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Canada - MADIE - A concrete experience in Environmental Education in Quebec: designing the educational tools

1996, by Ecologie en Action en Sagamie

Le Saguenay, Lac-Saint-Jean, one of the sixteen administrative regions of Quebec, has two outstanding features:
- the part of it that is inhabited can be compared to an island in the heart of the boreal forest, as it is separated from the other regions by vast areas of uninhabited forest;
- its administrative borders correspond approximately to the outer limits of the hydrographic basin of the river Saguenay.

Consequently, it can be safely stated that human occupation of this territory is directly responsible for most of the environmental problems found there. Conversely, and this is what is most important, the solutions to these problems can be found by acting within these same boundaries. These two facts have led several regional actors to undertake a number of concrete sustainable-development projects with an active involvement of the regional population.

This is the context in which, on the initiative of the nonprofit organization Ecologie en action en Sagamie, the MADIE project (MAtériel DIdactique en Environnement – Environmental Education Tools) was set up in 1985, on the following bases:
- Environment is a very broad concept comprising three interrelated and interdependent components: ecological, social and economic.
- Environmental Education (EE) is a very powerful tool for getting people to understand the stakes involved in sustainable development, to begin changing their behavior, and to make them more responsible with regard to environment.
- The production and distribution of relevant educational tools is an effective means for connecting existing networks that have no educational tools at their disposal, and for involving the population in a regional sustainable-development process.
- The topics dealt with are regional and this approach has several advantages: raising interest through a content that means something, motivating and stimulating participation, developing curiosity, favoring direct observation and therefore developing the skills associated with it (questioning, doing research, comparing, interpreting, etc.).
For those who initiated this project, the school population appeared as a choice target: today’s young people are tomorrow’s adults; they are all involved in an educational process that includes EE objectives, but they do not have the proper educational tools.

With limited resources and in reference to the results of a survey conducted among the teaching body in the region, the MADIE project focuses on wildlife and its habitat. Through the acquisition of a better knowledge of certain animal species (yellow pikes and spotted trout) and through a better understanding of the importance of their habitat, the students come to realize how much everything in nature is interrelated, and how much human activity influences the natural environment, which in turn influences the quality of our lives: health, culture, employment, etc.
It took seven years to collect the support and necessary funds for the production of these tools, which began in 1992. Over the years, the project has acquired more support, and most of all, generated a strong partnership between the educational and the socioeconomic actors. We can mention the Government of Quebec, the Fondation Asselin, the Fondation de la Faune du Québec, Hydro-Québec, etc.
In a little more than two years, the organization has completed:
- a large-sized geographical map of the region (1 X 2 meters) and small, individual maps for the students;
- a regional «time line»;
- three videos on water in Saguenay - Lac-Saint-Jean;
- twenty-six large and small posters on animal species and their wildlife habitat;
- five educational guides adapted to five different targeted school programs. Each guide provides the teaching staff with information on the region, and especially teaching tools that can be reproduced for the students, in view of organizing activities based on EE principles.

Although the long-term impact is not yet known, the teaching tools produced so far have been used by the 56,000 primary and secondary school children of the same basin. The main conditions that made this accomplishment possible, which give the MADIE project its strength, are the following:
1 - consulting with the twelve school administrations, together with an investment in terms of financial and human resources (educational counselors);
2 - a financial partnership with private, parapublic and government agencies and institutions;
3 - a broader approach to environment and environmental education, is that it is set in a sustainable-development perspective;
4 - conformity with the teaching staff’s reality thanks to surveys;
5 - integration into existing school curricula;
6 - regional content, to further awaken the students’ interest in the academic subjects and develop their critical understanding;
7 - quality of the material: the graphic presentation is visually attractive. The guides are easy to use and all of them include material that can be reproduced for the students. All of the printed material is computer-designed, which makes it simple to update.

Development and continuation
Using the same methods, the organization has also produced educational material, posters in particular, aimed at hunters and fishermen, of which there are many in the region, as well as two videos and about twenty information brochures for farmers. For this project it teamed up with the regional farmers’ union and with the teaching institutions that train future farmers.
It should be added that UNESCO, one of the first partners to support the MADIE project concretely, holds this experience to be a model of consultation and education exportable to other countries. For this reason, the organization has been cooperating, since 1993, with an organization in Burkina Faso, the Fondation des Amis de la Nature (NATURAMA), to which it provides its expertise in the training of a production team. This will permit the local organization to produce its own educational tools in association with its own social and institutional context, and in terms of the country’s environmental reality.
The organization is considering further cooperation with other countries, Haiti among them.

Comment
It is important to highlight the importance given by the organization to the regional context and to integrate EE into the concept of sustainable development – an option, incidentally, that is clearly explained in the educational guides addressed to the teaching staff – by trying to clarify the concepts involved in EE and by clearly exposing the objectives of environmental education.
In fact, the seven above-mentioned points can easily be considered as the minimum conditions for such an undertaking to succeed, and therefore as prerequisites for this type of educational material in other places.
As for the material itself, we should mention the high quality of popularization and production: clear and pleasant illustrations, interactive cards, dynamic learning (observations; questioning; a search for personal formulation of explanations, verification procedures, and solution proposals, etc.).
Finally, as some of this material was designed for an adult population, it would probably be a good idea to measure its impact.

REFERENCES : « MADIE », Matériel Didactique en Environnement, Ecologie en action en Sagamie, 414, rue Collard Ouest, Alma, G8B 1N2 Canada
KEY WORDS: Environmental Education; Educational material; Nature; School.
AUTHOR: Michel Commas, Square de la paix d’Angleur, 18, B-4031 Angleur, Liège, Belgium
FILE DATE: 1996