Schooling & Local Environmental Knowledge:
 Do they complement or substitute each other?

My passion for learning about education in modern day hunter-gathering societies emerged after experiencing hunger in survival school. I chose this article because the authors used a transformative methodology to make policy changes for the educational rights of the Tsimane, indigenous people of Bolivia. Mackenzie & Knipe (2006) describe transformative methodology as a researching social issues for marginalized people, with an action agenda to make change. In this particular study of the Tsimane people, the authors are trying to adapt the school curriculum that the Bolivian government has imposed on all of Bolivian peoples to be more contextualized and inclusive of the cultural and environmental knowledge of Bolivia’s indigenous people.

In the study, researchers used a quantitative method for their stance, as statistics are viewed as more substantial in making policy changes. I disagree in using this method though because they ‘measure’ the Tsimane people by testing them and comparing their academic skills (writing their name, reading a sentence, math) with their ecological knowledge (their local plant knowledge). There is a difficulty in this because how do you measure ecological knowledge? They tested the Tsimane by asking them about medicinal plants, which I argue does not necessarily represent their overall knowledge of their environment. Knowing their medicinal plants isn’t the only way they contribute to their society. There are divided roles in egalitarian societies as well. Qualitative questions (open ended) that would include hunting, fishing, gutting animals, cooking would be more representative of what their environmental knowledge is, as they are representative of their daily life. Also, it doesn’t take into consideration how the missionaries that were sent to teach them (by the government since the 1950’s) affected their food culture. The video showed in Forster’s article highlights how since the missionaries came, now most of the Tsimane just plant and eat plantains, which is not a local plant/tree. Therefore, showing that there has been an evolution on how they eat, hence an evolution on their plant knowledge.

“Schooling and school related abilities bear a negative and statistically significant association with measures of local environmental knowledge” (Reyes et al, 2006).

Their conclusion was just what was needed to show the Bolivian government how these isolated school curriculums need to be diversified. I am proud of the authors trying to speak for the rights of the Tsimane people, but I don’t think their question is an answerable one. The authors argue that environmental knowledge and academic knowledge are exclusive of each other, but what if they use different cognitive strategies? Although the results exhibited what was needed to try to change policy, it shows how much we have to go to really understand these societies different forms of environmental education and knowledge. Comparing that to academic knowledge is irrelevant, when one actually guarantees and proves survival.

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  • Forster, K. (2017, March 17). Tsimane People: Indigenous Bolivian group have ‘worlds healthiest arteries’, study finds. Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/tsimane-people-indigenous-bolivian-healthiest-arteries-world-study-south-america-lancet-a7635411.html.
  • Mackenzie, N. & Knipe, S. (2006). Research dilemmas: Paradigms, methods & methodology. Issues In Educational Research, 16, 1-12. Retrieved from http://www.iier.org.au/iier16/mackenzie.html.
  • Reyes-García, V., Kightley, E., Ruiz-Mallén, I., Fuentes-Peláez, N., Demps, K., Huanca, T., & Martínez-Rodríguez, M. R. (2010). Schooling and local environmental knowledge: Do they complement or substitute each other? International Journal of Educational Development, 30(3), 305-313. doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2009.11.007

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