Years ago, on one of his many trips to China Dr. Andy Phillips (President, formerly of White Elephant Conservation Science and Education Solutions) met Mr. Wang in a small village bordering Changqing National Nature Reserve located in Shaanxi Province. The reserve is most famous for its giant pandas in addition to other wildlife such as golden monkeys and takins. Mr. Wang had been a diligent farmer his entire life, but had never received any formal education. In fact most adults in this village, like Mr. Wang, were illiterate. And, like most grandparents, Mr. Wang wanted his grandson to have good future, including obtaining the education he never received. Unfortunately, as Dr. Phillips knew all too well, the village school in this mountainous area had very little to offer to the local children.
Mr. Wang’s story is not unique. In Guizhou Province, villagers living adjacent to Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve also face similar circumstances. Due to a lack of educational opportunities and upward social mobility, often times the local inhabitants do not support nature reserve management nor see any value in protecting nature. In an effort to expand its education and outreach program, the Administration of Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve has invited Dr. Phillips to serve as their scientific expert to help build a children’s educational program for the local communities. From his experience in Africa and Southeast Asia he knew that winning over the hearts and minds of people is most fruitful when their education begins at an early age. However, creating the most effective and inspiring conservation education materials for children living in poor rural settings requires an in-depth understanding of what these children know, believe, fear, have experienced, and most importantly what excites them to want to learn. Based on the seminal work by Dr. Stephen Kellert of Yale University, Dr. Phillips will be designing a series of surveys aimed at understanding the preferences, knowledge and perception of wildlife in schoolchildren in the third and fifth grades. The results will guide education activities that are not only effective, but also inspiring, stimulating, and fun for the students.