Ecuador: Cracking math (and other lessons) with a deeper understanding of biodiversity

Posted on 19 February 2018

In the Ecuadorian Amazon, WWF is working with indigenous communities to develop education as a tool to protect biodiversity and use biodiversity to promote learning.
Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is one of the biggest protected areas in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Spanning more than 590,000 hectares, this complex wetland system boasts of incredible biodiversity. It is home to thousands of species such as the river dolphin, the jaguar and the giant otter, and five different indigenous ethnic groups: the Kichwas, the Cofanes, the Sionas, the Secoyas, and the Shuaras.

Living in the Amazon since centuries, these communities know the forests inside out. They are the strongest stewards of the protection of its resources and as their world evolves, they are increasingly keen to look at how conservation can support sustainable development for them, their children and their lands.

Recently, they came to WWF-Ecuador with a strange request for a conservation organization: was there any way we could help develop education as a tool to protect biodiversity and use biodiversity to promote learning?

The solution was not straightforward but after dialogue and consultation, together we found a way.

The WWF team on the ground discovered that like the generations before, the forest was in the soul of the communities’ children. As much as they struggled to draw the picture of a school for example, the images (and pencils) were flying off the charts when asked to draw a forest.

Drawings took up entire pages: trees, rivers, birds, animals, flowers, fruits, but most importantly, people. Almost each image included a person fishing, hunting, or gathering, proving, once again, that for these communities, the forest is a part of their existence.

Today, WWF-Ecuador is working with the communities to develop a local curriculum, materials and schoolwork emphasizing and encouraging sustainable development. Gradually, children from the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve will be able to learn math skills by calculating how much rainfall they need for their cacao crops to thrive and understand the environment through images of jaguars captured on camera traps installed by their own parents a few hundred metres away from their homes.

The pilot programme which covers 200 students and trainings for ten teachers reaching four communities will be formally launched in April 2018.

There is still a long way to go especially as challenges related to infrastructure persist but for now, there is renewed hope and enthusiasm among the communities. “Building a more sustainable, safer world for all starts with securing the dreams of children, ensuring they thrive along with nature,” said María Fernanda Burneo, WWF-Ecuador.

To find out more about WWF-Ecuador’s education initiative in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, click here
Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon is home to five different indigenous communities.
© WWF-Ecuador
One of the drawings made by the children living in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Ecuador.
© WWF-Ecuador