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Knowledge of native ecosystems fails to be provided to tamariki

Melania Watson
Reaching for harakeke/flax planted in the heart of the city.  Melania Watson

Children in Christchurch aren't being educated on native wildlife as much as they should, meaning their relationships with their surroundings aren't as strong as they should be.

The Garden City is recognised as being a hotspot in New Zealand for its wildlife, due to its wide and unique range of native species, but how many children can point out a native plant in comparison to a non-native plant? 

Allen Hill, who teaches sustainability at Ara Institute of Canterbury and is a member of the New Zealand association for Environmental Education(NZAEE), said children needed more engagement with the native plants in their ecosystems. 

“It’s crucial that children are connected to the environment that they live in, and if we are disconnected from our environment then we are less likely to care for it."

Hill said primary schools in Christchurch needed to prioritise environmental education in the same way high schools use it to engage their students in building a relationship with their native surroundings.

“Understanding our whenua and our environment means that we need to have an understanding of what is indigenous in our country, and that is those native ecosystems."

Hill wants to see more education around native plants being taught in primary schools.

“Our relationship with our surroundings is definitely important, children need to be aware of how crucial it is to acknowledge and understand our native species for them to really grow a connection with our ecosystems.” 

Green party MP Eugenie Sage urges the importance of early education around our native ecosystems.

“Anything in schools that connects students with nature gets them outside, and just seeing the many wonders of nature is a great start.” 

With recent lockdowns, children have been getting outside more and exploring the native ecosystems, but are unaware of what is surrounding them.

"One thing parents can do is take their kids out to play on beaches, go into our mountain forests, and to have a bit of fun spending time with nature."

Teacher Sarah Hoult at Newton Central School in Auckland teaches at one of the only primary schools with a large native forest on site.

"I think it [the education] should start gently and be something they absorb through their environment. I think every school should have a forest. Eco-system restoration is really powerful learning, particularly when planting is combined with waterways," Hoult said.

Hoult grows the education around New Zealand's eco-systems in her students' learning, so children are able to understand the importance of caring for them.

"It's about understanding the negative impacts of damaging or destroying ecosystems and the positive impacts of restoring them."