Zoo gets top marks for education
Wednesday 25 August 2010
A first-of-its-kind study carried out at ZSL London Zoo has shown that zoos have a ‘significant impact’ on improving children’s awareness of animals and their habitats – even helping to banish Hollywood-inspired ‘myths’.
ZSL London Zoo was the subject of an independent pilot study carried out by Dr Brady Wagoner of Aalborg University and Dr Eric Jensen of the University of Warwick, to research the effect, if any, zoos have on children and their education. The findings proved that children who visited the Zoo developed a new and deeper understanding of wildlife and are published today in the journal, Psychology and Society.
The report, Science Learning at the Zoo: Evaluating Children’s Developing Understanding of Animals and their Habitats, focussed on children taking part in ZSL London Zoo’s formal learning programme, and was targeted at Key Stage Two pupils. It’s the first time such a study has ever been undertaken at a zoo.
The children, aged between nine and 11, were asked to draw pictures of animals in their habitats at the beginning of their Zoo visit and class session, and then complete the same task directly afterwards.
The results showed clear developments in the pupils’ understanding of the species they’d studied, following their visit to the Zoo’s exhibits and participation in a Zoo lesson, with meerkats ‘moving’ from forest homes to desert dwellings and jaguars gaining their spotted coats after appearing without them in the original drawings.
Interestingly, the report also flagged up the influence of cultural resources, such as the mass media, on children’s knowledge of wildlife, with one key example being sloths. Originally being drawn in icy habitats, which children noted they’d seen in the Hollywood movie, Ice Age, the students then depicted the sloths hanging upside down in a more accurate rainforest setting, after attending the Zoo’s education session in the Rainforest Life exhibit.
Study co-author, Dr Eric Jensen said: “It is clear from the primary school pupils’ drawings that they have developed a greater knowledge of animals in their habitats as a result of participating in ZSL London Zoo’s educational activities”.
Zoological Director David Field added: “Here at the Zoological Society of London, we’ve always believed in the power of the zoo to educate our visitors, be they school students or here on a family day out and these findings support that. We’re extremely proud of our education programmes and hope to continue to inspire and educate children for generations to come”.
Ongoing studies into the impact of Zoo visits on children’s understanding of wildlife are being carried out, to further identify the key effects of learning within the unique learning environment of a Zoo. The findings will be published later on this year.
ZSL London Zoo welcomes approximately 120,000 school children through its gates each year, with around 90,000 of those receiving free school visits through funding provided by the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority (GLA).