Fun game used to teach serious lesson in sustainability

11:09, April 15, 2011      

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A field trip to Africa has inspired students and academics from the United Kingdom to develop a unique game for schools to help youngsters learn about sustainable living.

The sustainability board game, which has already proven successful with youngsters in Kenya, is now being made available to U.K. schools at a time of growing awareness of and interest in green and ecological issues.

There are more than 14,000 eco-schools in the United Kingdom, and more than 1,000 have a green flag indicating they have a strong whole-school commitment to environmental issues.

The "eco-game" was inspired by a visit to Kenya's Lake Bogoria district by members of the University of Leicester's Center for Interdisciplinary Science.

Its students worked on various projects with Kenyans that ranged from examining rare plant species, to helping with water harvesting on their module called sustainable livelihoods, part of a degree theme called sustainability.

The game promotes the sustainable use of natural resources and was devised in consultation with the Kenyan people, who guided the students on the difficulties in their everyday lives and what issues were particularly important to them.

It is based on a traditional pastime called bao (board) that is thousands of years old and can be played by two people anywhere with stones or seeds and two rows of hollows in some wood or the ground. Archaeologists have found the sets of hollow patterns carved into rock at prehistoric sites.

Emma Tebbs is a doctoral student and graduate teaching assistant for the interdisciplinary science course and one of those involved in developing a green version of the game.

"The game teaches the students the importance of taking enough for their own needs without taking so much that the environment is damaged for future generations," she said. "It gives U.K. students the chance to think about what sustainability means in the context of a developing country, before relating it back to their own life," added Emma who developed the new game with Sarah Jones and Martin Birks.

It looks at how to use the resources in the environment, demonstrates how closely they are interlinked and the effects of using each resource on the others.

Tebbs has visited the Kenyan region four times over the last few years and devised the "green game" based on traditional African bao that revolves around the idea of taking a neighbor's cows, a precious resource and demonstration of wealth in the region.

The new version was developed by working closely with the community to determine what resources are important to it. As a result, the game became a powerful educational tool for schools in the area because of its local significance.

Matt Howard, another Leicester University student, said: "Some of the students in the village enjoyed the game so much that they played it for four hours straight."

He added: "Taking part in this trip has made me realize how we take the resources we use for granted. Hearing the local people talk about the effects of the recent droughts and understanding how important the resource of water is to the community, I have since been far more careful about how I use this precious resource now I am back home."

Those playing the eco-game must learn how to use resources, such as water, trees, swamps and pastures, crops, honey, wildlife and livestock.

The game is also used as part of the sustainable futures master class offered by Leicester's Centre for Interdisciplinary Science as an outreach program to school and colleges.

The game supports and is supported by short films about sustainability that have been made by Kenyan and Tanzanian film-makers, trained by a team of U.K. film-makers under a project funded by the Darwin Initiative called Community-based Biodiversity Conservation Films that Dr David Harper, the originator of the iScience module, directs.

Source: British Embassy in China
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