Guest Sharing at Qinghai Nature Education Conference: Exploring Nature’s Classroom Through Sustainable Educational Tours

Recently, Lina, one of the executive team leaders at WildChina Education, was invited to attend the 2024 Qinghai Nature Education Launch Conference. The conference was jointly hosted by the Qinghai Forestry and Grassland Bureau (Qilian Mountain National Park Qinghai Provincial Administration), the Communist Youth League Qinghai Provincial Committee, the Qinghai Natural Resources Department, the Qinghai Ecology and Environment Department, the Qinghai Education Department, the Qinghai Culture and Tourism Department, the Sanjiangyuan National Park Administration, the Qinghai Lake Scenic Area Protection and Utilization Administration, and the Qinghai Science and Technology Association.

WildChina Education is honored to represent the study institutions and share our classic cases and experiences in the field of nature education and study tours at the sub-forum “How does nature education promote the ‘Insistence on the high standards to build an international ecological tourism destination’ in Qinghai Province.” It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to attend the conference together with numerous authoritative institutions and industry experts, and being invited to speak is an even higher level of affirmation.

Why has WildChina Education stood out among numerous study institutions? It was only after listening to the keynote speech that we realized it was because our years of practice, educational philosophy, and official guidance on the development of natural education in China have created a strong resonance and response.

Lin Kunlun, Deputy Director of the China Forestry Society Office, provided an in-depth interpretation of the “National Long-term Development Plan for Nature Education (2023-2035)”, emphasizing the fundamental principles of current nature education in China. These include:

– Making the protection of nature and sustainable development a prerequisite
– Adopting a targeted approach to highlight characteristics
– Emphasizing experiential learning and integrating knowledge and action as a core principle.

Meanwhile, Yong Yi, Director of the Department of Ecology and Environment at Fudan University’s School of Planning, focused on the profound impact and value representation of nature education in her report. She proposed breaking existing paradigms for the purpose of enhancing the quality and speed of development in nature education:
– Emphasizing effective education in the curriculum content, not just focusing on emotional and cognitive aspects
– Designing educational programs with an educational focus, rather than being limited to gaming and fun activities
– Shifting the educational goal to sparking curiosity, rather than just imparting nature knowledge.

These keynote reports collectively point to new directions for the future of nature education and study tours. They advocate for the development of high-quality, distinctive, and context-specific experiential education projects, positioning nature education as a crucial component in enabling sustainable development. This echoes the educational philosophy reflected in classic study tour cases shared by Lina and follows WildChina Education’s established standards for educational program design.

Nature Education: “Place-based Learning” is the key

Nature education, as a branch of experiential education, is closely associated with the classic concept of “Place-based Learning,” which is emphasized in the previous keynote report as “Adapting to Local Conditions.” Place-based Learning highlights that experiential learning should start with the local environment, allowing students to experience the unique history, culture, and natural surroundings of the area. This is also the guiding principle followed by WildChina Education when designing all nature educational tours in China. For example, in the enchanting karst landscapes of Yangshuo, it is natural for us to climb mountains, explore caves, and appreciate the natural wonders sculpted by time.

In Changbai Mountain, we followed experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences to study volcanic geology, traverse through the primeval forest, observe giant cliffs, admire ancient pines, search for ginseng, and seek out rare flora and fauna in the mountains.

Lina shared a classic case of a research-based learning program, the independent camp at Tianmu Mountain, which we have fully designed to suit local conditions. Located in Lin’an, Hangzhou, Tianmu Mountain is known for its ancient geology, diverse biology, and exquisite beauty, earning it the reputation of “a great tree canopy heard throughout the nine provinces.” Here, you can find a 1500-year-old wild ginkgo tree, towering trees that three people cannot encircle, the 300-year-old “Earth’s only child” Tianmu iron tree, and a habitat for over 4200 species of insects.

The natural world generously provides students with the richest learning materials. Through inquiry-based learning, students become botanists during the day, following experts on hikes to discover the colorful world of plants along the way. In the forest at night, students transform into amateur entomologists.

Leveraging the diverse terrain of Tianmu Mountain, students can also experience a wide range of wilderness survival skills such as stream tracing, shelter construction, tent building, bamboo arrow making, and the challenge of building a homemade rescue bamboo raft, allowing students to fully experience the call of the wild and their natural survival

The Value of Nature Education Is Rooted in Sustainability

In the main report from conference, there is a sentence that is worth thinking for all nature educators: “Nature education is not the result but the ways, not the destination but the path.”

The difference between nature education and traditional curriculum lies not only in breaking the geographical constraints of learning environments but, more importantly, in the conscious effort of nature educators to guide students beyond mere emotions and cognition through richer experiential learning to further develop their awareness and practical actions for environmental protection.

This is what we refer to as the inevitable close connection between the ultimate realization of the value of nature education and sustainable development. Achieving this purpose is not difficult; our answer lies in the continuous and steadfast organic combination of nature education with service learning in the community.

In her presentation, Lina mentioned our highly representative turtle conservation project in Huizhou, Guangdong and the mangrove conservation project in Xiamen, Fujian.

Turtles, one of the oldest species in the world, date back to over 100 million years to the age of dinosaurs. Adult turtles have almost no natural enemies; however, due to severe ocean pollution caused by plastic waste and more, most turtle species have been classified as endangered, and the global turtle population is critically endangered.

One of the main reasons why turtles face extinction is due to their unique reproduction process. All turtles return to the beach where they were born to lay eggs. If the nesting site is destroyed, they cannot reproduce successfully. The gender of the turtles is determined by the temperature, and in the current global warming scenario, there is a gender imbalance, posing a threat to population decline and loss of genetic diversity.

As a result, the Huizhou National Nature Reserve in Guangdong, “Turtle Bay,” is the only beach on the national coastline where turtles still come ashore to lay eggs. It is the best teaching ground for students to understand how to protect wildlife and their natural habitats.

In line with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14, “Life Below Water” — to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development — we lead students to learn from experts about the survival environment and threats to turtles, participate in activities such as cleaning turtle pools and shore cleaning, and protect turtle nesting sites, learning to be responsible ocean guardians.

The Xiamen mangrove forest is the best representation of the long-termism concept that we upholds in nature education.

In recent years, we have led students to participate in mangrove planting projects in Xiamen several times. Through participating in the planting process, students not only personally experience the importance of protecting the mangrove forest, but also, more significantly, they can see the lush and vibrant mangroves previously planted by other students, which better allows them to understand that their small actions will have a lasting positive impact on the local ecology in the long run.

Each batch of students participating in mangrove planting will become role models for future students. This in itself is a legacy and continuation of the spirit of sustainability, and it is the reason we persistently lead students to participate in community service projects.

As educators, we have a sense of mission to instill in the future generation a caring attitude towards the world and the Earth, to care for all the environments and life forms, from forests to oceans, from animals to humans.

We are committed to cultivating, through experiential education, future leaders and global citizens who are willing to deeply engage in and contribute to the development of the world, making it a better place.

The greatest gain for us from participating in this conference is the profound sense of enthusiasm from different parties for nature education, as well as their international perspectives and high standards.

Furthermore, we are pleased to discover that experiential education, or “research-based learning,” is increasingly being incorporated into mainstream education models and new directions in cultural and tourism development in China. We have observed a growing richness of educational and cultural tourism resources, as well as heightened attention being devoted to the field of experiential learning.

Experiential education takes students deep into local communities, facilitating deep interaction with the local community. This provides a unique perspective to showcase the most unique local nature, history, and culture, implicitly integrating sustainable development into the learning environment and even positively impacting the local ecology.

We look forward to the opportunity to collaborate more deeply with a diverse range of institutions in the future to provide in-depth and truly effective experiential learning education programs for more students.

Lina, an executive at WildChina Education, attended the 2024 Qinghai Nature Education Launch Conference. The event highlighted WildChina’s success in educational travel to China, emphasizing experiential learning and sustainable development. Keynote speakers, including Lin Kunlun and Yong Yi, stressed the importance of integrating nature protection with education. Lina shared WildChina’s nature programs like the Tianmu Mountain camp and conservation projects in Huizhou and Xiamen. These initiatives illustrate how China educational travel can foster environmental awareness and practical conservation skills among students, aligning with global sustainability goals and enriching China’s educational travel offerings.

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