Education as a priority activity of Parks

n Autumn 1997, the meeting "a park as a school" promoted by the Italian Interministerial Technical Committee for Environmental Education outlined a new profile of the educational role for the National Parks which supplements the more traditional role. This new educational role of the parks cannot be seen as a secondary option in comparison with the roles of nature protection and of economical development. A strategy of the Park Authorities for education cannot be considered as an integrating and fundamental part of the park’s evolution towards sustainable development.
We propose here some contexts of action where the WWF, through its local operational network, can collaborate with and help the old and new Parks along this fascinating but difficult path.


A park has always been seen as an ideal place for school trips, even though this kind of excursions have not yet reached the levels of spread and continuity now typical of school tourism in the old cities. The parks must be able to develop their capabilities to offer reasoned didactic programs to the schools; this is the way to go over the occasional and "no-charge" features of this kind of visits. On the contrary, school trips should be occasions to carry out thorough studies and investigations to include in the didactic programs. For more than ten years, the WWF has organized school camps and trips that it spreads in all the Italian schools: a very wide experience that can be used by the parks to structure their offer for the schools visiting the park.


The parks must be considered and can also and mostly become real laboratories where schools and visitors can take part in or verify a concrete program towards sustainable development. A protected area that started the difficult way towards sustainable development can enhance its effort and turn it into a specific added value in that area. Therefore, the park can propose to the schools not only the traditional naturalistic/cultural programs (which give evidence of the past and present situation of the area), but also social/economical programs about the "sustainability" (which give evidence of the possible and desirable futures of the region).
For the school year 1998-1999, the WWF has promoted a program called "Sulla terra in punta di piedi" (on the earth on tiptoe), a didactic program for primary and secondary schools on sustainable development. The WWF can help the park to identify and design – in collaboration with the local operators interested in the activity – some didactic programs which allow the schools to try and interact with the actions and programs for sustainable development.


A boy is setting a nesting box in the woods

In the above-mentioned context, the schools within the park areas play a key-role. The educational action of the parks are usually and mostly addressed towards the schools visiting the park. The schools of the Parks, on the contrary, represent not only a vital service for the survival of local communities, but they also often represent the only or main cultural structure in the area; in this context, they can play – if they are adequately addressed and helped – a central role for sustainable tourism. The school - in line with the most advanced guide-lines of the national education policy – becomes a subject able to establish relationships with the Park and Local Authorities both to express their needs and to propose cultural actions to the community aimed at enhancing the area and start processes of sustainable development.
The WWF has just launched a pilot-project to create networks of schools synergically working in the network in order to establish a dialogue with the Local Authorities and the Park Authority. This project, which can be extended to all the parks, may represent the most qualifying activity for the growth of the educational system of the parks and to build up an "educational community" in the park. This kind of community knows its needs and potentialities, it is able to establish a dialogue on an equal basis with the park authority and plan its own future. The WWF has also developed a remarkable experience in "facilitating" mixed workshops between the various social, cultural and economical components and is able to collaborate with the park authorities in managing these processes.


School during an excursion in a wood

The opportunities of
comprehensive schools

The "finishing stroke" for the small rural centers is often given when the schools of the village close down because of the lack of children. The closing down of schools often forces young couples to abandon the small villages and move to areas with better services, depriving the community of those energies and human resources which are the only factors that can guarantee their survival and development.
A good tool for the survival of schools in rural areas and for the promotion of the above-mentioned type of school is the so-called "comprehensive schools". The comprehensive school project comes from the need of public administration to reduce management costs of decentralized school structures in rural areas, because of the big decrease in the number of children in each school. If kindergarten, elementary and low secondary school children are gathered in one administrative structure, it is possible to reach the critical minimum number of children that allows to keep a school structure in areas with a low density of population. Beyond this purely administrative importance - they also have a clear social importance - comprehensive schools showed other unexpected virtues, for this model has often been "exported" even in various urban areas.
The WWF is ready to help Local Administrations of Parks in these choices, in order to allow not only the conservation of as many school structures as possible, but also the development of a rational network of schools that are able to establish positive relationships with the local communities.


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