Health & Wellbeing

Raising environmental awareness in Kiribati schools

Published Jul 15, 2019

Invasive species are a big problem in the Pacific, affecting the health of people and the environment and even driving residents from their homes and land. As part of initiatives to help Pacific communities manage this threat, researchers from Victoria University of Wellington and Viclink have developed a series of educational resources for primary school children to help them learn about invasive species.

This work is led by Dr Monica Gruber, a researcher from the School of Biological Sciences and Ecology & Environment Programmes Manager at Viclink, and ecology PhD student Ganges Lim, a former curriculum developer and teacher. Through funding provided to Viclink from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), Monica began leading a project with the Kiribati Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Agricultural Development to help manage the impact of invasive ants in Kiribati and Tokelau. 

“Invasive species cause harm to human health, the environment, agriculture, and biodiversity,” Monica says. 

“Ideally, good biosecurity programmes mean we catch these species at the border, but in reality people often only become aware of new arrivals when they start to cause problems. It’s vital to have strong awareness of the key problem species to assist with early detection if they do arrive.” 

To help spread this awareness, Monica, Ganges, and the University’s Centre for Academic Development (CAD) have worked with Kiribati colleagues to develop educational resources for primary schools. 

“We started with a game we call Ants and Ladders, conceived of by our former Viclink team member Allan Burne, which teaches children about the different types of invasive ant species and the consequences of letting those species take hold in Kiribati,” Monica says. “The game works the same as Snakes and Ladders—if you land on an ant trail you get sent backwards on the board, and if you land on a ‘ladder’ you move forward. The game tells you about problems ants can cause and ways to prevent and counter their effects in the ecosystem.” 

Monica and her team worked with the Kiribati Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Agricultural Development to translate the game for children. The Kiribati Ministry of Education then got wind of the game and asked Monica and her team if they could turn it into a set of lessons for primary school children. 

“We developed a full suite of invasive species resources for Year 6 children, including information on ants, rats, dogs and cats, taro beetles, invasive plants, and mynah birds,” Monica says. “Children learn about what problems these invasive species cause, as well as what they can do to help prevent and manage these species, together with learning some more general biology.” 

Monica and her team developed a bilingual set of resources that suited the needs of Kiribati schools, including making them useable in classrooms that sometimes have no internet or power. They included games, biology, and local agricultural knowledge to make sure it was both interesting and relevant to primary school children in Kiribati, Monica says. The resources are also freely customisable for other countries. 

After the success of the Year 6 programme, Monica and her team have been asked to develop content for the Year 10 high school environmental and social science curriculum. They hope to eventually develop a programme of resources for learning about environmental issues throughout the Pacific. 

“Children are the future guardians of our planet. We need to ensure they have an awareness of environmental issues early on so they can better deal with them.” 

Monica, Ganges and Allan worked with Matt Plummer and Andre Geldenhuis from CAD; Taona Tinoa, Science Curriculum Development Officer at the Kiribati Ministry of Education; and Karoti Toto, Robite Teaete, and Tioti Taoaba and Tauaua Herman from the Kiribati Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Agricultural Development. The work was funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Partnership in Development Programme and is supported by colleagues at the Secretariat for the Pacific Community and the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme. 

You can view the resources developed by Monica and her team on the Pacific Invasive Ant Toolkit website.