Ecological Education: Starting from Scratch

On Tuesday, 27 May, members of the British Ecological Society gathered in York to discuss the future of ecological education in the UK. The Education team at the Society organised the “Starting from Scratch” workshop with the aim of producing concrete outputs, from researchers, applied ecologists and teachers – school to university – which could eventually filter into policy making at the highest levels.

Participants in the day were clear in their views on the ecological component of the biology curriculum: for too long students have been taught content with little regard to its wider applicability or in an abstract fashion with little connection the the real world outside the classroom. There has been little change in the biology curriculum since it was drafted by Huxley in 1875. Are there components of ecology which should be removed or reworked? Participants were encouraged to consider “ecological thinking”. Why are, for example, food webs, food chains, pyramids of numbers and the nitrogen cycle, taught in schools? What are these things for?

A presentation from the Field Studies Council highlighted the decline in fieldwork in schools, and the closure of field studies centres since the 1970s. This stressed that further work should be done to encourage confidence amongst teachers, whether during initial teaching training or at later career stages, through Continuous Professional Development, to take students out into the field to experience natural science first hand.

After discussion, many felt that the elements of the ecology curriculum currently in place were correct, but that these had to be taught in a different way, encouraging students to see ecology for what it is – applied biology in all its senses, with relevance to the real world and human impacts on it, and engendering an understanding and passion for nature outside the four walls of the classroom.

The BES policy and education teams will be working closely together later this year to develop this work. If you would be interested in getting involved, please contact the Society