Our Programme Foci
Wisdom of Nature
Where We Work: Yunnan

Teach oneself before teaching others: a school curriculum for love of nature

By Gao Ling (Programme Officer, Programme on Cultural Reflection in Yunnan, PCD)

The formal education of our country nowadays overemphasises the transmission of knowledge and skills. Children are becoming machines that only learn for examinations, not human beings who love and feel responsible for their community. The Yunnan Team of PCD has launched a programme on "holistic education," with nature education and community culture as its basis, to address the serious shortcomings of current school curricula that ignore the affective education of students.

Building holistic education with an emphasis on affection

The programme was launched last February and will last for two years. The programme targets teachers of Qianfu Primary School in Shuangjiang County, students and their parents, and also villagers. The objective is to build a sustainable mechanism (inside and outside the school and one which is owned by the community) to promote holistic education. The programme defines holistic education as nature-experience and educational activities which enhance the "heart–brain–body"—heart means attitude, brain means intelligence and body means sustained capacity for action—of participants so that they may develop love and the sense of responsibility for the community and for nature.

The programme team consists of PCD staff who have already mastered approaches of affective nature education and a committee of teachers responsible for nature-experience activities in Qianfu Primary School. The teachers are responsible for organising students, parent representatives and traditional community groups such as the DageCorps[1] to hold nature-experience activities. The affective nature education approach adopted by the team was learnt from Teacher Qingshui earlier. We hope that in the future we will be able to develop localised nature education approaches that take into consideration the local context.

A varied and colourful nature education

Presently the main role of the parents and the Dage Corps is to help the teachers and escort the students in the activity. When necessary they will also explain to the students and teachers about the changes of the environment in the neighbourhood of the village and tell stories in relation to these changes. The teachers' committee plans the theme and the venue of each nature-experience activity depending on the age of the students, the interest of the teachers and students, and the environment in the neighbourhood. Since last March, three themes have been selected for nature-experience activities for students in Primary One, Primary Four and Primary Six. They are "The Earth around Us", "The Hills and Woods in Summer" and "I Love the Stream of My Village". Each activity lasts half a day or one full day.

The course of the experiential activities basically draws on the Flow Learning[2] practised by Teacher Qingshui. Since the launch of the nature-experience activities in the village, students have shown much interest in this type of learning activity. Some are so excited about the activities that they cannot sleep on the first night of the programme. However teachers responsible for planning and designing the activities feel there is too much pressure on them because there is a lot of preparation such as designing framework for the activities, preparing venues, anticipating and protecting students from danger. They also have to facilitate the activities during which they have to be very sensitive and agile and be able to meet any contingency that may arise.

Butterfly and her memories of love and affection…

At the beginning of an affective nature educational activity, the facilitator will start by inviting everyone to give himself/herself a natural name. One time when a woman gave herself the name Butterfly, some villagers jokingly asked whether she had been "beckoning bees and attracting butterflies"[3] when she was young. She retorted solemnly: "Of course not! But I always remember when I was young there were many beautiful butterflies that flew here and there. They accompanied me when I went up and down the hills. Now I seldom see them. Today we've got a good opportunity. We rarely go into the hills together. Today I hope I have a chance to see them again and I hope everyone helps me find them. I really miss them…"

The villagers' journey to look for butterflies

Upon hearing what Butterfly said, villagers who had just been chatting excitedly about each other's natural names fell silent. I seized the opportunity and changed the theme of the next experiential activity from "Hills and Woods of Our Homeland" to "Villagers' Journey to Look for Butterflies." Butterfly naturally became one of the facilitators in the journey. On the road she kept explaining and describing to us vividly how beautiful the natural environment had been when she was small—the tall and lush green trees in the village, the vast and clear pond, and the place where she and her friends found butterflies gathered…

Restore nature with love

As everyone was walking and entranced by the ardent depictions made by Butterfly, a small boy in the group suddenly interrupted her in a loud voice. He was apparently annoyed. "If our village was really as beautiful as you describe, then we were born at the wrong time! Look, we've walked for a couple of hours already. Not only are there no butterflies, we have not even seen any trees like those you described just now," he said.

The words of the child left "the adults" without words. They looked at each other in dismay. Everyone fell silent for the rest of the journey. The teachers later told us that when the activity ended, some villagers took the initiative to raise the issue with the school on how to improve the natural environment of the village. The words of the parents were: "This is not something that can be done easily, but it concerns our children and the future generations!"


1. Dage Corps is a community group focusing on traditional culture in Qianfu Village. It was established by the villagers themselves and its main objective is to preserve, pass on and develop the traditional culture of the various nationalities. (Translator's note: Dage is the traditional group dancing and singing that ethnic minorities in Yunnan do during wedding ceremonies.)

2. Flow Learning was developed by Joseph Cornell, an American educator. It emphasises awakening children's curiosity about and enthusiasm towards nature and inducing their love for nature through first-hand experiences. (For details, please read: http://www.sharingnature.com/flow-learning/)

3. Translator's note: The Chinese idiom, "beckoning bees and attracting butterflies" is usually used to censure women for drawing men's attention.