Sector requires investment and regulation, experts say

2019-07-16 09:20:15China Daily Global Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Nature education requires greater regulation and investment, and schools and parents need to be more aware of the sector's importance, according to insiders and industry reports.

Luo Peng, founder of EcoAction, a nature education institute in Beijing, said some practitioners lack both professional qualifications and environmental awareness.

"The classes they organize cannot be called nature education, because they just popularize common knowledge, which makes no difference or sense," she said.

She added that some practitioners breach unwritten guidelines, and there have been several news stories about "teachers" who provided inaccurate information that resulted in children destroying nature rather than protecting it.

For example, in February, a self-styled insect expert led a team of children on a nature course in Madagascar.

However, he and the mother of one of the students were detained at an airport on the island after they were found to have concealed a chameleon and a lizard in their luggage.

Meanwhile, in October, an explorer who took a group of children on a trip to a tropical rainforest in Sumatra allowed them to deliberately tear the delicate wings of bats and hold wild bats, which not only injured the animals, but also posed a threat to the children's health.

Last year, a report by the Nature Education Network, an online group in China that organizes an annual forum for people in the sector, noted that the industry is relatively new and still needs time to find its feet.

"This is a promising industry, but also a fragile one. A few negative news reports can easily destroy the reputation and public trust that practitioners have painstakingly built," the report said.

"Lack of talent is the biggest bottleneck to the sector's development, followed by the problem of raising funds. The development of the industry urgently requires greater public awareness of nature education, professional research and policy support from the government."

According to the report, most nature schools are small-scale operations. Last year, only 14 percent of the 398 such institutions in China employed more than 20 staff members.

It added that many practitioners are over-reliant on personal experience or training courses and forums held by industry groups to improve their skills and knowledge. Moreover, many lack relevant professional and educational qualifications.

"This is because there are not enough related majors at universities and research institutes in China," the report said.

Other problems include safety concerns, copying each others' programs, brand infringement and damage to the environment and animals.

These factors can make parents, schools and society lose confidence in the sector, it added.

In November, the network released a self-discipline regulation of the nature education industry, aimed at promoting healthy development by connecting institutions and individuals in the field.

The regulation includes provisions such as respect for nature and intellectual property rights, and emphasizes the need to ensure children's safety when they come into contact with wild animals.

Chen Zhiqiang, the network's secretary-general, said the organization will continue to promote research on the development of the sector and the building of a talent-certification system.

"The level of development varies from place to place, and the problems encountered by nature education programs also vary," he said, speaking at the China Nature Education Forum in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in November.

"To solve the problem, it may be more effective to establish local networks as a way of promoting the sector's overall development."


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