Canada’s 2020 Biodiversity Goals, a bipartisan objective, is working to address the issue, but the task is daunting. The discourse surrounding the environment as a whole has become highly divisive and overly simplistic – and little effort is being made to tackle the root of the problem: a society lacking environmental literacy. Too few people have a grounding, personal connection to the land and, far more troubling, even fewer have been schooled in the relationship between nature and cultural diversity, healthy communities and a strong economy.
What’s truly needed is a generational shift in our understanding and appreciation for nature and that starts by equipping teachers with the tools to deconstruct the complex and enliven the obscure; to help students understand that we’re a nation of ecosystems and that each one offers an accessible waypoint to tangibly assess the impact of our behaviour. After all, education is the most cost-effective strategy to attain our national goals and biodiversity has the power to move the discourse beyond polarity, allowing for new entry points into some of our most challenging issues – from combatting climate change to engaging in reconciliation.
Currently, there is no holistic program that is focused on advancing environmental literacy on a national level within high school grades. And it’s needed. Across the country, as part of the UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development objectives that have been adopted by all provinces, there are explicit biodiversity intersections with every course. Why? It’s been proven that connecting students with nature helps promote creativity, confidence and empathy. At the same time, nature shapes innovative minds and allows students to think critically about their world. And biodiversity is the link between cultures and beliefs, promoting healthy and active lifestyles, and helping students think more wholly by incorporating both logical and emotional functions of the brain.
Indeed, biodiversity is more than a lesson; it is a lens that can be relevantly applied in cross-curricular delivery – from science to languages, from civics to art. It’s a real-world example of often-complex learning and, in the teaching, it offers a chance for students to collaborate creatively to problem solve, using multiple learning styles in the process. When successfully leveraged, nature is amongst the best tools for reaching different abilities and interests, while also creating a newer sense of purpose in student studies and their pursuit of career goals.
To foster environmental literacy, we need to provide educators with credible, unbiased plug-and-play resourcing that allows for seamless interdisciplinary education and implements the very techniques – especially exploratory, inquiry-based learning – that define the education system we’re trying to create. Most critically, we need to bring nature to life for a new generation through powerful, immersive storytelling and real-time connections to lives of every student, no matter where they live. If we can do this, we not only provide teachers with the chance to meet their curriculum objectives, we can build on the foundation of nature knowledge students acquire in their primary years and gradually create a nation that values and supports the protection of our irreplaceable natural inheritance. This is Nature Labs.