Last month, our Hope Scholars learners participated in two hikes. While SAEP organises many hikes throughout the year, these particular hikes gave learners the opportunity to contribute to the body of scientific knowledge on local biodiversity. The initiative was coordinated by SAEP’s Impact Center, the Cape Citizen Science (CCS) initiative and the Stellenbosch University. The CCS initiative engages the public in research about plant disease in the Cape Floristic Region. They provided an opportunity to educate our learners about ecological processes, the importance of biodiversity and causes of plant disease.

The hikes formed part of a study investigating the effects of including CCS methodologies in learners’ hikes by comparing them to a conventional educational hiking experience. A baseline-endline survey measured the effects on the learners’ understanding and attitude towards science, the natural environment and the importance of sanitation. The participants’ levels of engagement during the activities was also evaluated through structured participant observations.

Our learners were really interested in being part of this study. They freely asked questions about the environment during both hikes, and they began to understand the depth of the interconnection between humans and nature. They also enjoyed learning about how they can become more eco-responsible and how they could educate their communities on preserving the natural environment. Books describing the fynbos flora were also given out and the learners reacted very positively to the possibility of extracting botanical expertise skills out of it.

The sudden appearance of a baboon family triggered mixed feelings among the learners during the first hike – a great sense of adventure for some, but scary for others. It became clear that many of the learners did not know much about the wilderness and the possible danger of the baboons, and this gave one of the hike facilitators the opportunity to share some facts about baboons.

We will organise two more hikes like this to allow more Hope Scholars learners to participate in outdoor adventures with scientific outcomes.

Our Hope Scholars programme works with Grade 8 and 9 learners to identify and close educational gaps in key subjects so that they can excel in later grades.