The collaboration with the Julius-Leber-Schule in Hamburg began with an Erasmus+ project, called sustain.me, which was attended by the head of our children’s rights department, Samia Kassid, in the early summer of last year. As part of sustain.me, second-level students from Germany, France, Belgium, Italy and Spain came together to work together on the project on sustainability.
WFC Project Manager Samia Kassid and Tina Stridde from Cotton made in Africa talk to students about child rights, child labour and sustainable shopping
If we talk about future generations, we must talk about young people. They are the decision-makers of the future – but what is oftentimes forgotten, they are decision-makers today as well: For most children, teenagers and young adults, the way they dress is an important form of self-expression, and therefore a vital part of their identity. But due to lack of awareness – and, very possibly, lack of funding – affordable clothes are most often the first choice. So how is a young person, who is not familiar with the production chain of the textile industry, and the various forms of exploitation within this chain, able to make sustainable decisions as a consumer?
Hamburg/Annapolis, October 28: Environmental education programmes could be key to the long-term fight against the devastating impacts of climate change, say a group of representatives of education and environmental ministries from around the world, recently convened by the World Future Council (WFC) in Annapolis, Maryland, USA. Read more
Given the many challenges our societies and environment are facing, children and young people across the globe must be equipped to positively shape their future and be empowered to learn and live in an increasingly sustainable manner. Practical environmental education that is integrated across the curriculum has been shown to be a key solution offering a wide variety of benefits both for students, teachers, the environment and wider society.
In 2011 the U.S. State of Maryland introduced a pioneering Environmental Literacy Standard which mandates that all Maryland students are environmentally literate by graduation. Environmental literacy is now taught in very diverse and holistic methods throughout the school curriculum (often in great hands-on outdoor experiences such as restoring reefs and wetlands, planting trees and learning at outdoor environmental education centres). Maryland’s Environmental Literacy Standards was the 2015 winner of the WFC’s silver Future Policy Award, as it provides an excellent holistic model of sustainable and environmental education that has been implemented with the support of a broad coalition of partners.
The World Future Council’s Rights of Children (RoC) team is now bringing together Ministries and legislators who are interested in learning first-hand about this pioneering model in an international workshop in Maryland (12-14 October 2016). The legislators will learn about Maryland’s successful implementation of environmental literacy legislation, exchange best practice and identify potential policy reforms for their own countries and regions.
A flurry of positive environmental news stories emerging from Maryland is giving hope that the State’s strong environmental education legislation, which the WFC is working to spread, combined with tough pollution control and restoration actions is paying off. Recent weeks have seen particularly positive news for the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the US surrounded by Maryland and Virginia, which had become overfished and badly polluted with sewage, agricultural runoff and industrial waste since the 1970s. News that sewage pollution goals have been met 10 years early, that there has been a resurgence in aquatic grasses, blue crab, striped bass and bald eagle populations and that “dead zones” in the bay are shrinking are all giving cheer to those involved in restoration and environmental education activities in the area.
Environmental literacy is not just about having a deep understanding of environmental issues facing the planet today, but is also crucially about working to help reduce them.
On a recent environmental education field trip to Maryland, WFC staff saw first hand how awareness raising and practical actions go hand in hand to produce these kind of success stories. Environmental literacy is not just about having a deep understanding of environmental issues facing the planet today, but is also crucially about working to help reduce them. Groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) are improving awareness and changing behavior among Maryland’s schools and communities while actively restoring native oysters, planting underwater grasses, trees and stream buffers to restore the Bay’s natural filters.
In Maryland, these kind of actions by schools are not only encouraged but are a mandatory part of the curriculum thanks to the Maryland’s pioneering Environmental literacy Standards which in 2011 ruled that each local school system must provide a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary environmental education programme. We saw this first hand when joining a recent science class boat trip where students measured the quality of the water using a range of technology which they then analysed before releasing oysters they had grown into the bay. Oysters are economically important to the surrounding region but are also a vital part of the water filtration system. One oyster can filter about 50 gallons of water a day, meaning that maintaining high oyster levels is very important in making sure the water is fit for wildlife. More than 200 million oysters have been ‘planted’ as a result of these restoration programmes which have undoubtedly had a positive impact on the bay’s water quality
The good news isn’t only confined to the health of the bay but also to a student led victory on climate change. Faced with strong calls from Maryland’s undergraduate students to act on greenhouse gas emissions, the University System of Maryland Foundation pledged to direct its $1 billion endowment away from coal, oil and natural gas companies and instead invest in renewable energy. “It’s because of the students and the positions they took that caused us to focus on it this year,” said Leonard Raley, president and CEO of the foundation. “The world is changing and we’re paying attention to it. We’re concerned about climate change and I think the actions that our foundation took reflect that.”
Of course not all these victories are down to Maryland’s pioneering environmental literacy requirement but we certainly believe it is playing a key role. We are now focussing our efforts at the WFC on showing legislators from around the world how introducing a mandatory and holistic programme for educating young people about our environmental responsibilities can have a positive impact both on the health of local wildlife and in tackling environmental problems such as climate change.
Young people are the future. How they learn and develop their attitudes, characters and core beliefs will determine how they act and make decisions throughout their lives. The ability of young people to make informed decisions about their relationship to nature has profound implications for both the local and global environment and our collective wellbeing. Studies have shown that contact is key: if kids learn, play and interact with nature, they will value and cherish it. It was this realisation that led to some innovative and pioneering thinking with regards to education in the US state of Maryland; in 2011 it became the first jurisdiction anywhere in the world to make environmental literacy a high school graduation requirement. Last year we gave Maryland a Future Policy Award in recognition of this achievement.
A WFC delegation has just returned from a ten day field trip across the state – from the Chesapeake Bay to the green mountains of the west – to witness environmental literacy in action. The trip included visiting schools and outdoor environmental education centres and talking to teachers, students, Congressmen and environmental education cheerleaders from Baltimore to Washington DC about their experiences since the law’s implementation.
The decision by the Governor of Maryland and the State Board of Education to introduce environmental education emerged from an ongoing concern for the Chesapeake Bay, a large estuary surrounded by Maryland and Virginia, which had become overfished and badly polluted with sewage, agricultural runoff and industrial waste since the 1970s. It was clear that a radical approach to educating young citizens on their relationship to the natural environment was needed. New Environmental Literacy Standards were introduced to build an environmental stewardship ethic in young people and reverse the environmental degradation in the bay. Each of Maryland’s 24 local education authorities (LEA) must now provide a holistic programme of environmental education taught from kindergarten to graduation, integrated across a wide range of subjects throughout the curriculum.
One of the early stops on the tour of Maryland was Crellen Elementary School in the green and mountainous terrain of western Maryland. The school has used their own transition from the polluted site of a former coal dump to a thriving wetland ecosystem to engage the kids in hands-on nature-based learning. Students as young as 8 led a tour across the school grounds, presenting the small farm where they learn to care for sheep and chickens as well as the restored wetland that is filtering pollutants from the site. Students frequently test the water quality of their own stream before releasing brown trout which they carefully raise in classroom tanks. In the school’s vegetable gardens, students are able to grow their lunch salads.
“We learned all about a new word the other day: biodiversity” one of students beamed while talking about the different macro-invertebrates that brown trout feed on. Despite having many students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the school is achieving some of the best test scores in the state.
While Crellen is no doubt a great example of using nature as a learning tool to focus on real-world problems – combining a vibrant teaching environment with student led inquiry that is making learning both meaningful and fun – it is by no means atypical. In fact, Maryland’s environmental literacy standards not only encourage, but mandate, this kind of learning through the implementation of ‘local action projects that protect, sustain and enhance the natural environment’. At a bustling inner city high school in Baltimore we heard from Spanish and German teachers how they were integrating environmental literacy into their lessons; using recycled materials to make piñatas and taking environmental pollution as a theme to discuss in their class.
Getting kids outside the classroom is also now a priority and where possible teaching is done outdoors, in the form of natural history field trips, community service projects, experiential lessons in the school yard and participation in outdoor science classes. Each of Maryland’s local education authorities now has access to outdoor education centres which are used to enhance, extend and enrich the classroom curriculum.
At Arlington Echo, an outdoor education centre which hosts every 4th grade student in Anne Arundel County (over 25,000 children a year) for residential visits, enthusiastic kids net, identify and release fish and shrimp species and mulch trees while learning about the carbon cycle.
Of course one of the key factors of such a systemic change in the curriculum is support from across the education system and beyond. A broad coalition of actors from parents groups to federal agencies to local environmental NGOs worked together to introduce the changes and today continue to assist with implementation. Individuals such as Dr. Kevin Maxwell, Superintendent of Schools for Prince George’s County, passionately believe in Maryland’s new approach teaching kids they can make a positive difference in this world.
Throughout the field trip our team saw evidence of sustained school-wide changes in knowledge, behaviour, and action as well as broad improvements in student’s learning outcomes and test scores across a wide range of subjects. One of the most impressive things was meeting so many children and young people who are clearly passionate about protecting the environment. From what we heard again and again from school kids across Maryland, they are learning the lesson of sustainability well. At the end of the day, when you’ve been having fun hatching brown trout, restocking oyster reefs and planting trees since Kindergarten is it any wonder many Maryland students grow to become caring stewards?
It’s now up to us all to ensure children across the planet have the same opportunities to experience engaging, holistic, nature-based learning.
Support the World Future Council to help spread elements of Maryland’s pioneering environmental education!