibrant space to share, co-learn, collaborate, co-create nature-science learning resources, and be more strategic and impactful in the policy space.

Links and Engagement with Policy: We are keen that in a few years, we will be able to showcase our natural learning in the school’s curriculum and be able to connect and engage with key individuals and organizations in the education sector. We see a major gap in the scope and understanding of how natural learning and connections can be linked to a student’s learning development process. Our long-term vision is for educators and policymakers to view and recognize nature learning as important a subject as languages, math, and science and how it can be weaved seamlessly into these subjects as well.

Research and Internship Projects:

Nature Literacy and Attitude Survey in collaboration with APU: We are in the final stage of this project and some interesting and useful insights have emerged from this research work. While a poster of the work and findings have been shared at APU and during our last quarter report the final report and analysis will be ready to be shared by the end of May 2023. We hope to be able to bring out a peer-reviewed paper and a popular paper from this project’s findings. We are currently working with one full-time internship master’s student (Feb – June 2023) to create a module on SEL and Nature Learning. We have also been working with a part-time consultant to help us with two of the module themes.

Continued engagement with Mentors:

Regular catchups via email and one in-person meeting with our mentors who have deep engagement and experience in education help us get feedback, and new perspectives from people not directly engaged with our work. Our mentors continue to be Jane Sahi of the Fig Tree Learning Centre and whom we also collaborate closely with Dr Radha Gopalan, Dr Jayashree Ramadas, and Yuvan Aves.