Tamlyn Hardy writes about the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Seabirds (SANCCOB) which is an international leader in oiled wildlife response, rehabilitation and chick-rearing; contributes to research which benefits seabirds; trains people to care for the birds and educates the public to develop behavioural change which benefits marine life and environment.

I currently serve as SANCCOB’s Education Manager.  My job is to develop, find funding for and implement educational programmes that focus on the plight of the endangered African penguin and seabirds.  I completed my studies in Environmental Education but beforehand actually started off my career in High School Mathematics.  During my initial years of teaching, my father was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy.  By the time I finished my first set of studies he had been officially declared disabled and had stopped working.  I was really taken aback by how his impairment changed his willingness to learn and his approach to his overall environment.  He no longer wanted to engage in the world around him.  I began thinking a lot about how learners with special education needs (LSEN) approach their environment.  From there I started taking free online courses, reading any textbook I could get my hands on with a LSEN focus.  Sadly, I found that there was a lack of information available on environmental education and LSEN work in South Africa.

When I started as Education Manager at SANCCOB, I shifted all the projects to a LSEN focus; in the last two years we’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of learners across different age groups with different barriers including, but not limited to: autism, Down syndrome, ADHD, physical impairments, deaf, hard of hearing, cerebral palsy, aphasia and severe intellectual disorders. The work is incredibly interesting and rewarding but also time intensive.

Each lesson includes the process of:

1. Receiving learner information sheets on each child participating in the lesson

2. Creating a breakdown of each impairment that exists within the group

3. Lesson plan development with the purpose of creating learning experiences that can include all learners

4. Assessment and evaluation (mostly tracking behavioural change but this can vary based on which impairments are present)

5. Feedback and evaluation from participating learners and educators

6. Self-reflection and self-evaluation

A lot of the time I was met with confused parents, but it was a great opportunity to illustrate the importance of EE regardless of what barriers the child may be experiencing. There were several instances where learners would step onto a beach, take a night walk or visit a nature reserve for the first time.

An educator named Zolani reported to SANCCOB that the camp they attended was

“a great oppor-tunity for the kids. Often deaf children with oral parents, particularly in the Xhosa community, are not fully accepted and there is a stigma around having a deaf child. Often these kids are hidden from society. Many kids that are here on the camp have never even been to a shopping centre so this camp is a completely new experience.” 

Through our work we have been able to track, not only retained information, but actual behavioural change with four of our partner schools initiating environmental education programmes of their own.

It has been reported that participating learners have become more compassionate for the environment and are more willing to engage in outdoor activities. We all know that the environment belongs to everyone and in turn, all people are responsible for protecting and appreciating it, regardless of what intrinsic or extrinsic barriers may exist.

Slowly but surely SANCCOB has been asking learners with special education needs to expose them-selves to new experiences. There is no reason why a physically impaired learner can’t participate in a beach clean-up, a deaf learner can’t go on a night walk or a blind learner can’t bird watch. I encourage any environmental educators reading this to reach out to a special needs school near you and take the time to make reasonable accommodations to your content in order to engage all types of learners.

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Tamlyn Hardy is Education Manager at SANCCOB sanccob.co.za   This article was first published in NAEE’s 2017  journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 115).  To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.