Shark Sanctuary & Progressive Education

I must confess that it's hard not to smirk to myself about just how awesome our school is. I know I'm biased of course but I hope that these thoughts would help you to conclude the same.

We have been involved from the beginning of this year with Pods 4-9 doing a project about shark conservation in Fiji. Children are creating puppets, making museum displays, researching about sharks and their conservation and so on. We've even dedicated a web site specifically for this project. Whilst it's fantastic to be doing something that is 'real life' and currently very topical, we have to remember that our school is a learning environment and it is important (in our opinion) to maintain some distance from the actual 'real' campaign in case the children make a mistake and present an argument that actually goes against the often delicate balance of environmental NGO advocacy. For this reason we've been working with the shark sanctuary campaign manager Helen Sykes, of the Coral Reef Alliance, to make sure that what we say or do, is not going to disrupt the 'real' campaign. 

Having said that we got an email on Tuesday 1st that a public consultation between various stakeholders was being held by the Ministry of Fisheries the following day (Wed. 2nd at 10am). This was an important meeting which (suspiciously?) had been called at very short notice. Helen asked if we were able to come down to the consultation, if nothing else to swell the number of supporters for the total ban on shark fishing within Fiji's waters (200 miles around each of the islands).

Ok, here is my obvious smirk about the 'awesome-ness' of our school because of course we're small, flexible and understand how to repurpose opportunities to fit into the educational remits that we've set ourselves - so yes we could go and yes we did.

I took down 7 children who represented our classes 7 & 9. Since it was in the Holiday Inn just at the end of Suva's main strip, we were able to walk down to the public consultation. The Coral Reef Alliance members and their associated friends made us feel very welcome and the children remarked how they were treated with respect and more as 'mini-adults'). We listened to the Minister for Fisheries give an opening address (and who then disappeared to the next engagement), listened to an overview complete with overhead projector slides, of the issues; participated in some corridor advocacy and decision making; and then listened to arguments for and against a total ban on shark fishing in Fiji waters (all parties are apparently for the idea of conservation of sharks, but only in limited areas).

What did we learn?

All well and good but how did the children learn from this experience? Honestly, the items are too numerous to list in anything other than a bullet format.

  • Poor slideshow construction. Honestly, when slides are series of small font, too many word bullet points which the speaker just reads off anyway, we get into an area technically called 'Death by Powerpoint'. Currently our children are preparing for a 'slideshow festival' later this year so they picked up immediately on how 'not' to do a slideshow.
  • They got to hear 'real' Government ministers and their VIP civil servants speak. Sometimes it's all to easy to talk about the institution called 'government' and not realise that this exist of very real people.
  • They got to hear a debate on the floor between two groups that are opposed to each other on a central issue or point (total ban on shark fishing).
  • They got a 'backdoor pass' to the advocacy group who strategised during a morning tea break as to how to counter arguments that the fishing lobby (who are against a total ban) would put in place.
  • We were able to dissect some of the weak arguments (on both sides) after we came back from our allocated time at the presentation.

I can positively state that our children were of benefit to the arguments put forth that the decisions that were being made, had to rise above short term profit considerations and think instead about the welfare of our children who will grow up and inherit a marine environment that will be a result of the decisions made during the consultation process.

I can also say that our children were attentive, interested and showed off our school in a great light. 

No wonder I'm smirking!

Shark Sanctuary Advocacy

Pod 7 & 9 pupils  seated in the front and second row, were able to attend the 2nd May government consultation with stakeholders about the viability of creating a shark sanctuary throughout Fiji waters.

Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.  -Will Durant