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March 19, 2024

ICOM VoicesConnecting students with Bolivia’s biodiversity

Daniela Renata Lazcano-Silva ; Wilma Virginia Angulo Veizaga

Obtained her degree in Logistical Marketing with a special mention in services marketing. Head of the Department of Environmental Dissemination and Education, Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, La Paz, Bolivia ; Obtained her degree in Biology. Environmental Educator, Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, La Paz, Bolivia

Keywords: Environmental education, biodiversity, teaching-learning, dialogue, natural and cultural heritage.

El Museo Va A Tu Escuela [The Museum Visits your School], an Environmental Education project organised by the Museo Nacional del Historia Natural in La Paz, Bolivia, aimed at primary school pupils aged 10 to 12 and secondary school pupils aged 15 to 18.

El Museo Va A Tu Escuela: an external, direct action project

The year 2015 saw the launch of the project ‘Conoce más de nuestra riqueza natural: El Museo Va A Tu Escuela (EMVATE)’ [Learn more about the richness of our natural world: The Museum Visits your School], an initiative of the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural (MNHN) in La Paz, Bolivia, organised by its Department of Environmental Dissemination and Education (UDEA).

El Museo Va A Tu Escuela aimed to encourage greater appreciation of the natural heritage and increase access to knowledge of Bolivia’s vast natural wealth with regard to its paleontology, flora and fauna. The project’s objective was that of sharing with school pupils the beauty of the country’s exceptional diversity due to its unique geographical location; from the Andes to the Amazon rainforest, where ecosystems typical of the Altiplano, the Chaco, valleys, the tropics and the Amazon rainforest coexist.

Up to December 2023 the project visited 50 Educational Centres, both in urban and rural areas, reaching a total of 3,075 school pupils who benefited from this educational-creative experience.

Two groups participated in the experience: Primary school pupils, aged 10 to 12, who undertook theoretical-practical classes; and Secondary school pupils, aged 15 to 18, who were in addition encouraged to rediscover ancestral knowledge, using new technologies in particular.

Fig. 1. Examples of work produced at the Chojasivi Educational Centre of the Chojasivi Community in Pucarani, Lake Titicaca, La Paz, Bolivia. Rural area. (2022) ©MNHN

The educational plan, materials and methods

Children and teenagers have the opportunity to exchange information with each other through classes specifically devoted to environmental education, adapted to pre-planned subjects, in order to promote knowledge of the paleontological history of the planet, the conservation of current biodiversity and Bolivia’s cultural diversity.

The EMVATE educational project was offered every semester, with 4 classes lasting 1 hour each (1 per month). The success of its implementation is directly related to the commitment of the teachers who accompanied the staff of the UDEA MNHN and motivated school pupils to actively participate in the project.

Group 1 (aged 10 to 12): pupils undertook educational activities and were encouraged to recycle materials; some classes featured items from the MNHN’s educational collection as a sensory element and pupils were allowed to touch them, interact with them and observe them from close up.

Fig. 2. School pupils with a teaching specimen of an Andean hairy armadillo (Chaetophractus nationi) (left), and engaged in class activity (right). 16 de Julio Educational Centre, San Buenaventura, province of Abel Iturralde, Amazon region, La Paz, Bolivia. Rural area. (2023) ©MNHN

At the end of each class, students worked on a ‘creative summary’ as a qualitative evaluation, representing the knowledge they had assimilated. In the final visit there was an evaluation of the project with the aim of understanding the impact and level of curiosity generated by EMVATE in pupils and teachers.

Fig. 3. Examples of work by pupils at the Federal Republic of Brazil Educational Centre, La Paz, Bolivia. Urban area. Class subject: ‘Day of the Tree’. (2023) ©MNHN
Fig. 4. Examples of work by pupils at the San Fernando Educational Centre, La Paz, Bolivia. Urban area. Class subject: the yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle (Podocnemis unifilis) (2023) ©MNHN

An adaptive focus in Environmental Education

Group 2 (aged 15 to 18): In 2022, the project was expanded to encourage research and critical and creative thinking through the preparation of daily reports and audiovisual content that allowed students to understand present-day environmental issues, investigate present and past biodiversity and also rediscover ancestral and cultural memories and knowledge relating to biodiversity (medicine, gastronomy, traditions, etc.).

The intention with this age group was to strengthen academic skills, develop social and communication abilities, create spaces for free expression, make best use of and explore information and communication technologies, and conducting community-based science through the use of the iNaturalist app.

The project came to an end in 2023. Students were gifted a notebook with 56 key species of Bolivian fauna selected for their ecological importance and for being officially considered at risk of extinction according to a national policy framework (PDES 2021-2025). University students volunteering at the UDEA MNHN were involved in making that material, thus establishing another link between groups of young people.

Fig. 5. Pupils from the Sergio Suárez Figueroa and General José de San Martín Educational Centres, La Paz, Bolivia. Urban area. (2023) ©MNHN

Conclusion: strengthening teaching-learning spaces

The EMVATE project represented learning processes that are dynamic and adaptive. The evolution and reinforcement of the project were made possible by the different participants involved in the project over time: staff of the MNHN, Educational Centres, teachers and school pupils, with the valuable support of the team of volunteers of the MNHN.

Generating satisfactory experiences for children and teenagers through their participation in the project, gave rise to positive memories which could then be translated into concrete actions (sharing what was learned with families and circles of influence, or the sustained practice of community-based science through biodiversity recording). In addition to sharing new knowledge through generating spaces of dialogue, participants acquired practical and social skills. The project also encouraged research and promoted responsibility and respectful, sharing attitudes towards nature while contributing to the construction of better societies.

From the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, we hope that the natural and cultural heritage can be reassessed through dialogue and the exchange of skills in school settings, thus furthering its study and conservation as well as respect for and protection of different forms of life while rediscovering ancestral knowledge and other ways of generating knowledge.

The MNHN is an academic institution for research into the natural and cultural heritage of Bolivia and its care and preservation, contributing to the sustainability of the components, zones and life systems of Mother Earth through the development and use of scientific collections of fauna, flora and fossils and associated information; the generation and dissemination of scientific knowledge; the documentation, rediscovery and preservation of local and ancestral knowledge; and environmental and paleontological education. In order to achieve these aims the Museum is based on the principles of integrality, dialogue between different knowledge systems, social justice and plural participation, particularly promoting girls and women’s greater access to science and involvement in it with the aim of reducing ongoing inequalities.


Claudia Fabiola Cortez Fernández, Michelle Ponce Silva, Dagner Salvatierra López, Hugo Aranibar-Rojas – Independent researchers.