Zoos neither educate nor empower children, newly published research suggests

CAPS and other advocates working to oppose the keeping of animals captive in zoos have long argued that these institutions not only fail to educate children about the natural world but, in fact, have a negative educational impact. A newly published paper[1] in academic journal, Conservation Biology, now appears to have confirmed this view as it was found that, of over 2,800 children surveyed following visits to London Zoo, the majority demonstrated no positive learning outcomes at all. Indeed, many children were deemed to show not just a lack of learning, but a negative learning outcome.

The study considered learning outcomes for pupils who were part of either visits guided by a member of educational staff from the zoo or unguided visits. Only 38% of children were able to demonstrate positive learning outcomes, said the paper’s author. In comparison, the majority of children (62%) were deemed to show no change in learning or, worse, experienced negative learning during their trip to the zoo.

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There’s nothing inspiring about zoos

In addition, despite zoos claiming that they inspire children to become proactive conservationists, it was concluded that the zoo’s impact on children’s belief in their ability to actively do something about conservation was “weak”. The author went on to conclude that his findings suggested that pupils did not feel empowered to believe that they can take “effective ameliorative action” on matters relating to conservation after their zoo experience.

In contrast to the findings, London Zoo claims on its website that its site offered “the perfect education choice” and boasts “a diverse and highly skilled Education Team, provid[ing] unique learning sessions for all ages and abilities”.

Said CAPS Director, Liz Tyson:

“It is hardly surprising to learn that most children visiting zoos are neither empowered nor educated by the experience of seeing captive wild animals so far removed from their natural habitat. Zoos present an entirely false view of both the animals themselves, and of the real and very urgent issues facing many species in their natural homes.  This new research appears to confirm what we have said for many years. Zoos do not educate nor do they empower or inspire children to become conservationists”.

A 2010 government-commissioned report[2] raised concerns that, despite zoos promoting education programmes, there was little evidence of educational impact by the industry.

Ms Tyson added:

“We know that zoos will not stop making their loaded and misleading claims surrounding educational benefit and so are calling upon schools and parents to consider the findings of this research and make up their own minds. There are many ways to learn about the natural world without holding animals captive for their lifetimes in order to do so. We would like to encourage schools and parents everywhere to look to more compassionate, inspiring and educative activities for their children”.

[1] Jensen, E., 2014, Evaluating Children’s Conservation Biology Learning at the Zoo, Conservation Biology, Vol. 28, No. 4, 1004-1011

[2] http://archive.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-pets/zoos/documents/review-zoos-conservation.pdf

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