You may think children in urban, northern UK have little in common with those in rural Assam, India, but educational connections are possible you just have to know where to look. In this case, an innovative education initiative at Chester Zoo has employed its five ton stars—the Asian elephants—to teach British children about life in faraway India.
"In both locations [northern England and Assam] we have active education programs in schools with children living in difficult situations. Parallels can be drawn between both sets of children, and for our children in Chester Zoo, this provided the opportunity for them to gain insight into another way of life and to empathize with children living in another country," explains Maggie Esson, the Education Programs Manager at Chester Zoo, in an interview with mongabay.com
With zoo-provided materials, British teachers taught their students about everyday life in Assam, including human-elephant conflict and the role of elephants in Indian religious belief. The zoo took lessons from it's own conservation and community works in Assam. The educational program culminated with a visit to the zoo and an in-person interview with a Chester Zoo elephant-keeper.
Esson says the program was hugely successful with parents and teachers reporting that students worked-hard, were engaged and even inspired. One surprise was that the students viewed the elephant zoo keepers "as role models and this type of social capital was an unexpected but welcome bonus from the project"
Esson further notes that similar programs could be easily replicated in other zoos.
Image: Asian elephant family at the Chester Zoo. (Photo courtesy of: Maggie Esson.)