Cultural factor in conservation education

Ideas from community members

Abstract

Wetlands are unique habitats to which societies have a long history of cultural attachment. In Kenya they play a key influence in the people’s livelihoods in terms of the food eaten, art and crafts, recreation, language and other cultural activities. There is a dynamic cultural interaction with wetlands in which communities’ perceptions change. Wetlands are imbued with new meanings every day as communities interact within themselves and with wetlands as they devise new approaches to exploit and conserve them. A case study survey was done using 54 teachers from seven provinces in Kenya. Non-probability sampling technique was used to sample the 54 teachers out of 252 teachers who attended an in-service training workshop on wetlands conservation in January 1999. This research intended to establish how they perceived their local wetlands after attending the training programme and to reflect on how this could be harnessed to promote teaching about their sustainable use. Teachers were preferred in this study because the Kenyan formal curriculum directs them to teach about wetlands and there is a high possibility that their perceptions could have an influence in the aspects of wetlands that they emphasize to the pupils and members of the community.

 

Keywords: perceptions, wetlands, value, threats, teachers, gender

Citation

Ndaruga A.M. & Irwin[1] P.R. (2003) Cultural perceptions of wetlands by primary school teachers in Kenya. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education Journa[2]l 12 (3): 219-230

Introduction

In Kenya, wetlands are defined as ‘areas that are permanently, seasonally or occasionally waterlogged with fresh, saline, brackish or marine water including both natural and man made areas that support characteristic plants and animals’ (National Museums of Kenya, 1999: 1). Wetlands within Kenya’s borders cover an area of approximately 15,000 km2 constituting 2.5% of the country’s total surface area (Njuguna, 1996: 1) while wetland associated soils cover 10% of the country (Wamicha, 1997: 1). Kenyan wetlands include shallow lakes, edges of deep lakes, rivers, man-made dams, shallow wells, swamps, marshes, springs, deltas, estuaries, rice paddies, mountain bogs, peatlands, mangroves, open coastlines and coastal beaches. Wetlands are multiple resource systems and are a product of interaction between water, soil, sunlight and the living organisms (plants and animals) within a particular topography. The resultant system is ecologically complex. Human beings are, however, initially attracted to virgin wetlands due to their economic as well as biophysical attributes such as water, plants, animals and beauty. Over time, trade in the products from wetlands triggers a chain of economic ventures. This attracts other people and as population grows, social issues arise such as culture, heritage and settlements all deriving their support from wetlands. With increases in the number of people and the diminishing wetland resources, issues of ‘who is who’ and ‘who controls what’ emerge. This political aspect involves issues of power, policy and decisions related to the wetland resources.

People’s interaction with wetlands is as old as human society itself (Barbier et al., 1997: 3). Wetlands attract people for different products and services and as a result, meanings emerge that are used to identify wetland resources. Wetlands provide fish, drinking water, pastureland, farming water and transport and are an integral part of people’s cultural history including mythology, art and religion. These positive meanings have a contextual uniqueness which results in wetlands symbolizing different things to different people (Howard, 1992: 3). In Kenya, wetlands provide a variety of products and services to communities living around them. Although these benefits provide the basis for many positive meanings or perceptions, wetlands also generate negative meanings in as far as they are associated with waterborne diseases, pests, dangerous animals and bad smell.

Wetlands can be classified in different ways from a social perspective. Following O’Donoghue and Janse Van Rensburg (1995: 8), they can be considered in terms of their biophysical, socio-cultural, economic and political functions. Biophysical functions include provision of water, flood and bank erosion control, groundwater recharge, nutrient retention, storm protection, microclimatic stabilization, external ecosystem support, natural pollutant filters, ecosystem monitoring, biodiversity, and refuges for wildlife. Economic attributes include providing food in the form of plants and animals, providing water for domestic use and for animals, saltlicks, herbal medicine, fuelwood, recreation and tourism, timber and non-timber products, grazing areas, and minerals. Socio-cultural attributes include culture, heritage, transhumance, indigenous knowledge, spiritual rites and beliefs as well as the settlements of people. Political attributes include wetland ownership, traditional governance, and access and use decisions. By contrast, Barbier et al. (1997: 15) and Emerton (1998: 7), classify wetland value into two major groups, the use and non-use value. The use value can be divided into three categories; direct-use value, indirect-use value and option/quasi-option value. Both classifications are used in this paper (see Table 1).

The curriculum used in Kenyan primary schools has many possibilities for integrating issues about wetlands into day-to-day teaching (Republic of Kenya, 1992). Wetland issues are integrated into the syllabus content of subjects such as Geography, Science, English, Mathematics, Kiswahili, Music, Art and Craft, Agriculture and Religious education. Some of the aspects of wetlands emphasized in the curriculum include learning about the types of wetlands, their value, use of wetland resources, threats to them and how they can be conserved. These aspects are integrated in varying magnitudes in different subjects.

Exploring people’s perceptions of natural resources is important to reveal what they know and understand and in the process to reveal any misconceptions held (Dove, 2000: 32). Studies on people’s perceptions of wetlands have been done before in Kenya (Masese, 1997; Thenya, 2001) but a focus on teachers has not been done. Perceptions have been recognized to play a major role in the success or failure of development projects. A study by Babikwa (2002: 53), for instance, revealed that Ugandan farmers valued only that training which addressed their perceived needs directly. They also valued being able to share existing knowledge in training sessions and to have it acknowledged as valuable. There is a possibility that teacher perceptions about the local wetlands may have an influence on frequency of their mention in the classrooms and in the community, and also teacher involvement in activities to safeguard the value of wetlands that he/she perceives positively. The findings of this study are expected to provide insights on aspects of wetlands that could be of special interest and concern for the teacher. This would assist in identifying gaps existent in local knowledge held by teachers so as to orient future teacher training programmes towards addressing issues of local relevance as well as the holistic aspects of wetlands (see O’Donoghue & Janse Van Rensburg, 1995: 8).

Methodology

The aim of the research, aspects of which are covered in this paper, was to establish how primary school teachers perceived wetlands after attending an in-service education programme on them. A total of 242 primary school teachers representing seven of Kenya’s eight provinces attended wetlands in-service training programme organized by the National Museums of Kenya in 1999. Non-probability sampling technique (Cohen et al., 2000) was used to sample 54 out of 254 teachers from the seven provinces. Their teaching experiences ranged from 3 to 31 years, and they had been in their present stations from between less than 1 year to 21 years. Their ages ranged from 20 to over 50 years.

Teachers were preferred for this study because of several factors which include the following:

  • having interacted with wetlands for a reasonable length of time both passively and actively implying that they have generated and internalized diverse meanings and symbols for wetlands (see Woods, 1992);
  • having been sensitized about the value of and threats to wetlands through a conservation oriented in-service training programme (Ndaruga, 1999);
  • nature of work within a curriculum that requires them to teach about water and wetlands (see RoK, 1992);
  • interaction with the wider community who are responsible for using or degrading wetlands.

This was an interpretive study aimed at understanding the attitudes of teachers to wetlands and how they are able to relate to the value of and threats to wetlands. According to Clandinin and Connelly (1994: 415), people interact with each other in diverse contexts and this constitutes their experiences. They argue that ‘ . . . when persons note something of their experience, either to themselves or to others, they do so not by mere recording of experience over time, but in storied form . . . stories such as these, lived and told, educate the self and others, including the young and those, such as researchers who are new to their communities’. In the context of this research teachers were expected to tell their stories of their experiences on value, uses and threats to their local wetlands. These stories could give the researchers more insights of their knowledge of wetlands and any misconceptions held.

Teachers were selected from both rural and urban contexts and both sexes. The methods used to collect data were questionnaires and interviews. The questionnaire questions were both closed and open-ended. A Likert scale was used to allow teachers to give relative weightings to their perceptions of wetland value and threats. The questionnaires were posted to the teachers and were not anonymous. Interview questions were semi-structured and were administered to ten teachers who were sampled from the earlier 54 through an ‘intensity sampling technique’ (Patton, 1990: 171). Intensity sampling technique involves selecting cases in terms of their potential to provide rich information that manifests the phenomenon of interest intensely (but not extreme unusual cases). The key factors that guided the sampling activity were the context of teachers, gender and wetland related activities done by the teachers. Those selected had reported having done either many or fewer activities at school and the community contexts. The content, structuring and length of the questionnaire and interviews were tested and modified by a pilot survey. Interviews were conducted by the researcher on an individual basis and were meant to collect more data from the teachers as well as to validate their responses to the questionnaire. The questionnaire and interview questions were expressed in English, which is the language of instruction in Kenyan schools.

Personal use of wetlands by teachers

Teachers were asked using a questionnaire to explain the benefits they derive from wetlands around them. These perceived personal benefits are summarised in Table 1.

The responses suggest that the teachers perceive themselves as deriving different benefits from wetlands. Valuation of each benefit following the Barbier et al. (1997: 15) and Emerton (1998: 7) classification is given in the 4th column and valuation based on O’Donoghue and Janse Van Rensburg (1995: 8) is given in the fifth column. The table shows that direct-use value of wetlands dominated both in frequency and ranking indicating that teachers are aware of what wetlands are, perceive them as beneficial, and interact with them regularly. Most of the direct-use value of wetlands is directed towards exploiting them for economic gain even if sometimes in non-monetary terms. These responses to the questionnaire were validated using the interviews and they suggest the need for environmental education to address these values of wetlands so as to promote their sustainable use.

Teacher valuation of wetlands from a community perspective

Teachers were asked using a questionnaire to express their perceptions about wetlands in their localities by responding to a Likert scale. This had response options for very important, important, neutral, less important and not important at all. These were coded as 5,4,3,2 and 1 respectively. The overall rank was

Table 1 Teachers’ personal benefits from wetlands

Benefits

Frequency

Rank

Valuation (Barbier et al. (1997:15), Emerton (1998:7)

Valuation (O’Donoghue & Janse Van Rensburg, 1995:8)

Domestic water

36

1

Direct use value

Economic

Farming water

20

2

Direct use value

Economic

Modify climate

17

3

Indirect use value

Biophysical

Water for animals

17

3

Direct use value

Economic

Building materials

15

5

Direct use value

Economic

Centre for recreation

13

6

Direct use value

Social

Grazing areas

8

7

Direct use value

Economic

Provide plant foods such as arrowroots

6

8

Direct use value

Economic

Habitat for plants and animals

5

9

Non-use value

Biophysical

Local crafts

4

10

Direct use value

Economic

Firewood

4

10

Direct use value

Economic

Centre for learning interrelationships

4

10

Direct use value

Political

Fish

3

13

Direct use value

Economic

Medicinal herbs and water

2

14

Direct use value

Economic

Control flooding

1

15

Direct use value

Biophysical

Animal salt lick

1

15

Direct use value

Economic

Artefacts such as sea shells

1

15

Direct use value

Economic

Cultural and religious functions

1

15

Direct use value

Social

achieved by determining the total of all responses per parameter and ranking them. The other ranks were determined by multiplying the frequency for responses to each parameter by the coding number and the sum of all the products per parameter were used to calculate the ranks. The results are summarized in Table 2.

Table 2 Summary of ranking of teacher valuation of wetlands

Parameters

Overall rank

Teacher categories

Urban

Rural

Male

Female

Age

21-30 yrs

31-40 yrs

41-50 yrs

Domestic water

1

1

2

2

1

3

1

3

Water for animals

2

2

1

1

2

11

2

1

Grazing areas

3

5

3

3

3

2

3

4

Farming water

4

3

4

4

4

4

4

7

Water cycle

5

6

5

5

7

1

5

8

Habitat for flora and fauna

6

4

6

6

6

8

6

5

Modify climate

7

7

8

10

5

5

8

2

Centre for learning about interelationships

8

9

7

7

8

10

9

9

Control flooding

9

10

9

9

9

6

7

12

Fish

10

8

12

12

10

12

10

6

Building materials

11

12

10

11

11

15

13

10

Filter silt

12

16

11

8

12

7

14

13

Culture and religious sites

13

15

14

14

16

16

12

14

Centre for research

14

17

13

13

14

9

15

18

Purify water

15

11

17

17

15

18

11

16

Centre for recreation

16

13

16

16

13

13

17

11

Attract tourists

17

14

18

15

18

14

18

17

Local crafts

18

18

15

18

17

19

16

15

Provide transport

19

19

19

19

19

17

19

19

The results indicate that the most important values of wetlands to teachers are domestic water, water for animals, farming water and grazing areas. The values rated least were provision of transport, local crafts, attraction of tourists, recreation and purification of water.

Teachers derive many economic benefits from wetlands. Some uses are perceived to be more valuable than others. At a personal level domestic water, water for animals and farming and building materials were ranked highly. However, at community level, building materials were ranked low, but the other economic benefits remain high. This suggests that when compared with other wetland resources, water is of high value to the teacher and the community. It also appears that the urban group in this study was very conscious of their source of water and understands that it does not simply come from the tap in their house, but from wetlands. Urban areas have persistent water shortage problems mainly caused by population pressure and rapid development, and this could explain why water and wetlands are ranked high by urban residents. Research in Kenya shows that fish utilisation as food is not popular within some local communities (Gichuki, 1999: 104) and that explains why the urban group rank it higher than the rural group since urban areas are inhabited by people from diverse regions and cultures. The interaction of different cultural values may be responsible for the improved perceptions about fish in urban areas.

The low ranking of water for animals, local crafts, building materials and fish by the 21–30 years age group could be a cultural issue but may also be due to personal use of the wetland resource. At this age, most of these teachers may not be married and may not own property in the rural areas such as a house and animals. This is in contrast to the 41–50 years group, who ranked water for animals and building materials higher. This latter group comprise mostly married people with families and property and who therefore need the wetland resources. The high ranking of farming water and attraction of tourists by the 21– 30 years group could have its roots in their own schooling, or in what they teach as a result of their professional training. Provision of transport was rated low by all the teacher categories. This is possibly because the teachers were reporting about their local wetlands, most of which are not used for this function. Wetlands in the rural areas are healthier than those passing through urban areas (Ndaruga, 1998; Ndiritu, 2001) and this might explain why rural teachers rate them highly with regard to direct use and economic value.

The ecological function of wetlands in the modification of climate was ranked high at personal level and moderately at community level. The water cycle and habitats of wildlife were recognized at community level. This suggests that the teachers surveyed in this study are able to view wetlands as playing a role in sustaining life in their local areas. The 21–30 years group ranked the water cycle highly while the 41–50 years group ranked modification of climate highly.

Social use of wetlands for recreation was ranked high at teachers’ personal level. However, at community level, this value was ranked low. Social issues, such as cultural and religious functions, were ranked low at both personal and community level. The urban group value recreation more than the rural group, which could possibly be due to the fact that buildings and other forms of infrastructure dominate urban areas. When these teachers visit wetlands, they may find themselves immersed in a new context, which is more interesting than their usual one. It is possible that this helps to promote perceptions that wetlands can be good recreation areas and perhaps attract tourists.

Cultural and religious functions were ranked more highly by the older teachers as compared with the younger ones (21–30 years). This suggests the likelihood that as one gets older, one gets more immersed into knowing and appreciating the cultural meanings of the natural resources in the environment.

Teachers also identified political aspects of wetlands such as using them for teaching about interrelationships and for research. All sub-groups share similar perceptions about their use for teaching about ecological interrelationships. Rural teachers, however, placed a higher value on wetlands as centres for research. This could possibly be as a result of these wetlands being familiar and accessible to the teacher since the ownership is local and known to the teachers. In urban areas there may be a lot of difficulties in negotiating access to wetlands for research purposes. The younger group ranked research higher than the older teachers, which could possibly be due to their being young and energetic, and possibly the fact that they have just come from a college where a research emphasis was encouraged.

Emerging issues on wetland threats

Teachers were asked using a questionnaire to respond to a Likert scale question on what they perceived to be threats to their local wetlands, the scale and coding being similar to that of wetlands value. These results, summarized in Table 3, show that the most important perceived threats were population pressure, agriculture, soil erosion, deforestation and overgrazing. The least important threats were seen to be pollution by industries, exotic species, destruction to get rid of mosquitoes, over-harvesting of wetland products and pollution by sewage.

The teachers expressed the view that pollution was not a major threat to wetlands as compared to other threats. Pollution by industries, sewage and solid wastes were ranked low. However, comparisons of the urban and rural teachers revealed that pollution by sewage, solid wastes and by industries were major issues in urban areas and were ranked higher as compared to rural areas. Both groups, however, held similar perceptions about pollution by industries. In Kenya all kinds of pollution have been reported in wetlands but pollution by sewage is a major problem in urban areas compared to rural areas (Ndaruga, 1998; Ndiritu, 2001). All the other kinds of pollution are given low ranks. These responses suggest that pollution issues are not well understood by the teachers. In the case of pollution by industries however, Kenya does not have many industries and teachers may not have witnessed industrial pollution as such.

Teachers held similar perceptions regarding population pressure. Kenya has witnessed a rapid growth of population over the years, from 11 million in 1969 to 28.7 million in 1999 (Republic of Kenya, 2001: xxvii). This leads to increased demand for resources including wetlands, at a threatening level. Urban teachers’ high ranking of soil erosion is unexpected, but considering that in urban areas many people trample on the vegetation and grass leaving the ground bare, it may explain why teachers see soil erosion taking place. Males rank soil erosion higher than females. Among the age groups there was no difference.

Deforestation was not a major issue with the 21–30 age group but was ranked highly by the other age groups. This could possibly be due to the fact that the older generation were born at a time when there were extensive forestlands that have now been taken up by farmland and other land uses. They are therefore more likely to complain about deforestation. The younger group may not have witnessed this destruction and perceive the status quo as normal. Differences in perceptions about agriculture as a threat were witnessed among the rural and urban teachers with the former rating it highly. This could be expected because rural teachers work close to where agricultural activities take place. There were no differences among the various age groups.

Table 3 Perception of wetland threats by teachers

Threats

Overall rank

Teacher categories

Urban

Rural

Male

Female

21-30 yrs

31-40 yrs

41-50 yrs

Population pressure

1

1

2

2

1

1

1

1

Agriculture

2

5

1

3

2

2

2

3

Soil erosion

3

2

4

1

4

3

3

4

Deforestation

4

4

5

4

5

7

5

2

Overgrazing

5

11

3

5

3

5

4

7

Pollution by farm chemicals

6

7

7

6

9

6

7

5

Over-extraction of water

7

8

6

7

8

4

6

10

Pollution by soild wastes

8

6

10

10

7

10

8

8

Pollution by sewage

9

3

12

11

6

11

9

6

Overharvesting of products

10

12

8

8

10

8

11

8

Destruction to kill mosquitoes

11

13

9

9

12

12

9

13

Exotic species

12

9

11

12

11

9

12

11

Pollution by industries

13

10

13

13

13

13

13

12

Overgrazing was ranked highly by the rural teachers as compared to the urban teachers. Females ranked it highly as a threat. The various age groups differed in perceptions about overgrazing with the 41–50 years old ranking it low. The ranking for overgrazing, agriculture and over-harvesting of wetland products by rural teachers depicts more what happens in rural areas where wetlands are exploited for domestic, agricultural and grazing purposes including by teachers who could also be landowners. In urban areas, the land use is different and these activities are hence ranked lower.

There seems to be a relationship between males and females in perception of wetland threats such as soil erosion and overgrazing. Female teachers rated soil erosion and farm chemicals low as a threat. In Kenya, most agricultural activities are done by women (Ongile, 1999) and it appears that the way they understand pollution by farm chemicals and soil erosion is different from their male counterparts who rank them highly as threats. The same applies for overgrazing.

Conclusion

The analysis of the teachers’ responses reveals that teachers have a close and interactive relationship with wetlands. The results show that teachers are aware of their wetlands and have some well-developed perceptions of their value and threats. They are seen to provide many products and services, which support economic activities. There is also recognition of regulatory or ecological functions of wetlands as well as their socio-cultural and political functions. At community level, teachers recognize wetlands as important community resources from which they also personally benefit.

The study found that water is a crucial resource that all teachers from both urban and rural areas value highly, mainly for domestic purposes, for their animals and for farming. For other economic uses, local crafts, building materials and grazing were ranked highly by the rural group while fish and attraction of tourists were ranked higher in urban areas. Differences also exist in perceptions of the economic value of wetlands between the younger and the older teachers.

With respect to ecological functions, high recognition was given to the water cycle, habitat for flora and fauna, modification of climate and control of flooding. Differences in perceptions of ecological functions by the different sub-groupings were also evident. Social aspects of wetlands were ranked relatively lower than economic and ecological functions and use of wetlands for recreation was rated higher than cultural and religious function. The use of wetlands for learning and for research was given moderate ranking.

The threats to wetlands are many, but to teachers, the most important are perceived to be population pressure, agriculture, soil erosion, deforestation and overgrazing. However there are differences in emphasis between the urban and rural and also between male and female teachers on their perceptions of wetland threats.

This study demonstrates the need for teacher in-service training programmes to seek their views first in order to understand them fully before the training programme implementation. There are indications that in Kenya, differences in perceptions among the sub-groups studied are often not taken into account in such training programmes for teachers. The contextual and age difference issues should also be given consideration in order to focus the training programmes properly.

This study also demonstrated that the teacher, besides being directed by the curriculum to teach about wetlands, also has a reserve of knowledge about local wetlands, which he/she can utilize to enrich teaching and learning in school. This, if harnessed by the teachers, can assist in enhancing wetlands appreciation by pupils, and is a challenge to environmental educators.

At the community level, the teacher is also often a person endowed with both social and intellectual leadership roles. Often, being one of the educated people in the community, he/she can play a potentially leading role in promoting concern and care of the resource he/she benefits from.

Acknowledgement

This study draws upon a PhD study that was conducted at Rhodes University, South Africa, supervised by Professor Pat Irwin. It was funded by the National Museums of Kenya, Kenya Wildlife Service and the MacArthur Foundation.

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[1] Pat Irwin is Professor of Education at Rhodes University, South Africa. He is the founder of the EEASA Bulletin and Journal. His interests in environmental education relate mainly to the natural environment.

[2] Reprinted by permission of Taylor and Francis (http://www.tandfonline.com).

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