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Youth Equity + STEM (YESTEM): Project Blog



Reflections from the YESTEM project partner: Hanwell Zoo

By s.godec, on 24 February 2022

Ensuring conservation education reaches everyone

This post was written by Beau-Jensen McCubbin, Head of Birds and Conservation Education at Hanwell Zoo.

For the last ten years, I’ve had the good fortune to work with generous and progressive colleagues in a zoo where we believe that conservation education has huge benefits and is for everyone. Yet, all too often, I’ve seen educational provisions pigeonholed into ‘one size fits all’ offerings, rather than considering how best to engage those who have traditionally been excluded. Creating generic resources and activities marginalises many who already find themselves excluded by the mainstream.

When I first started working at Hanwell Zoo, the pioneering community work led by our Zoo Curator Jim Gregory was in its early, yet fruitful stages. I was supported to continue and extend this work, but as I became more involved with the conservation education sector, it became apparent that not everyone worked in the way we did. It was it clear to me that a large proportion of the sector nested in traditional, less inclusive programmes, although I was warmed to find that there were many individuals pushing for change, supporting and producing their own inclusive practices.

Beau-Jensen McCubbin and Jim Gregory, YESTEM project partners from Hanwell Zoo.

It was around this time that I got involved with the Youth Equity and STEM (YESTEM) project. Sure, I was there on my own merit to share my experience and expertise, but I did not anticipate getting much more out of the project than I could ever put in. To kick things off, I hadn’t even heard of the term ‘equity’ in the context of social justice, and in our first meeting I had to put my hand up and ask “Umm… what’s equity?”.

Discussing equitable practices with researchers and other informal STEM learning practitioners not only filled in the missing pieces in my own inclusive pedagogy (another word I learnt), but it helped me to conceptualise it. This project has afforded me the know-how to better evaluate and disseminate my work, keeping the equity focus front and centre. Furthermore, being more prepared to talk about equity in conservation education means that I can help others develop and deliver more meaningful encounters in spaces of informal science learning, as well as make more informed, equitable, decisions in my own work.

Girl and lemur in a zoo enclosure

Ethical interactions between young people and wildlife at Hanwell Zoo, London

Young people with binoculars

Young people from London on a learner lead bird-watching exploration.

The resources produced by the YESTEM project are invaluable to practitioners and will benefit millions of learners – I’m sure of that. The Equity Compass tool is something I use all the time in developing programmes with young people. The tool maps out clear paths for us to follow and highlights areas we can improve on. I also use it in the evaluation and countless other activities, such as social media posts, presentations, provisions within the zoo, and even things like what is stocked in the gift shop. As a member of the British and Irish Association for Zoos and Aquariums’ (BIAZA) Conservation Education Committee, I also share these ideas with other professionals in the zoo sector.

I didn’t anticipate how much I would gain from my 5-year journey with the YESTEM project, and my hope is that the results will reach and assist many other practitioners around the world. Being better equipped to reach my objectives means I’m better equipped to ensure my learners, all of them, can realise their potential.

For more details about how Hanwell Zoo have been extending equity and using the Equity Compass as part of partnering with the YESTEM project, see this short film.

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