Rural children are being left behind. Across the continent, rural areas are often home to some of Africa’s most marginalized communities — and some of its most precious natural resources.
In sub-Saharan Africa over one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 are not in school — the highest rate anywhere in the world. Disparities between male and female students are vast. Nine million girls in that age group will never attend school, and the figure for boys — while lower — still stands at a shocking 6 million.
Without a quality education and the foundation for a sustainable future, these children are more likely to use natural resources for their future livelihoods and engage in activities that are detrimental to wildlife and wild lands. However, an early awareness of nature’s contributions to a prosperous life can empower Africa’s youth to pursue successful livelihoods that are not reliant on the unsustainable use of the environment.
Although many rural African children have lived near wildlife their entire lives, few have the chance to experience the majesty of an elephant, zebra, or lion in protected areas. These species are often considered to be threats or pests and even killed when they cross human settlement or farmland — with some rural homesteads encroaching wildlife corridors, the risk is ever-present. Without access to a comprehensive education curriculum, which includes conservation values, these children often grow up forced to exploit the resources around them to survive.
While an increase in enrollment at primary and secondary schools means that more children are gaining access to education, many governments are struggling to meet this demand. Not only are school facilities and amenities strained to accommodate the growth, but teaching staff is also stretched thin. Ultimately student performance suffers, slimming the chances of young people progressing in their education and going on to seek employment in the modern economy.
Where communities have collaborated with African Wildlife Foundation to minimize threats like habitat loss and bushmeat hunting, for example, AWF’s Classroom Africa program builds new primary school facilities in return for their conservation commitment. The program brings high-quality education to some of Africa’s most remote villages, boosting student enrollment and performance, as well as teacher morale. Across our four schools in Zambia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, we enroll at least 2,500 new students every year. With two more Classroom Africa schools planned in Uganda, our conservation impact in biodiversity hotspots will continue to grow.
Over the years, biodiversity-rich landscapes with a Classroom Africa school have recorded a reduction in the unsustainable use of natural resources and land clearance. Villagers in Ilima even helped construct the Classroom Africa school deep in the indigenous forests of northern Democratic Republic of Congo, where unplanned land conversion for agriculture is shrinking wildlife habitats and the bush meat trade drives illegal hunting. Apart from boosting the enrollment rate of students — who come from five villages in a 23-kilometer radius — performance has also improved since AWF began supporting the school, with 95 percent passing their primary school exit exams marking the school’s highest rate yet.
In addition to the upgrading and rebuilding school facilities, AWF’s Classroom Africa program ensures that students receive a well-rounded education that also fosters conservation. Teachers are trained to deliver learning activities, both inside and outside the classroom, that build student awareness of their immediate environment as well as wider conservation issues. Regular field trips into the national parks and reserves that they live next to but rarely visit afford learners firsthand knowledge in the value of protecting their wildlife resources. Students from the Lupani Community School in Zambia regularly visit Victoria Falls and Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Since Classroom Africa introduced conservation education, the students even built a greenhouse housing 1,500 indigenous tree seedlings, which will contribute to reforestation efforts around their communities.
Like top schools, the brightest schoolteachers also tend to be located in urban areas. To change the paradigm, AWF is committed to attracting star teachers by building school-adjacent teacher housing. We also offer continuing education and professional development opportunities, as well as access to technology to ensure that both teachers and students benefit from the latest tools and techniques in education.
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