Geoparks offer opportunities to deliver education to children and adults of all ages. Geopark landscapes generally provide an excellent outdoor classroom for teaching a wide range of skills, developing an understanding of the natural environment and important concepts in environmental science and other topics.
- Collaboration and Consultation
- Formal, informal and non-formal Education in Geoparks
- The UNESCO context
- Case Studies
We may ask, why we should provide education in Geoparks and what it should involve in the context of UNESCO.
Geoparks can contribute effectively to educational opportunities for all sectors of society through becoming enablers, facilitators and deliverers of effective educational programmes.
To facilitate geo-education, Geoparks should seek to develop appropriate educational programmes on themes and subjects such as:
- Earth science / geology / geomorphology
- Natural environment
- Sustainability of natural resources
- Environmental science / responding to climate change
- Community history
- Global Citizenship
This is not an exhaustive list. Your own Geopark’s educational programme should be based on your own geological terrain opportunities and the geo-educational concepts and messages you and your partners particularly want to emphasise.
Themes and subjects should not be developed in isolation. Some of the best educational messages are holistic, drawing together different themes and subjects which can be clearly viewed in the Geopark landscape (for example, resources and mining; topography and archaeology). These vital messages also provide opportunities to help develop and maintain your Geopark through bidding for funds with other partners and Geoparks to support your educational messages.
A varied and broad-based Geopark education programme involving the Geopark, its partners and a range of educational establishments such as schools and outdoor education centres is key to ensuring the sustainability and public visibility of the Geopark locally as well as to enshrining sustainable development principles within the local population.
1.a Where does Geopark Education start and end?
Education within Geoparks is an ongoing process without a particular end-point. As such it can provide the means to offer ‘life-long learning’ to residents and visitors. A Geopark can do this by helping to develop processes and communication methods and educational materials that directly or indirectly foster positive change in the hearts and minds of people living within and outside the boundaries of the Geopark itself, and so encourage behavioural change.
The Geopark can be a very effective catalyst for the development of new projects and initiatives. The Geopark may have its own educational department, but projects are often best delivered in collaboration with existing educational providers. These providers can be within the Geopark (e.g. a partner such as an outdoor activity or field studies centre) or outside the Geopark (e.g. a regional or national school curriculum which the Geopark can support). Geoparks should also engage with other governmental and non-governmental bodies with an educational remit, including universities, volunteer groups and learned societies such as the national geological society.
1.b Why develop Education in Geoparks?
Developing educational initiatives in Geoparks provides opportunities to talk with and engage local people who live and work in the Geopark. These may include presentations on the concepts which underpin Geoparks, such as Geology/Earth Science, or opportunities to promote local culture and develop community education projects.
If your Geopark is seeking to provide education on global concepts and issues, a creative approach is often needed. Long term issues such as climate change or ecological degradation may be best explained by direct reference to changes in the local landscape, such as those caused by flooding events. This evidence of local impacts can be immediate and dramatic and so is all the more effective as a consequence.
Another approach Geoparks can use to communicate vital modern issues such as climate change is by making reference to the environmental changes which have occurred throughout history and are preserved in the geological record in the rocks and sediments of every Geopark. By interpreting geo-sites in this manner, Geoparks can provide an immediate focus on both the geological past and on present-day issues of sustainability and environmental change.
2. Collaboration and Consultation
In order to most effectively develop educational programmes within your Geopark it is good practice to consult local educational professionals first and to develop your educational material and projects to suit the relevant school curricula or university course. For example when thinking about how best to communicate geology to children of a certain age, it is vital to talk first with teachers who work with this age group and to consult the national and/or local curriculum as is relevant.
University courses provide opportunities for undergraduates to complement their course work with site specific activities which align with their degree course. Engagement with lecturers and professors can provide useful opportunities for partnership and collaboration.
You may wish to develop “Geo-packs” of educational material. It is very difficult to develop a pack that works for all ages, so you may wish to have different packs for:
- Younger children (e.g. activity-based learning)
- Older children preparing for examinations (e.g. science-based projects)
- Keen amateurs / tourists (e.g. educational Geotrails)
- Researchers (e.g. project opportunities, seminars and workshops)
3. Formal, Informal and Non-formal Education in Geoparks
As a rule, education is generally encountered by people in three distinct settings:
- non-formal and
Geoparks can become integrated into all these settings through collaboration as the case studies show.
Firstly however, it is important to give a definition of these three types of education and for you to consider how they might be present within your Geopark.
Formal education is structured training within an institute which leads to a certification; this is also an intentional educational process by the learner. An example of this might be learning with a teacher within a classroom which leads to an exam and qualification.
Non-formal education is training in or outside of a classroom which takes place on a regular basis; an example of this might be a course in learning how to perform an outdoor activity such as outdoor navigation skills or sailing – the learning is still intentional on the learner’s and the teacher’s behalf.
Informal education on the other hand is learning which is unintentional and takes place through working, doing activities with family and friends or simply growing up as a child – this kind of learning is sometimes referred to as experiential learning.
4. The UNESCO Context
Education is one of UNESCO’s ‘Top Ten focus areas for Geoparks’. UNESCO says:
“It is a pre-requisite that all UNESCO Global Geoparks develop and operate educational activities for all ages to spread awareness of our geological heritage and its links to other aspects of our natural, cultural and intangible heritages”.
4.a Geopark Educational Programmes
UNESCO Global Geoparks offer educational programmes for schools or offer special activities for children through “Kids Clubs” or special “Fossil Fun Days”. UNESCO Global Geoparks also offer education, of the formal, non-formal and informal kind, for adults and retired people while many provide training for local people who can then, in turn, teach others.
4.b Inclusive Quality Education
In addition, quality education is one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (No. 4). The goal is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
5. Case Studies
The case studies showcase four separate Geopark-based educational endeavours from within the Atlantic Geoparks Partnership Area. These case studies, two from Ireland, one from Wales and one from the Basque Country, show different formats for facilitating and delivering education to various audiences. You can use aspects of these examples in your own Geopark setting by adapting to practical and cultural norms.
- Case Study 1 tells the story of how a secondary school (children aged between 11 and 18) geography fieldwork course within a Geopark was developed together with supporting information for the teachers themselves.
- Case Study 2 shows a very effective template for running an open access non-formal geology evening course.
- Case Study 3 shows how a Geopark taught teachers how to integrate earth science into their own teaching.
- Case study 4 describes a transnational approach from the Basque Coast.