Established across nearly 20,000 hectares of public land in Counties Fermanagh (Northern Ireland) and Cavan (Republic of Ireland), Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark was the first cross-border Geopark in the world and is dedicated to telling our planet’s story through its unique natural, cultural and geological heritage.
Its cross-border nature forms a crucial part of the Geopark’s outreach and engagement programme. “It brings people together from both sides of the community and anywhere in the world. That is really important. But no more so than on the island of Ireland. […] To learn about their shared heritage, their shared geological landscape is one of the few ways that school children on the island of Ireland can come together from both sides of the border.” Dr Kirstin Lemon, Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, and the British Geological Society.
Formal education is a key aspect of this programme and one of its most popular events in this field is Science Week. This popular four-day event is packed with interactive and earth science-linked workshops to engage primary, secondary and tertiary schoolchildren in shared learning about the earth. Twice a year, Science Week invites 500 students to engage in hands-on experiments and the study of local rocks and geological processes. ‘We find that children are more enthusiastic and they’re more receptive to those types of learning,’ says the Geopark’s Development Officer Martina O’Neill. It is this enthusiasm and engagement that Martina finds particularly fulfilling.
To facilitate and support schoolchildren’s geological education, the Geopark has strong links with schools, local businesses, organisations and especially teachers. To ensure that its programmes are in line with the Irish and Northern Irish curricula, the Geopark works closely with the education authorities in both countries.
Teacher training, teaching material and other outreach activities also form a large part of the Geopark’s education programmes and have been hugely successful. According to O’Neill, the Geopark has ‘had a huge surge and increasing demand for that particular service in schools.’ These training sessions and resources, which range from information sheets to lesson plans and fieldwork activities, give teachers the confidence and knowledge to engage their students in geology and earth sciences.
What becomes very clear, not only from the positive feedback but also our conversation with O’Neill, is that Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark places education truly at the heart of its work. Its commitment and enthusiasm for fostering a better understanding of the planet that we all share is palpable, and a compelling example of what UNESCO designations are doing in this field in the UK.
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