World Future Council releases new handbook: exemplary education practices show how children and youth can shape a sustainable future

The publication demonstrates how educational approaches are helping learners develop the skills to create more resilient, skilled, low-carbon societies.

Hamburg, 26th February 2019 – The World Future Council (WFC) has just released a pioneering new policy handbook, compiling the most exemplary policies and practices to advance Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). After working with 16 Environment and Education Ministries, the Rights of Children and Youth Commission of the WFC has gathered together evidence that shows ESD can play a central role in empowering learners of all ages to positively respond to the pressing global challenges facing us, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and inequality.

Given the huge challenges the world faces, it is clear that we need to teach, learn and live in a fundamentally different manner. The evidence shows Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is already helping to realise this transition. The new policy handbook explores some of the central features of policy, process and practice in some of the pioneering countries embracing these educational approaches. It examines some of the major trends and opportunities in introducing this more holistic, progressive, transformational education.

Education for Sustainable Development embraces hands-on and outdoor learning pedagogies counteracting the trends of indoor living and lack of contact with the natural world that has been shown to have real costs for the health and wellbeing of our children. It creates the conditions for an environmentally literate generation of problem solvers.

“As the growing school strike movements across Europe show, we need young learners with the knowledge, values and conviction to act in a just, inclusive manner and make sustainable development a reality”, says Alexandra Wandel, Executive Director of the World Future Council.

Dr. Auma Obama, Chair of the WFC Child Rights Commission and Founder and Director of the ‘Sauti Kuu Foundation’, says “Education systems need to be reformed to allow our young people to leave school motivated, creative and able to be self-reliant – mentally, socially and financially. As this comprehensive policy handbook shows Education for Sustainable Development encourages this transformation, empowering learners with the key skills, knowledge and self-belief to grow into their best selves. There is no time to lose!”

Jane Goodall, Honorary Councillor of the World Future Council and UN Messenger of Peace, says “Empowering young people to care for the world they inherit is the responsibility of every generation. Education for Sustainable Development is a powerful tool that gives young people, their peers and communities the knowledge and confidence to act on their beliefs, be part of something bigger and make a real difference.”

This handbook offers insights from around the world on how sustainable education can be implemented successfully in policy, in the curriculum and at the level of schools, universities and other places of learning, to build a better future for all. Countries like Scotland are making an explicit link between ESD and the skills needed to prepare young people for a sustainable economy based on renewable energy and more sustainable consumption and production patterns. Similarly Costa Rica’s policy to decarbonise its economy by 2021 specifically identifies ESD as part of a wider programme for public awareness raising, education and cultural change.

Ultimately, ESD asks us assume active roles in creating a world we’d be proud to pass on to our grandchildren.

The handbook was supported by the Michael Otto Foundation, Janina Özen-Otto/Jua- Foundation and Ismail Özen.

>> Download Policy Handbook

Media Contact:

Miriam Petersen, Media & Communications Manager

miriam.petersen@worldfuturecouncil.org | T: +49 40 307 09 14 19

 

Expert Contact:

Samia Kassid, Senior Project Manager – Rights of Children and Youth

samia.kassid@worldfuturecouncil.org

 

Alistair Whity, Senior Policy Officer – Rights of Children and Youth

alistair.whitby@worldfuturecouncil.org

About the World Future Council

The World Future Council (WFC) works to pass on a healthy planet and fair societies to our children and grandchildren. To achieve this, we focus on identifying and spreading effective, future-just policy solutions and promote their implementation worldwide. Jakob von Uexkull, the Founder of the Alternative Nobel Prize, launched the World Future Council in 2007. We are an independent, non-profit organisation under German law and finance our activities from donations.

Young people fight for sustainability

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.

Chinese Delegation visited Maryland to learn about Environmental Education

Silver Winner of FPA 2015, Maryland, inspires education experts from China

Environmental Education has been a priority in the Chinese education system. But unfortunately, there was no significant increase in the students’ engagement for environmental protection so far. China is therefore interested in learning from successful models in other countries.

We organised a conference in Maryland in 2016, and presented their award-winning Environmental Literacy Standards. During the conference, we looked into the success factors of the legislation which aims to educate students to become environmentally and sustainability aware citizens.

A Chinese delegation has also been present back in 2016. Inspired by the conference, they now visited Maryland again and met with officials at  Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). They discussed various topics and  questions, for instance regarding the curriculum framework and the relationship between government environmental agencies and school systems. How to provide more suitable materials and publicity channels for environmental education? How to improve the teaching staff’s environmental education level? And how to raise national awareness of environmental protection and establish public awareness of environmental supervision?

The delegation would like to conduct exchanges of experience in environmental education legislation in Maryland, particularly its experience in formulating environmental education standards, as well as successful cases of environmental improvement through education.

The World Future Council facilitated the meeting will follow up on this topic with the Chinese delegation.

Policy Handbook: Advancing Education for Sustainable Development

Abstract

Given the huge challenges the world faces, it is clear that we need to teach, learn and live in a fundamentally different manner. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is increasingly recognised as playing a central role in empowering learners of all ages to positively respond to local and global challenges and act in a more peaceful, just, inclusive and sustainable manner. This approach is already helping people develop the skills, values and attitudes necessary to create more resilient societies and transition towards the skilled, green, low-carbon economies of the future.

This handbook explores some of the central success factors in policy, process and practice in some of the pioneering countries and contexts where ESD is being effectively embraced. It examines some of the major trends, case studies and challenges in introducing this more holistic, progressive, hands-on education.


Education – a Key Driver to Deliver Climate Action

For the next 10 days, the bustling city of Marrakech will host a small army of government negotiators, NGO representatives and business delegates for COP 22, a huge international follow-up conference that aims to build on the scaffolding of 2015’s historic Paris Agreement on climate change. Read more

World’s environmental education experts meet in Maryland

From 12-14 October the World Future Council hosted a workshop in Annapolis, Maryland for representatives of education and environmental ministries from around the world, to explore the positive impacts of the state’s Environmental Literacy (E-lit) Standards. Participants from five continents came together to see Maryland’s pioneering policy in action but also share their own experiences and success stories in pursuing environmental educations in their home countries.

The link between children’s rights and well-being and the environment is now beyond doubt, and was recently discussed as an urgent point of action at the UN-Committee on the Rights of the Child at which we raised Maryland’s environmental education model as a best practice example. Access to a healthy environment is vital for children’s physical and mental health.

Maryland became the first US State to make environmental literacy a mandatory high-school graduation requirement in 2011, a policy for which we awarded the Silver Future Policy Award 2015. This environmental education requirement has fostered the integration of environmental content in varied ways and in subjects across the curriculum from Kindergarten through to graduation. It has also strengthened the cooperation between outdoor education providers and schools to ensure that every child has regular meaningful experiences in nature.

The link between children’s rights and well-being and the environment is now beyond doubt, and was recently discussed as an urgent point of action at the UN-Committee on the Rights of the Child at which we raised Maryland’s environmental education model as a best practice example. Access to a healthy environment is vital for children’s physical and mental health. In the face of climate change and widespread environmental degradation and pollution, many children are already experiencing adverse effects such as chronic respiratory problems, asthma and behaviour disorders. In many countries we are witnessing the first generation of children largely growing up indoors. Too often the experience of childhood has become disconnected from the natural world. As several of the delegates in Maryland noted this can have serious impacts for both children and nature: you do not protect what you do not know.

International workshop environmental education

Maryland’s environmental literacy standards with its focus on hands-on outdoor learning offers a wide variety of benefits for students – enhancing engagement, raising test scores, and increasing well-being – as well as the local environment and wider society. The workshop, hosted in cooperation with the Maryland’s Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) and the Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature, allowed delegates the chance to join a broad range of field experiences with Maryland school kids testing river pollution levels and relating the findings to surrounding land use, identifying wildlife and plant species in the Chesapeake bay ecosystem and conducting experiments to learn about the importance of oysters for water quality. These rich experiences added to three days of fruitful exchange and insightful discussions, on environmental education best practice from both the agencies, NGOs and champions delivering it on the ground in Maryland and the international delegations that took part.

Our task now is to apply the lessons we have all learnt and work with this vibrant network of legislators to help spread elements of this proven policy into national and local curricula around the globe.

 Maryland’s Literacy Standards, awarded with the Future Policy Award 2015

Future_Policy_2015_thumbnail

In 2011, Maryland became the first US State to make environmental education obligatory for high-school students. The State Board of Education ruled that each local school system must provide a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary environmental education programme that is integrated into the general school curriculum.

While the teaching of environmental education is now required from pre-school to graduation, the focus is on all incoming Grade 9 students (14 and 15 year olds) who must complete a comprehensive environmental education programme that meets the Maryland Environmental Literacy Curriculum Standards.

Environmental education vital in fight against climate change

Press release

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

The role of exemplary laws and policies in upholding children’s rights and promoting a healthy environment

World Future Council’s written contribution to the Day of General Discussion: “Children’s Rights and the Environment” 23 September 2016, Geneva.

The UN-Committee on the Rights of the Child, the body of independent experts responsible for reviewing progress made by States parties in implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, has decided to devote its 2016 general discussion day to the issue of children’s rights and the environment. The purpose of General Discussion Days is to foster a deeper understanding of the contents and implications of the Convention as they relate to specific articles or topics. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified international human rights instrument, with 196 States Parties.

The overall objective is to promote understanding of the relationship between children’s rights and the environment; identify what needs to be done for child rights-related laws, policies and practices to take adequate account of environmental issues; and for environment-related laws, policies and practices to be child-sensitive. Assess the current status of environmental issues in child rights–related laws, policies and practices, and, vice versa, of children’s rights in laws, policies and practices related to the environment, including by identifying gaps and good examples.

The World Future Council has submitted a written contribution highlighting visionary and good policies and laws that already recognise the strong relationship between children’s rights and the environment.

Further information


2016 Day of General Discussion: “Children’s Rights and the Environment”

The role of exemplary laws and policies in upholding children’s rights and promoting a healthy environment

Written Contribution submitted by the World Future Council

Introductory remarks

The World Future Council (1) strongly welcomes the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s (UNCRC) decision to devote its 2016 general discussion day to the topic of children’s rights and the environment. Although the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) contains some articles that touch upon the relationship between children’s well-being, health and the importance of an intact environment, a special article does not exist. This is primarily due to the fact that human rights laws and treaties, including the CRC, emerged before the international community had fully developed an understanding of the profound importance and impact that a healthy and intact environment has on the enjoyment of human / children’s rights.

For many years now we have witnessed the outcomes of global warming across the planet as rising sea levels and melting glaciers along with severe droughts, floods and hurricanes have left behind destroyed infrastructures, damaged crops and devastated livestock. Families and communities have all too often had to flee their damaged homes and belongings. More and more children and youth are affected by environmental toxicants, pollution and degradation of their environment that can have severe long-term impacts on their health and well-being.

Climate change raises a myriad of threats for children that have different effects on a range of human rights children should enjoy (2) and shows that the deprivation of one right can negatively affect others and the rights of generations that follow. Girls, boys, youth living in vulnerable situations and groups, (e.g. in poverty, with a disability), indigenous people, and those in developing countries often suffer the most.

The CRC is one the most important treaties that expresses the will of the international community to protect and safeguard children. This obligation is not limited to national territories and complex issues like climate change which are not limited to national borders create new challenges and demand fresh approaches to tackle them.

Relationship between children’s rights and the environment

Climate Change: In recent years the evidence for human influence on the climate system has grown to be clear and unequivocal (3). Weather phenomena like El Niño and La Niña, intensified by a warming climate, are already have a devastating impact on ecosystems and human well-being. (4) The right to life and survival (Article 4) is at risk not only due to environmental degradation but also due to the interplay between climate change and risks associated with nuclear weapons, facilities and materials (5).

The right to food and housing (Article 27) is under threat as climate change increases hunger, starvation and drought, weakens food security and undermines an adequate standard of living. In Eastern and Southern Africa 26.5 million children need support, including more than one million who need treatment for severe acute malnutrition. Rising food prices force families to forgo meals, sell off their assets and cattle and take other drastic measures in order to survive (6). Many species including marine organisms, coral reefs and polar ecosystems will not be able to keep up with the rate of climatic change which will lead to increased extinctions and profoundly challenge the health and productivity of fisheries and other ecosystems. Climate change is, furthermore, projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources in most dry subtropical regions which will increase competition for water (7). Children are particularly affected by a lack of essential nutrients, which in turn not only impairs their healthy development but also their concentration and receptivity at school. Particularly for children under 5 severe malnutrition can lead to starvation. Undernutrition at a young age can have long-lasting effects, including increased risk of illness, delayed mental development or premature death, and can be passed on to the next generation. Undernourished girls have a greater likelihood of becoming undernourished mothers, who are more likely to give birth to low birth-weight babies (8).

The Right to health (Article 24) is a precondition for other human rights and is strongly related to the right to access to clean water and sanitation. Changes in temperature, humidity and rainfall have an impact on water, sanitation and hygiene and have been linked to increases in vector and water-borne diseases such as dengue fever, diarrhea and cholera, which are major killers of children (9). Sudden climatic events can produce post-traumatic stress and make healthcare infrastructure unavailable. In combination with food insecurity it also negatively affects access to anti-retroviral therapy and adherence to treatment requirements (10). Drought and its impact on livelihoods can also force people, especially adolescent girls and women, to engage in transactional sex, which increases their vulnerability to HIV infection. Mortality among children living with HIV is two to six times higher for those who are severely malnourished than for those who are not (11).

Children’s right to nationality, to identity and to be cared by his or her parents (Art. 7 and 8) and to protection could be violated as climate change contributes to an increasing number of children being deprived of a family environment due to the death of parents or from events that force them to work abroad or abandon or sell their children. This puts children in danger of being trafficked, to be taken into alternative care or to be on the move (12). The right to be registered immediately after birth and to have a name as well the right to a nationality is also endangered by the increasing risk of unexpected climate disasters as parents die or are separated from their children.

The right to a nationality is also at stake as some island nations face inundation due to rising sea levels, potentially leaving children stateless if they are not provided with a new nationality (13).

The number of unaccompanied minors is on the rise putting rights and well-being at risk (Article 29). In drought-affected areas, some children, especially girls, are staying away from school to fetch water over long distances, or have to migrate with their families due to loss of crops or livestock. Being out of school often increases a child’s risk of abuse, exploitation and, in some areas, child marriage and violates the right to education (Article 29). Children’s right to rest and leisure (Article 31) and to participate is also affected by climate change as children have to contribute to a family’s income.

Environmental pollution causes grave and irreparable damage to the earth and contributes to health problems and a lower quality of life (14). Air pollution is a major environment-related health threat to children and a risk factor for both acute and chronic respiratory disease; especially Asthma and allergies (15)(16) but also to other adverse health effects. Some of the most important harmful effects are perinatal disorders, infant mortality, allergy, malignancies, cardiovascular disorders, an increase in oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction and mental disorders. Numerous studies have exposed that environmental particulate exposure has been linked to increased risk of morbidity and mortality from many diseases, organ disturbances, cancers, and other chronic diseases (17). Children are particularly at risk as they are still growing and their immune systems and detoxification mechanisms are not yet fully developed. Children engaged in hazardous labour, such as working in mines and quarries, are most at risk. Sick, malnourished and weak children can face ongoing health challenges as adults.

Obligations of States and other actors

General Comment No. 15 (2013) on the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health (art. 24) already provides some clear action points related to local environmental pollution but stays vague when addressing the role of business activities and climate change (18).

Strong laws and policies along with their implementation and monitoring play a crucial role to ensure children’s rights and the best interests of the child are upheld and respected. When drafting a new law or amending an existing one the CRC’s general principals along with its General Comments should be taken into consideration.

The incorporation of children’s rights and environmental rights into fundamental law and/or of the country’s constitution could ensure that the best interests of the child are recognized. While three quarters of the world’s national constitutions include references to environmental rights, few have treated these provisions as legally enforceable. Supreme Courts or constitutional courts, as national bodies in charge of ensuring the conformity of domestic laws with the Constitution can play a vital role in highlighting the need for action to align, amend or adopt new laws in accordance with the CRC. Argentina’s Supreme Court’s judgement on environmental rights, 2008 (19) and the ruling of the Supreme Court of the Philippines in favour of the rights of future generations to a healthy environment (20) are good examples.

With innovative future-just policies and appropriate market signals, businesses can lead the way in securing a sustainable future by pursuing broader mandates with the correct legal frameworks to reach social and environmental goals. In 2010, Maryland became the first US state to pass the Benefit Corporation legislation which aims to provide standards for corporations that follow a triple bottom line—’People, Planet and Profit’ (21). While voluntary agreements and commitments by industry and business are on the rise with some notable impacts, law enforcement could lead to more effective, sustainable solutions at a faster pace which Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan demonstrates (22). The successful ban of plastic bags in many countries also shows how laws, when effectively applied and implemented, can play a huge role in protecting the environment (23).

Global treaties, conventions and commitments could lead states parties to develop comprehensive laws in response to many environmental challenges. One example is the Costa Rica Biodiversity Law of 1998 (24). The Montreal Protocol, 1987 is another success story. Recently UNEP announced that Montreal Protocol parties have achieved complete phase-out of ozone-depleting CFCs, once widely used in refrigerators and spray cans, which contributes – among other things – to higher skin cancer rates (25).

The UN decade on Education for Sustainable Development achieved lots of success in creating awareness of good practices and strengthening environmental education. There is, however a strong need for broader structural implementation. The right to education (Article 29) stresses the importance of teaching respect for the natural environment and understanding and engaging with global problems. Maryland’s Environmental Literacy Standards (2011) is one the first regulations that mandates that students to be environmentally literate as a high school graduation requirement with a number of very positive results for students, teachers and the local environment (26).

The spectrum of environmental policies has broadened gradually to address increasingly complex environmental and health related problems but many environmental policy interventions are still necessary (27). Children’s rights impact assessments are a vital tool to assess the impact of a law and should include environmental aspects, as is foreseen in Scotland (28).

Recommendations to UNCRC (see also annex)

  • Compile a General Comment related to the topic children’s rights and the environment.
  • Examine the possibility of an Optional Protocol due to the urgency of the topic.
  • Assist the establishment of Ombudspersons for Future Generations at the national and international levels, who can actively advocate for long-term interests.
  • Promote comprehensive and mandatory environmental education/education for sustainable development.
  • Encourage States to contribute to the fulfilling of the Sustainable Development Goals.

References

1. The World Future Council works on solutions to some of the most pressing challenges by finding and spreading exemplary laws and policies that have a proven record of producing positive impacts both for current and future generations, working with parliamentarians, policy makers and relevant stakeholders as well UN bodies at an international level.

2. Susana Sanz-Caballero, children’s rights in a changing climate: a perspective from the UN-CRC, in ethics in science and environmental politics, vol. 13:1-14, 2013

3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate change 2014, Synthesis report summary for policymakers,

4. El Niño 2015-2016 hit hardest some of the world’s poorest countries hardest, often leaving children the worst affected. Severe drought, flooding and a higher than usual occurrence of forest fires. http://www.unicef.org/environment/

5. https://www.worldfuturecouncil.org/peace-and-disarmament/

6. Families who use to eat two meals a day may cut back to one and those who could once provide a single meal for their dependents are entirely reliant on food aid.

7. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate change 2014, Synthesis report summary for policymakers

8. http://www.unicef.org/environment/

9. El Niño has created in Brazil favourable breeding conditions for the Aedes mosquito that can transmit the Zika virus, as well as dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya.

10. Patients tend not to take medication on an empty stomach, and many people will use their limited resources for food rather than for transport to a health facility.

11. http://www.unicef.org/environment/

12. Newborns of parents forced to migrate are at greater risk of not to be registered due to loss of personal documents or entering a country without a visa.

13. Susana Sanz-Caballero, children’s rights in a changing climate: a perspective from the UN-CRC, in ethics in science and environmental politics, vol. 13:1-14, 2013

14. Acid rain, water, noise, soil and light pollution are also on the rise adding further stresses to the environment, wildlife and humans.

15. WHO subdivides between indoor air pollution (which is responsible for 2 million deaths annually mostly children caused by pneumonia), outdoor pollution and urban outdoor air pollution (are estimated to cause 1.3 million deaths worldwide per year. Children living in middle-income countries disproportionately experience this problem) and  transport-related air pollution. http://www.who.int/ceh/risks/cehair/en/ and http://www.euro.who.int/en/data-and-evidence/evidence-informed-policy-making/publications/hen-summaries-of-network-members-reports/what-are-the-effects-of-air-pollution-on-childrens-health-and-development.

16. Susanna Esposito et al in Impact of air pollution on respiratory diseases in children with recurrent wheezing or asthma, BMC Pulmonary Medicine201414:130, DOI: 10.1186/1471-2466-14-130, Published: 7 August 2014

17. Roya Kelishadi, Environmental Pollution: Health Effects and Operational Implications for Pollutants Removal, Journal of Environmental and Public Health, Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 341637,http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/341637/

18. General Comment No. 15, Paraphe 49

19. Celebrating the world’s best laws and policies to secure children’s rights, Future Policy Award 2015, World Future Council Foundation, 2015, page 15.

20. In July 1993 the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled in favour of a group of children, acting on their own behalf as well as that of future generations, to cancel timber licences on the grounds of a violation to their constitutional rights to a healthy environment http://www.futurepolicy.org/crimes/right-of-future-generations/

21. http://www.futurepolicy.org/business-priorities/maryland-benefit-corporations/

22. Scotland’s Zero waste, 2010 seeks to lay the foundation for a social transformation towards a zero waste society http://www.futurepolicy.org/enterprise-and-design/consumption/zerowastescotland/

23. http://www.unep.org/PDF/Kenya_waste_mngnt_sector/appendix.pdf

24. http://www.futurepolicy.org/biodiversity-and-soil/costa-ricas-biodiversity-law/

25. http://ozone.unep.org/en/focus

26. The regulation aims to provide a locally developed programme of study throughout the curriculum that catalyses change within the community and builds as environmental stewardship ethic in students. http://www.futurepolicy.org/curricula-reform/marylands-els/

27. http://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/policy/intro

28. https://www.cypcs.org.uk/uploaded_docs/children’s%20rights%20impact%20assessment.pdf

International field trip on exemplary environmental education policy

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.

International Workshop

Maryland, US, 12-14 October

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.

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Maryland’s Environmental Literacy Standards

In 2011, Maryland became the first US State to make environmental education obligatory for high-school students. The State Board of Education ruled that each local school system must provide a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary environmental education programme that is integrated into the general school curriculum.

While the teaching of environmental education is now required from pre-school to graduation, the focus is on all incoming Grade 9 students (14 and 15 year olds) who must complete a comprehensive environmental education programme that meets the Maryland Environmental Literacy Curriculum Standards.

Environmental education and local action lead to impressive impacts in Maryland

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.