A useful resource despite a few shortcomings

Geetha Iyer

Title of the book: Handbook for Bird Educators

Authors: Garima Bhatia,  Abhisheka Krishnagopal and Suhel Quader

Publisher: Nature Conservation Foundation

Year of publication: 2021

No. of pages: 142

Price: Rs. 150 for the print edition. E-book can be read for free from Handbook For Bird Educators – Early Bird (early-bird.in)

As I looked through this book, memories came flooding – of those days in the 1980s when my students and I used to birdwatch on the banks of the Yamuna in Noida. A book like this would have added to our joys of watching the migratory ducks, waders and storks, not to mention the different raptors that used to circle the skies.

As a teacher wanting to get my students involved in Nature activities, I had to search very many books (those were non-internet days) and put together or design my own activities to internalize what we were learning by watching birds. The Handbook for Bird Educators does just that. Instead of spending weeks and months, searching through libraries for information, here is one resource that brings under a single umbrella, all that a teacher might want to do in his/her class, or during club activities. A time saver for a teacher.

The strength of this book lies in the different kinds of activities provided for teachers. These activities lend themselves to not only birdwatching but can be adapted to educate children in other subjects too. An intelligent teacher would be able to use some of the ideas in the sciences, geography, history, languages, sports, music and art. The activities are simple and adaptable.

When activity books are written, it is important that they be completely self-sufficient for the teacher. Any expectation to search the web for details defeats the purpose of the book. Why should someone buy a book if the same can be accessed through the web or requires additional use of the Internet? This book has failed to take notice of this fact and has asked the teachers to a) refer to their website or other websites for conducting the activity; b) asked to refer other books or c) contact resource persons (without any suggestions of experts) for the activities. Ten out of the thirty-two activities cannot be carried out without external support.

A large population of teachers do not know how to teach without a textbook in hand. Such teachers will not bother to engage students in activities that require them to go beyond this handbook. For those small minority who will search for knowledge, information, etc., this book has nothing new to add that is not available in several websites and books. This is a big limitation of this handbook. Here are a few examples.

1.Origami

The teachers have to search the net or buy books to carry out this activity. The authors could have given instructions to make any one bird. Most teachers will not take the trouble to search for books and will simply give it a miss. Ditto for activities such as bird masks and finger puppets. One example with outline of details should have been included. It will inspire students then to search on their own and engage with the activity, even if the teacher does not take it forward with more examples.

2. Games

A pullout of the game with instructions and cards sheet, which teachers have to refer and print from the early bird website, could have been provided for games such as Bird Survivor. Also surprising is the appearance of logos of NCF and Rohini Nilenkani on one set of the cards for this game. To what purpose, one wonders! Advertisement of a kind? Should the cards not have something to do with birds rather than institutions and individuals, whose contributions are already acknowledged in the book?

The authors could have included a pullout of the ‘My Bird Attendance Sheet’ rather than asking teachers to go to the website and print their own? Making this available readily would have gone a long way in not only observing and recording birds, but also learning about them and by extension providing valuable data for researchers. Personally I quite liked the owl game and found it a really interesting one. Game 27 is a generic game with no direct connection with birds. Teachers are likely to ignore it.

In short although the activities and games are quite interesting, instructions in several areas need to be improved for clarity and detail.

Quite unlike the activities, the projects are well laid out and explained. They are the best part of the book. The note on feedback and how to go about it is indeed a thoughtful addition to the book. However, this could also be fine-tuned in the later editions. Constructing feedback questionnaire is actually an art. Most of the feedback questions included contain close-ended rather than open-ended questions. The feedback therefore may not give the teacher a complete picture to improve or fine-tune the activities.

The resource section is rather limited. It is unnecessarily verbose repeating information already given elsewhere. References pertaining to the books and experts that teachers are asked to refer to or contact are missing. A systematically organized list of books, websites, magazines, journals, urls of online videos, Ted talks and apps would go a long way to assist teachers in using this book meaningfully. Missing is also information about home/online study courses in Ornithology conducted by several institutions such as BNHS, Rishi Valley Education Centre, IIT-Mumbai, IISER, etc., to name a few. Revamping this section could be considered for future editions.

Perhaps one should not be surprised at the lack of resources. For scattered across the chapters are quotations and names of organizations from the Western world only. It appears from the book that there is no ornithologist worth a mention from India. There is not a single quotation from an Indian source. That a book on observing birds in India will not quote Salim Ali is not only baffling and surprising but greatly disappointing. Salim Ali, Humayun Abdulali, Jamal Ara, Laaeq Futehalli, Lavkumar Kacher, K N Neelakantan,… I could go on. There are so many who have written about birds from India, some very poignantly, yet they have all been ignored. It is rather sad that the colonial mindset refuses to leave Indians.

This book will be well received by upmarket city schools. But for it to be useful in rural areas, some of the points I have raised need to be addressed.

The author is a consultant for science and environment education. She can be reached at [email protected].

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