A groundbreaking pilot project aimed at keeping ancient African customs alive and saving threatened plant species for future
generations is being tested at seven Grahamstown schools. Launched in February, the Rhodes University Inkcubeko nendalo
Bio-Cultural Diversity Education Programme was officially included in the Department of Education curriculum at the schools
two months later. Developed by socio-economic expert Dr Michelle Cocks and botanist Tony Dold, the success of the project
among 650 Grade 10 students could lead to “the concept of bio-cultural diversity conservation” being taught nationally.
Cocks said 28 lessons – one session a term for a year at all seven schools – would demonstrate the “inextricable link between
Xhosa cultural practices and biological diversity”. Using “well known Xhosa cultural artifacts” – like sedge mats, grass
brooms, cosmetic fungus and foam-making “dream plants” – it is hoped students will use their new-found knowledge to
sustain and properly manage threatened natural resources. “We believe that each lesson will contribute in a small way
towards the sustainability of the Eastern Cape’s rich tapestry of bio-cultural diversity.” Using an “interactive participatory
method of teaching”, pupils are encouraged to tell their own stories and share their own experiences.
“Lessons are concluded with an in- depth discussion around how cultural heritage and cultural identity are reliant on continued
access to the plants, animals, places and spaces that in their entirety make up indalo (nature, bio-diversity),” Cocks explained.
Illustrated worksheets are taken home and shared with family members and elders, contributing to “learning by affirmation”.
Dold said the project was developed using knowledge gained from years of taking schools through the University’s Selmar
Schonland Herbarium. “We are really excited to finally be able to get out to the schools themselves to give every learner a
chance to experience our programme first hand,” Dold said. “We have had an incredibly positive response from the learners
themselves as well as from educators and the Education Department.”
An extension of the Rhodes University Mobile Science Laboratory outreach initiative, project facilitators Lungiswa Klaas and
Mluleki Nkosi said students were encouraged to visit the herbarium. Klaas, who has a diploma in electrical studies, said in
order to preserve natural resources for future generations, people had to be taught the importance of “putting something
back into the natural environment”. “We have to teach people young about these things … if they do not put back natural
resources, culture will suffer.” Still in its infancy, the initiative has already attracted the interest of Department of Sports, Recreation,
Arts and Culture officials, who visited Grahamstown last week.Similar education programmes are being developed for Bay
World (PE Museum) and Somerset East Museum. “What this means for us is that we are effectively ‘rolling out’ the programme
with very little effort – mostly word-of- mouth. "This tells me we must be doing something right,” Dold said.
By David MacGregor
Source: Daily Dispatch