School of Earth and Environment

Ruth Armstrong Ruth Armstrong

Postgraduate Researcher

Email address:
Room: 9.157 desk c

Affiliation: Sustainability Research Institute


I am a PhD Researcher based within the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds. Due to the multi-disciplinary nature of my research, my doctoral degree is set jointly within the School of Earth and Environment and the School of Politics and International Development. My research focuses on the role of conservation Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in delivering Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in southern Africa. More specifically, my research project will explore the potential contribution of NGOs in Zimbabwe in developing the necessary ESD-related capabilities for dealing with complex and ever-changing sustainability issues. Using three different case studies in Zimbabwe, my research will focus on investigating outdoor education programmes, in the form of 'bush camps', for developing ESD-related capabilities in the particpants. The programme participants are predominantly upper primary school grades (10 - 14 years) from the schools situated in the local communities with which the NGOs work.

Prior to joining the Sustainability Research Institute, I completed my MSc in Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in 2014, achieving a distinction. My Master’s research was based within a rural community in Zimbabwe and focussed on analysing the environmental attitudes (EA) and behaviours (EB) of children who participated in the African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) conservation education programme. Additional related experience includes a position as the Conservation Education Development Project Co-ordinator with ALERT, in 2014, where I successfully set up a joint venture with the local University, Midlands State University (MSU), working in partnership with the Animal and Wildlife Science Department to develop new conservation initiatives for the local communities; and a position with the Cape Leopard Trust, South Africa, in 2015, as the Education and Outreach Programme Co-ordinator where I developed Monitoring & Evaluation processes and protocols for their environmental education (EE) programme.


  • (2014) MSc Conservation and Management of Protected Areas (with Distinction), Edinburgh Napier University
    • Research Project: ‘Evaluating the Impact of a Conservation Education Programme in Zimbabwe: Measuring Children’s Environmental Attitudes and Reported Behaviours using the Model of Ecological Value (2-MEV) and Thematic Analysis’

  • (2000) BA (Hons) Natural Sciences (Biological), University of Cambridge


  • Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa (EEASA)
  • Environment and Development Research Group, University of Leeds
  • Social and Political Dimensions of Sustainability Research Group, University of Leeds

Research Interests

Education for Sustainable Development, Environmental Education, Global Development, Sustainable Development in the Global South, Sustainable livelihoods, Rural Communities, southern Africa, Children and Youth Education

Project details

Project title

Providing Outdoor Learning Spaces for ESD-Related Capabilities Development in Zimbabwe: The Role of Conservation NGO Education Programmes


Dr Susannah Sallu and Professor C Dyer (POLIS)

Start date

1 January 2016

Project outline

Within the last decade complex socio-economic and environmental issues have rapidly accelerated and we are now facing a global sustainability crisis (Planet Under Pressure conference, 2012). Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) involves educating citizens globally on how to deal with these complex issues that threaten the planet’s sustainability (UNESCO, 2005:3). UNESCO states that there is a “growing international recognition of ESD as an integral element of quality education and a key enabler for sustainable development” (UNESCO, 2014). Educating to deal with complex issues that threaten planetary sustainability is the challenge of ESD.

The Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa, the outcome document from the 2006 Workshop in Namibia, ‘Towards the Implementation of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)’, included the Sub-Saharan Action Plan to “ensure that principles of sustainable development are included in educational development frameworks, programmes and activities at all levels” (UNESCO, 2006). An additional key focus was the acknowledgement of the ‘rich array’ of educational practices operating in southern Africa and the importance of working in partnership with alternative educational organisations, such as Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), in delivering quality ESD (UNESCO, 2006).

The aim of this project is to explore the potential contribution of NGOs in Zimbabwe in developing the necessary ESD-related capabilities for dealing with complex and ever-changing sustainability issues. Many conservation NGOs provide outdoor education programmes for local school children, often in the form of ‘bush camps’. Gruenewald (2003a, 2003b) and Bonnet (2007) argue that connecting with nature through authentic experiences, such as outdoor education programmes, engage individuals on a higher level which enables the development of a deep and meaningful appreciation of the natural world and an ethic of care.

The main research question to be investigated is: Can Outdoor NGO Programmes Provide Educational Spaces for ESD-related Capabilities Development in Zimbabwe? Three research objectives (or sub-questions) have been defined which consider; (i) the development of conservation NGO’s educational practices in Zimbabwe in relation to the emerging ESD agenda; (ii) which ESD-related capabilities are most valued by conservation NGOs and by the local communities with which they work; and (iii) the potential impact of conservation NGO education programmes in ESD-related capabilities development. Each of the three research objectives will be reached by exploring a number of related research questions.

Using a ‘nested’ case study approach, each of the three NGO Education Programmes that have been chosen for inclusion in this study have been selected in order to answer the proposed research questions. A qualitative case study research methodology will be used involving document analysis, focus groups, semi-structured interviews and direct observations.