Mervat Batarseh Head of Environmental Education Section at Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature writes about their interactive community and school-based programme on the locally threatened Dead Sea Sparrow.

Talking about birds is always an interesting issue for both students and elders.  As a professional in the field of environmental education. I have been monitoring and evaluating the programs we conduct with our stu-dents in Jordan, and I will never ever forget one of the most amazing evaluation sessions I have conducted for one of our educational programs.  School students have told me that “it’s our first time to realize that birds are different from each other”.  Others said that “we have never thought those birds have these different elements before we engaged in the program”. 

The Dead Sea Sparrow is a restricted-range species and becoming a flagship species for the conservation program in the Suweimeh Important Bird Area (IBA). 

Suweimeh 

Suweimeh is considered of particular importance for breeding birds and as a stop-over site for migrant passerines.  It is part of an Important Bird Area (IBA, RSCN 2000), designated according to the criteria of BirdLife international.  It hosts a large number of breeding birds such as the Spur-winged Plover, Namaqua Dove, and the restricted distribution of the Dead Sea Sparrow.  The area is suffering from a general deterioration of water sources.  One of the distinguished sites in the area is the northern shores of the Dead Sea harbour.  The area used to be dense with Tamarix trees: essential habitat for the Dead Sea Sparrow.  In relation to social economic conditions, Suweimeh has a high poverty rate, with low levels of education. 

Teachers’ and students’ involvement in the program 

We have started with awareness sessions covering the importance of the Suweimeh area, and the Dead Sea Sparrow and its habitat in the Tamarix forest.  We have involved the students in several activities, such as cleaning up the place, which suffers from the accumu-lated solid waste by the picnickers that affect the ap-pearance of the tourism area. They have also participated in activities planting native trees.  We have distributed awareness brochures about the project, about the Dead Sea Sparrow and the threats against it, and the suggested solutions that contribute to protect it.  We have also run eco-games sessions as an interactive method to achieve learning outcomes. 

Teachers’ capacity building program 

We conducted a teacher training program covering the different components of the educational program in relation to the Dead Sea Sparrow.  The teachers then transferred their knowledge to the students through interactive methods including experiential learning focusing on the use of eco-games, which we have developed specifically for this project. 

We have also discussed with the teachers several ways to use the games according to the level of the students’ knowledge and in an interactive way taking into consideration the curricula and the learning objectives.  We have received positive feedback from the teachers for using the eco-games to transfer knowledge and enhance the attitudes and behaviors towards the environment as they keep the students engaged and motivated in the learning process.   The games were developed to increase the level of knowledge, and change attitudes towards the biodiversity of the Suweimeh area, as well as encouraging stu-dents to follow environmental practices, and solutions to protect the habitat of the Dead Sea Sparrow. 

Topics of the training program covered the following: Suweimeh Eco-park and it’s environmental importance; the ecosystem and the biodiversity in Suweimeh; the birds and their importance, and the biodiversity of birds in Suweimeh; local and migratory birds; IBAs; the ecosystem services; threats to the environment and suggested solutions; and the current status of the Dead Sea Sparrow. 

The students’ session 

Students of all ages were involved in different educational activities about the Dead Sea Sparrow and its habitat.  Several games were developed to introduce the most important issues for discussion with the students.  These games covered the habitat of the Dead Sea Sparrow, the problems and the solutions that could contribute to the conservation efforts.  The games also covered the biodiversity of the area including the different birds available and their status, migratory birds and species adaptation to the ecosystem, as well as the water problem which works against sustainable behaviours. 

Acknowledgment 

We would like to thank the Hima Fund Small Grant for the financial support to develop and implement the program. 

References 

“Toward a viable Population of the locally Threatened Dead Sea Sparrow; Passer moabiticus in Suweimeh Eco-park; Jordan” project, Mervat Batarseh, RSCN, 2016 

Socio Economic Survey at Sweimeh Site Northern Of Dead Sea, “Toward a viable Population of the locally Threatened Dead Sea Sparrow; Passer moabiticus in Suweimeh Eco-park , Omar A. Abed, RSCN, 2016. 

Toward a viable Population of the locally Threatened Dead Sea Sparrow; Passer moabiticus, in Suweimeh Eco-park; Jordan, Project Proposal, RSCN, 2016 

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This article was first published in NAEE’s 2017  journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 116).  To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.