The African Wildlife Foundation recently helped launch another first in Africa. In keeping with its longstanding commitment to train African conservationists, AWF helped create a new distance-learning program in which students can earn a master's degree in protected-area and community conservation without leaving home or work.
This program is the first of its kind based in Africa. Coursework is offered by Moi University, based near Eldoret in western Kenya, in conjunction with the International Centre for Protected Landscapes (ICPL) in the United Kingdom. The degree is titled M.Phil in Protected Area Management: A Community Approach to Conservation, by Distance Learning.
AWF helped birth the program by bringing Moi University and ICPL together and publicizing the program to prospective students. In addition, AWF will sponsor one full and one partial scholarship. The MacArthur Foundation funded AWF's role through a grant for support to higher education.
The British Council supplied a resource center with equipment and materials. ICPL helped Moi professors include the latest work worldwide in protected-area management and adapt the courses to distance-learning and to the African context. ICPL has been running a distance-learning master's program in Protected Landscape Management since 1994, but with a global, not specifically African, focus.
"We initiated this degree," said Terry Kiragu, Conservation Service Center program officer for training, "because of AWF's longtime focus on building conservation leaders and increasing the quality of conservation efforts. We realized that no place in East Africa offered advanced studies in conservation for working students. Formerly, anyone who wanted such training had to uproot themselves and study full-time."
Students anywhere in the world may participate if accepted. The lectures, exercises, essays and discussions that accompany course readings will be organized on the Internet and by e-mail.
There appears to be plenty of demand. According to Kiragu, prospective students started inquiring about the program even before its official launch.
"We're trying to bridge the concepts of conservation and human development," said Dr. A.M. Mwinzi, head of the Department of Wildlife Management, the program's home department. "We know there's no purely natural place in the world, nowhere that's immune to the influence of man-even in Antarctica-and certainly not in Africa. So even managing protected areas must include human development."
The program is tailored for people already working in conservation or protected area management. "Offering the program by distance learning is the most effective way to reach out to professionals in the field-those most likely to have a direct impact on the effectiveness of protected area management," says Liz Hughes, ICPL program manager. "This not only benefits individual learners, but disseminates information more widely through their organization."
The innovative curriculum is structured in eight modules, which students work through at their own pace. They cover:
Basics of global biodiversity and the movement toward sustainability;
How protected areas and communities work together;
Integrating conservation and development programs;
Raising awareness: environmental education, information and interpretation;
Managing protected areas;
Partnership, stewardship and collaborative management;
Communication, conflict resolution and consensus building; and
Environmental tourism in theory and practice.
After completing the coursework, including electives still on the drawing board, students earn a Diploma. They may then produce a research project and thesis to earn the MPhil. Professors estimate that students will complete the degree in three to six years, part-time.
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