Open Access Capstone
Zoos are an international phenomenon and are behaving strongly as complex multifaceted educational institutions. With hundreds of institutions around the world and hundreds of millions of annual visitors zoos, as a community, have a tremendous international and educational reach. However, despite these characteristics, zoos consistently remain off the radar of the comparative and international education field. The strongest reason for this, perhaps, is that literature, research and discussion about zoos, education and learning has largely remained confined to literature published by and for zoo professionals and within zoo industry journals. With regards to the international education field this is unfortunate and in light of the research contained within the zoo industry literature, this can be a critical issue especially when one considers that the majority of zoos and zoo visitors in around the world are not in the 'West'. This literature review, therefore brings literature on zoos and education out of its traditional confines and into the awareness of the international education field to answer a critical question: What is known about zoos and education and how can this be important to the international and comparative education field? The review of the literature finds striking answers to this query, with the zoo literature stating clear and broadly shared education aims but largely lacking in critical research on the success of zoos in meeting these goals. Furthermore, the little extant research suggests that zoos are failing in these aims as regards results, focuses almost entirely on the informal learning context, largely ignores research on children's learning and is fundamentally dominated by researchers and institutions located in the 'West' (read, the United States, Europe and Australia). In fact, literature on zoos and education offers more questions than it does answers. But, while apparently discouraging, this literature demonstrates a clear and present opportunity for the engagement of the international education field in opening up research in multiple under or un-researched areas as well as the opportunity for practitioners to engage with educational programs and opportunities already being offered by zoo institutions. The message is clear, zoos are important educational institutions in the world and they are tremendously compelling as a new species of interest for the international and comparative education field.