Teenage Dreams: Can Adolescent Aspirations be Used to Inform New Conservation Initiatives in Kazakhstan?

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Article by Sophie Elliott (Imperial College London), Zhanna Arksartova (Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan), Carlyn Samuel and E.J. Milner-Gulland (Saiga Conservation Alliance and University of Oxford). Corresponding author: E. J. Milner-Gulland. Contact - ej.milner-gulland@zoo.ox.ac.uk

Teenage Dreams - New Conservation Initiatives

Article published in Saiga News Issue 20 on page 24.

This research is aimed to identify the aspirations and preferred social activities of teenagers in Kazakhstan, and consider how better to engage them with current conservation initiatives regarding the saiga antelope. Research was carried out from May to August 2014, with 56 individual interviews with teenagers conducted in two villages - Azhibay and Nursay - in the Ural region of Kazakhstan, and questionnaires completed by six young conservationists in the UK, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia.

The most recurrent career aspirations for the teenagers in the Kazakh villages were teacher, doctor, architect/designer, conservation and singer. Comparing the teens' aspirations to their future career predictions found that the jobs with the most congruence were singer, architect/designer, painter/artist, hairdresser, government, sport and ranger (Figure 1). Fewer teenagers thought they would be teachers than wanted to be, but this response was still very prevalent.

The teenagers gave their views on what might prevent them from being able to pursue their job aspirations; the most frequently stated reasons were education or exam results (with 25% of teens stating these), and money or financial reasons (21% of teens). 13 of the 14 teenagers who stated 'education/exam results' as a barrier were aspiring to jobs needing higher education, such as doctor, computer programmer, or architect. These aspirational careers were also linked to money or financial barriers, suggesting that higher education is viewed as a constraint by teenagers.

Comparing the teenagers' aspirations and career predictions to the parents' occupations was interesting as the most common occupation for parents was unemployment or 'staying at home' (23 teenagers stating this). However, none of the teenagers aspired to, or predicted, having no job in the future, even when one or both of their parents did not work. Girls also did not express any desire to become homemakers, housewives or full-time parents, responding with only career choices, which again is interesting as many girls in the region marry in their late teens and early 20s. It appears that the teenagers do not wish to do the same jobs as their parents and also do not predict that they will do them in the future. One of the more common parental occupations was owning a private business, but none of the teenagers whose parents actually had this job wanted or predicted it as a career for themselves. Likewise, in Nursay, three teenagers stated that their parents were involved in agriculture or breeding cattle, yet none of them stated that this was a career aspiration or prediction for them. 

Comparing Teenager Aspirations

Figure 1. Comparing teenager career aspirations to the jobs they predict for their future.

The teenagers also provided information regarding what they did in their free time (Figure 2). The responses given can be used to design activities and interventions that the teenagers will enjoy participating in, for example, 26 teenagers across the sample (both boys and girls) said that they enjoyed playing different kinds of sport, so sport could be a good way to engage teenagers in saiga conservation. Computing-based activities were also popular, suggesting engaging teenagers with international conservation efforts online might be a useful way forward.

Based on the results of the teenage interviews in Azhibay and Nursay and the questionnaires with young conservationists, specific engagement recommendations were made. Based on the literature regarding the engagement of teenagers from the psychology sector, we focus our recommendations on ways to change teenagers' behaviour and support them to act as advocates for others to do the same.

Homework clubs or private tutoring sessions could inspire more confidence in the teenagers to pursue their aspirations.

Fun activities based on the career predictions of teenagers could make them seem more appealing for the future, for example building birds' nests or saiga shelters could result in the job of 'Builder' seeming more aspirational, or learning to drive a ranger or police car could do the same for 'Driver', and also connect teenagers with male role models who could have a positive influence on their behaviour.

Saiga-related activities which were run year-round instead of just in relation to Saiga Day would ensure that teenagers (and their parents) do not forget their plight, for example having saiga story competitions, with winners being published in a short story book, reading groups with new books, and literature provided by NGOs, or steppe art competitions, with prizes for ingenuity and conservation messaging.

Villagers could ask a teenage mural group to paint the walls of their houses with steppe flora and fauna, or form a saiga singing club where teens could make their own music videos to be posted online by themselves or NGOs, as well as talent shows with judges made up of their peers.

Teams for all different kinds of sport could be created with saiga logos to play for their village in tournaments with other villages, creating unity between different ages and communities, with teams being mentored by different community leaders, police, and parents, so that the teenagers' enthusiasm could influence their mentor and vice versa.

More emphasis should be placed on the Steppe Wildlife Clubs, with camping trips, events, competitions, games and learning; the clubs could incorporate different members of the community each month as 'sponsors', who organise trips or activities for the teenagers, encouraging parents and teenagers to learn and become enthusiastic about nature together.

Teenagers should be enabled to have more experience of natural areas so as to enhance their connection with nature and encourage compassion and enthusiasm; this could be done with the Steppe Wildlife Clubs, or with teens being taken out by NGOs to help with conservation work, both allowing them to help with saiga protection and creating peer influence as friends and siblings will also want to participate.

Free Time Activities For Teenagers

Figure 2. Free time activities of the teenagers

NGOs should try to connect more with teenagers as an ever-present group, not just for Saiga Day or when they require data; in schools to build upon wildlife lessons already being implemented in the curriculum, with teachers, giving ideas on how to make the subject more interesting and interactive.

NGOs could offer short courses for teenagers in conservation subjects, which they could apply for like university degrees but will not have the worry of bad exam grades or financial difficulty to deter them.

New activities created should have connections to local traditions so as to encourage more of the community to participate, thus increasing distribution of conservation messages.

Using positive and negative lectures, imagery and debates to allow teenagers to understand the consequences of behaviours, and creating debating teams so that teens could come up with solutions themselves.

Conservation needs to be presented as a new trend, a 'cool' activity that is alluring for teenagers, who often experiment with new interests; having foreign experts or celebrities endorse the 'trend' will make it even more appealing for teenagers.

Using social marketing techniques for city teenagers or creating campaigns such as 2014's 'no make up selfie' or the saiga-related 'sand bucket challenge' to raise awareness, with teenagers engaging their peers for the benefit of conservation.

We are very grateful to the People's Trust for Endangered Species and Disney Conservation Fund for funding this work. We also acknowledge funding support from USAID via Fauna & Flora International's Ustyurt Landscape Conservation Initiative

Alternatively, the full thesis can be found here.