Passing through the yellow pillar entrance, there are winter trees situated along both sides of the walkway leading to the Terrarium Exhibit (i.e. Reptile House) where a group of passionate educators have been working very hard for the educational programme in Zoo Wrocław. This is the first impression of my Job Experience Programme in the oldest zoo in Poland and also how a life-change and worthwhile experience is going to embark.
The first day started with a warm welcome from Paweł, Monika, Anna and all other welcoming faces at the Education Development/Marketing Department. It was followed by nature exploration of the zoo. The zoo is extraordinary in the sense that the zoo is not only home to 9040 animals representing 1113 species, but the whole design and the animal habitats make you realise that nature is highly accessible at your foot. Through the pavillion, paths and unscripted trials, one could easily explore a maze of energetic animals of a range of varieties even in this chilly winter season. It might be uneasy for one to imagine the existence of a waterfall in an indoor exhibit with the highly authentic rainforest habitat. Zoo Wrocław makes it possible by the creation of Afrykarium the world’s first themed oceanarium which focused on the fauna of Africa. This perfectly shows how the oldest zoo in Poland does not satisfy with its heritage but continue to keep up with the change of times and contribute to endangered species conservative breeding.
Yet, the rich resources and the wide fauna do not necessarily make the education development in this Zoo as easy as one might imagine. Through presentation, experience sharing, class observation and numerous small talks, I realize that the education in Poland or be it Zoo Wrocław are too facing a number of shared challenges like what we are facing in Hong Kong:- it is never easy to foster children’s interest in nature and to inspire a connection with nature within a short lesson time at the Zoo.
Despite the above, a handful of educators continue to strive their best to build a giant nature classroom beyond the school faculties. They use different learning tools such as microscopes, animal skulls and self-made learning materials to open up the senses of students and lead them to embrace nature and wildlife animals.
I had the pleasure to observe a number of lessons of various themes ranging from animals such as monkeys and wolves, social and conservation issues. The interactive lessons allow the children to understand the topic easily via close observation of animals and knowledge scaffolding with different types of hands-on activities. Children with burning questions are often being answered and the children would not hesitate to shout out their observation with the positive reinforcement of the educators.
Apart from the challenges the educator faced in the design of education programme and the relationship with the school community, there are also other conversation issues that aroused the educators’ attention – Air pollution and Plastic waste/pollution.
Educators cleverly built the linkage between different social issues around the world such as the bushfire in Australia, air pollution in Europe, transportation development in Wrocław to engage the children to rethink their responsibilities towards the city and nature. It was also made very clear that such conversation acts by the individuals are important and Zoo Wrocław is also taking the lead to initiate campaign and activities to engage more Wrocław citizens to do something for Mother Earth.
We also shared and compared the current situation of Hong Kong and Poland on the awareness of the plastic waste and pollution issue and realised a common thought of how education is possibly a “game changer” to ease the issue, especially at an early learning stage. I have also got the chance to share some experience from Hong Kong and also to input some ideas on the lesson design for their future lesson about plastic waste and pollution issue. I look forward to seeing the birth of this meaningful lesson that creates close linkage between the Zoo and the society.
All in all, this amazing experience I have in Zoo Wrocław with the insightful inspiration about Zoo Education and conversation initiatives would continue to shed light on my life, work and my view toward mother nature.