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La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993

The Transferability Problem

It is natural for dedicated environmental educators in the United States to want to transfer their best programs and materials to other countries. To many experts, it simply makes sense that after years of development, testing and refinement, one would want to extend the benefits of these programs to teachers in developing countries. Clearly, to education ministries in some LDCs, these materials represent a valuable resource they could not acquire otherwise, and for which they lack the financial resources to develop locally. Although language is a problem, once they are translated from English to Spanish, the imported materials can be put to immediate use by local teachers.

The problem is that as laudable as these “export” efforts may seem, they may not be having the desired positive effect on the growth and development of environmental education, particularly in rural schools. The reason is that language differences do not constitute the only obstacle to effective and meaningful use of environmental teaching materials. Yet increasingly, translated activity guides and teaching materials are turning up in even in the most remote areas of Latin America.

An example of such a guide was sent to the authors from a colleague in Brazil. It taught about North American predators such as grizzly bears and timber wolves. According to our colleague, the Brazilian children enjoyed learning about these exotic animals, but the question was raised whether they should instead be learning about the threatened predators of their own country, some of which are rapidly losing their habitat to unplanned development. It seems logical that before a country can prudently manage its own biological diversity, its people must be knowledgeable about the species that exist there. A U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras (Schmidt, pers. comm.) remarked that she believed rural Honduran children knew more about African and North American wildlife than they did about Honduran wildlife. According to her, this was because the only wildlife pictures the children ever saw were from magazines and calendars that North Americans had given to their teachers. Rural schools in developing countries usually cannot afford the costs of wildlife posters, magazines, and picture books. And even if they could, surprisingly few depicting local fauna are available. Unfortunately, in the absence of familiarity with native fauna, such children may inadvertently learn a tragic lesson: “Wildlife live in other places; we don’t have any here.”

Not only are the animal and plant species emphasized in North American environmental education materials likely to be very different than those found in Latin America, but the nature and severity of the environmental problems are also different. Even a cursory glance at the figures presented in Table 1 reveals a number of patterns. Compared to North American countries, certain rural areas in Central America and the Caribbean tend to be smaller, poorer, and more densely populated; they also possess less arable land per capita, fewer and smaller protected areas and nature preserves, and their people live shorter lives. Clearly, environmental education in North America could be expected to focus on a fundamentally different set of environmental problems and pressures than their counterparts in the other countries shown.