There is much opposition to zoos, its little wonder considering some zoos haven't moved passed their traditional Victorian style enclosures and practices. Currently from the most successful to the least, cages and cramped enclosures at zoos deprive their inhabitants of the opportunity to satisfy their most basic needs. In many cases it seems animals in zoos are seen as commodities, regularly bought and sold, borrowed and traded with little regard for established relationships and security from habitat familiarity.
Complaints from visitors to the top ten zoos in the world in 2014-2015 highlight a deep and widespread problem - zoos preclude or severely restrict natural behaviour, and with unhealthy materials. They produce animals that suffer from poor physical and mental health leading to abnormal, neurotic, and even self-destructive behaviour. This is a pressing moral issue for zoo visitors, and you express such on a global scale, here is the top five UK zoos and their complaints via Tripadvisor; #1 Chester Zoo, #2 Colchester Zoo, #3 Blackpool Zoo, #4 Cotswold Wildlife Park, #5 Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo ...the list only gets longer from here.
Although we fundamentally disagree with keeping wild animals in captivity, we do understand that many species are persecuted in the wild, some to extinction. As part of the illegal wildlife trade wild animals are killed as lucrative items and bread in awful conditions for similar reasons. With this persecution ever present, alternative places for these animals to be safe are necessary. The future of zoos should be a strong one for this very reason, and all zoos in the UK have to put efforts into both conservation and education. But it seems the future of zoos is still as visitor focused as it was 50 years ago, with zoos spending millions on new beautifully themed enclosures constructed to entice new crowds. We suggest the future of zoos should focus as equally on its inhabitants as it does on its guests, and further we suggest zoos shouldn't just have education centres, they should be educational institutions.
We see the future of zoos differently...
The need for improvement of our education system is also critical, to highlight the need, at the end of the academic year 2014 only 53% of children sitting GCSE or equivalent qualifications in England gained 5 or more grades of A* to C - our out-dated education system failed 47% of the children in our country, there's a visual below but sit with that number for a minute. The latest Programme for International Assessment (PISA) results shows the UK having a world ranking of 23rd in reading, 26th in maths, and 20th in science for GCSE level students.
our education systems failure and success (2014s GCSE results)
Fifty years ago schools were failing their pupils, they are still failing today. Like zoos our education system is holding onto a Victorian model that doesn't work for its occupants, a one size fits all approach. If you don't learn in the one fits all way, tough. Even worse, this model says although we failed millions of children last year, we're going to do the same again this year. We are failing the next generation...
TESS Phase 1: ‘The Re-design of Zoos’
TESS uses a philosophy of providing each animal with the three fundamental and basic rights that have traditionally been reserved for human animals only, building on the 'mission and vision' behind the Great Ape Project movement, promoted by philosopher Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer, and advocated by Dr. Jane Goodall, Prof. Richard Dawkins, Douglas Adams and Roger and Deborah Foute - what a great place to start. Here they are:
1. The right to life, and the protection of life if life is at risk
2. The freedom from persecution: freedom from systematic mistreatment of individuals or groups by other individuals or groups
3. The freedom from enslavement; freedom from legal or economic systems within which animals are treated as property
Our First Safe Space For Animals
Imagine being able to fly.., and then imagine being put in a cage for the rest of your life.
TESS is building a record breaking walk through open air aviary that houses the largest of endangered bird species. We want to save them, but we also want to see them fly...
The current world record holding aviary is the Birds of Eden aviary in South Africa. Similar to the gorge Birds of Eden is built upon, TESS will be built over an abandoned quarry, adding depth to the height we create with the sky high netting system placed above. This design protects these animals and at the same time creates an incredible walk through experience for visitors, all whilst crucially inspiring empathy.
Our birds are able to fly naturally in there huge enclosure whilst visitors can observe, contrasting TESS' re-design with the alternative failing standards of today's zoo aviaries - the pause felt when we're saddened as we see magnificent birds sitting on fence posts or the ground even, in confined enclosures, is what we're eradicating. The pause of joy as we watch their freedom at TESS or indeed in the wild is what we offer; empathy is what we're promoting.
Our second development, our "Semi Wild Alternating Living Experience” SWALE, is an enclosure design that allows animals to move from one enclosure to the next over their lifetime - animals will no longer live their entire lives in one enclosure.
We propose that one of, if not the main reason captive animals suffer in captivity is because their movement is restricted. There's good reason to suggest that any animal with a brain has a desire to use it to move around, check out this great talk by Dr. Daniel Wolpert;
With ecology, species, and individual needs taken into account SWALE is a system of large connected enclosures with a network of gates that slowly open and close over monthly periods, allowing multi-species groups from one enclosure to enter the next one, once the enclosure has become vacant. This promotes the animal's natural behaviours of foraging, exploration, scent marking, territory mapping, and further mimics behaviours such as migration and searching for mates. All of which we suggest are crucial for animal welfare, yet crucially missing from zoos.
The Human Experience
Lastly in our first trio of zoo re-designing we showcase our human enclosure, yes a zoo enclosure with humans in it. Incorporated into the above concept of SWALE, one of the enclosures is open to visitors. Visitors can experience the sights and smells the previous animal occupants have just had. They can touch the claw marks on the trees, smell the scent markings, and yes avoid standing in smelly bits. Not to mention feel what it is to observe and be observed as a captive, all be it human, animal.
The ability to experience what animals experience in zoos is something no zoo has offered before - have you ever wanted to explore the enclosures at a zoo as a child? And, let's not forget the important question; have you ever been able to empathize this closely with an animal's point of view before?
Each re-design above is designed to promote empathy and provide a unique visitor experience. Now let's improve education in a similar fashion.
TESS Phase 2: ‘The Re-design of Education’
TESS uses an approach to pupil’s needs with a focus on three basic practices too, all of which have traditionally accounted for only a small percentage of traditional educational systems. This approach will be implemented via an individually tailored learning experience and consist of learning within small interchangeable groups with individual mentors, allowing the ratio of mentor to pupil and pupil to subject material to match the needs and wants of the student. TESS will initially take on a small amount of students from 11 years plus, and will consistently support those students for the rest of their lives:
1. Empathy; the implementation of understanding and sharing feelings with one another
2. Freedom; the implementation of allowing one to safely act, speak, or think as one chooses
3. Positive reinforcement and support; the act of rewarding beneficial behaviours and providing opportunity to improve
There's been lots of work done around the topic of how we learn, and how children learn - you only have to hit Google to see the explosion of interest here, particularly including new technologies like Kahoot which is one of our personal favourites. Thankfully schools and the incredibly hard working teachers within have done amazing work in coming up with strategies to implement these findings as they have arisen. However they are restricted by the very framework around them, the education system itself - we will get to that. We will also get to how teachers teach the learners we know so much about, but first we want to look at what is taught, and how we can improve this. If we do a bit of research into what's being taught in schools, we find a steady stream of information about the much needed change. Yes, this is where we re-design the school curriculum!
What we want to emphasis at TESS is the freedom to be flexible with the topics studied. We have designed an outline of topics that we think cover the most important learning curves any learner may face in order to navigate the world and life in the best way possible. They're set out further down the page under five major core themes; Empathy, Life, Culture, Technology, and Nature. Each of the five head eight sub topics, such as Marine Biology under Nature, and The Entrepreneurial World under Life. There's a fantastic talk about why the freedom of our children to learn what they desire, has been taken away from them, and why it's imperative to give it back. Here's the thoroughly entertaining and incredible Sir Ken Robinson explaining (and bare in mind, this was ten years ago);
Not all of our topics are obvious at first glance, such as the sub topic Our Story under the theme Technology, what could that be? This one we've explained a little below, but for information on all of the other themes we will soon publish a lovely shiny glossary.
Our Story explanation; this is our version of teaching history, except we've done a little re-design of how, or more importantly what, that should entail. In true TESS fashion we wanted to start off by being as inclusive as possible, we want the past to not just be 'his'-tory and not 'her'-story either but 'our' story. Of course we're not plotting to campaign to change the name of history (that's an idea!)... Seriously though, in lots of cases we think the standard school curriculum frames history around wars and conflict, and although human conflicts are vitally important to study we opted to frame Our Story around technology. How exciting to follow the course of Our Story through the ingenuity, creativity and problem solving of amazing humans, from the first tools for making fire and navigation to Tesla's first mass produced electrical auto-piloted cars and Spacex's manned missions to Mars by the incredible visionary Elon Musk! Ok we realize humans haven't gone to Mars yet, but we will - maybe even a few of our students will get us there.
Individuality and freedom
Like we mentioned above there has been huge strides in figuring out how we learn, and we do actually know a lot. So why do we still have the problem of half of our current generation leaving school with no qualifications? Before we have a go at answering this we'd like to express that although we will provide GCSE equivalent qualifications our intent is to move away from this traditional concept due to its inability to incorporate the many skills a given student may possess. Instead we want to focus on future concepts such as the Open Badge concept from Mozilla.
Apart from the out-dated curriculum we see a few reasons why our schools are failing, we'll name a couple; firstly individuality is being neglected; children are widely being taught in groups of tens, twenties, thirties and more. For the teachers designing lessons, this produces the incredibly difficult task of having to teach up to twenty to thirty or more slightly different ability levels, and up to twenty to thirty potentially hugely differing learning styles. Even the best teachers in the World cannot perform optimally within this framework - nor can any child. Secondly, students aren't given enough freedom (see Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk above for why). There is an incredible waste of time happening in schools, where particular subjects are taught in depth to students who have no interest in that subject, and zero teaching of other subject they may just fall in love with. At TESS we will strive to gauge our student's passions as closely as possible, and change their curriculum to fit, whilst incorporating fundamental skills such as literacy and numeracy. If your school subjects are your passions, it stops becoming a question of how well you're doing at school and starts becoming a question of how quickly you can get back there. We want every child to feel this way - we will feed their natural urgency to learn, with the right topical foods.
Here's Bill Gates co-founder of Microsoft endorsing the freedom and culture that comes with personalized learning plans at Summit Sierra, a personalized-learning school in Seattle's International District:
At TESS we consider mentoring to be especially important, we will provide every child with a TESS mentor. Our mentors will have no more than three pupils under mentor-ship at any given time, allowing time and attention to be given to every student. Each of our mentors will be matched to our students through careful consideration by both TESS and the student's parents. The role of TESS mentors will be to guide their students through their learning journey and help them make decisions about their curriculum and future plans. They will also have a major role in organizing when the student will come to school. Apologies to the Alice Cooper fans out there, but actually school doesn't necessarily have to be out for summer (see below).
Schooling When you want it
As the working World has ditched the 9 to 5 and X amount of holidays at particular times, we see a number of reasons why that should also be so for schools. As every child will have a personalised curriculum they can also have a personalised attendance plan. TESS mentors will be responsible for mapping out monthly schedules with their student and student's parents incorporating time off (no more expensive flight in August!) and what time school starts and ends (no more school run rush on the way to work!). In a more serious sense each child will have their own optimum working schedule which will encourage a more productive learning journey.
The Nature connection
To round off our first pentalogy of schooling re-design we want to express a main concept behind TESS. This is the idea that as children we have an inherent affinity or fondness of nature. We want to allow this connection with nature to grow with our pupil's education. In the first instance we suggest that an emotional connection with the animals at our zoo school will not only encourage empathy and learning but will change the idea of schooling. The idea of school can change from a place a child is told they must go to, to a place they long to go. In the larger picture we are invested in the idea that if our next generation grow actively learning empathy whilst caring for nature and its magnificent animals, they will take it with them when they become the next decision makers of our World.
Whether they use empathy to change World policy and end conflicts or illegal animal trade and poverty, or whether they use empathy to understand customer desires and build the most successful companies in the World like Steve Jobs did with Apple. Or if they use empathy to understand the necessity to strive for equality like Redjotter, or even if they use empathy for the simple pleasures of reading a great book and falling in love with the characters. Whatever the future brings for the next generation, as Alvin Toffler points out "The illiterate of the future are not those who can't read or write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn". Empathy will give our children the emotional and intellectual understanding to do just that... Let's allow them to build their own empathic civilization.