Brazilian youth are increasingly interested in biodiversity, Amazon conservation and science when they start secondary school, but school students in the North are more interested in learning these subjects, and about local fauna and flora, than their Southeastern counterparts.
These are some of the findings from the study reported in the article on Advances in Science. Part of a Thematic Project supported by the FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation), this study analyzed data from five Ph.D. thesis as well as an international survey called The Relevance of Science Education, or ROSE. The authors argue that there is a need to include more learning about local plants and animals in the Brazilian National School Curriculum. The project was carried out under the auspices of the FAPESP Research Program on Characterization of Biodiversity, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use (BIOTA-FAPESP) and involved five agencies in the state of São Paulo: University of São Paulo (USP), Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP ), Federal University of ABC (UFABC), University of São Caetano do Sul (USCS), and the Butantan Institute.
Fifteen years old school students have answered ROSE questionnaires in more than 40 countries since 2004, detailing their interest in topics related to conservation, science, technology, and biodiversity. “Brazilian students are particularly interested in studying native plants and animals in greater depth – much more than young people in the UK, Norway or Sweden, for example. We conducted three surveys in Brazil between 2007 and 2014, identifying several trends, one of which is that contrary to what might be considered common sense, the interest of young people in this topic is increasing, “said Nélio Bizzo, lead researcher on the project. Bizzo is Professor of Science Education at the USP School of Education and the UNIFESP Institute of Environmental Sciences, Chemistry and Pharmacy.
Students are invited to express their views freely on topics related to science, technology and biodiversity. The survey was conducted as a pilot in two cities in 2007, followed by a national sample in 2010 and 2014. In this latest study, 788 students (43.7% of the sample) in public and private secondary schools across the country said they were interested in learning about local wildlife, while 1,015 (56.3%) said no.
Regional comparisons show that 50.4% of students living in the North, including the Amazon Rainforest, are interested in learning more about local biodiversity, while the proportion in the Southeast is 33.1%.
Northeast has the second largest proportion of respondents who wish to know more about biodiversity in their region (46.9%). “These are surprising results. People expect more interest in education in places with a higher HDI [Human Development Index] and more cultural or educational attractions like museums, for example, but surveys show just the opposite, “Bizzo told Agência FAPESP.” The reasons for this inequality of interest should be investigated further. We wanted to understand why some are so excited and look for ways to stimulate others. The lowest HDI in Brazil is in the North and Northeast. In the North, we suggest, indigenous cultures may be the main reason for interest in learning about forest and biodiversity conservation. “
The researchers note in the article that Amazonian biodiversity and the knowledge of the ancestors of the region’s indigenous people are all missing from schools and textbooks, who tend to prefer large exotic animals such as polar bears, elephants, giraffes or lions to local diversity. such as the pink river dolphin, coatis, sloth, male wolf, mosquito and ocelot.
“The need for Brazilian students to know more about the Amazon is clear, but schools and textbooks tell them about the impenetrable forests that Indians recently occupied,” Bizzo said. “That’s not the case. As we know, the Amazon was very far from deserted when the Portuguese arrived.”
It is an established fact that in pre-Colombian times the Amazon was home to large complex populations and that these people transformed forests. “Local people interfere in tree distribution and maintain more than 80 plant species,” he said. “This has been proved by a very interesting study combining archeology and linguistics. But almost nothing is said about all this traditional knowledge, even though students are eager to learn it in school.”
People know cassava is cultivated, he added, but the more than 80 species also include sweet potato, pineapple, papaya and many other fruits and vegetables that are widely enjoyed around the world. “Even the active ingredient chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that is being reported recently, comes from tree bark discovered by Amerindians,” he said.
Culture also explains this intense interest to some extent, according to the researchers. Mythological creatures such as the river dolphin, curupira and mapinguari inhabit the imaginations of local and indigenous people in the Amazon, reflecting their closeness to nature. These extraordinary creatures and their saga are part of the rural and urban culture of the Amazon. They contribute to the dissemination of knowledge about biodiversity, and therefore, young people living in the North, even in urban areas, have a different relationship with nature than those in cities and rural areas in the South and Southeast.
“It is very difficult to find something similar in the Southern region of Brazil, even west of Santa Catarina, where there is a large indigenous population, mainly consisting of Guarani and Kaingang,” said Bizzo, adding that different approaches to biodiversity and local conservation really needs to be done. offered to student and the general public, especially in the Amazon.
The 2014 questionnaire includes items that describe the disconnect between students environmental interests and policies. It asks respondents what they think about compensation or reparation payments by rich countries to offset environmental concerns. “Our objective data shows that most respondents in Brazil do not support demands that rich countries pay compensation for environmental problems,” said Bizzo. “Of course, these young people could not have predicted that five years after this question was asked, our environment minister would hold the rich countries accountable at the COP-25 UN climate conference in Madrid in December 2019.”