Empowering youth and protecting child rights: Zanzibar’s Children’s Act

We hear a lot these days about the need to include children in decisions that affect them, but it’s a real pleasure when there’s a genuine commitment to participation that leads to positive real world impacts for children. It’s even more impressive when this commitment comes from a place with limited budgets and no shortage of alternative competing priorities. Such is the case in Zanzibar with its innovative Children’s Act (2011).
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Zanzibar's Children's Act

WFC’s Rights of Children team explores Zanzibar’s Children’s Act

The World Future Council’s Rights of Children team will be in Zanzibar next week to explore the islands’ comprehensive child rights approach which has led to a marked change in attitude towards children. Zanzibar’s Children’s Act was the gold award winner of the WFC’s 2015 Future Policy Award and used a pioneering community-level child participation process to find out what Zanzibari children wanted to see in the Act. We’ll be working to help other countries follow Zanzibar’s lead in the coming months.
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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.

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.

Fostering the next generation of environmental stewards: Learning the Maryland way

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.

Dr. Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George's County public schools

WFC Delegation meets Dr. Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George’s County public schools.

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.

Maryland_Environmental_Literacy_StandardsWhile 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.

Impacts

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! 

Children share visions of a just future: book launch in London

bloomsbury_publishingFrom 07-08 July 2016, UN Sustainable Development Goal child ambassadors, goodwill ambassadors and child authors met in London for the launch of seven books that comprise the Voices of Future Generations Children’s book series. The initiative enables children to express their opinions on global issues, allowing them to become involved in shaping their future. At the event, the seven authors explained how each of their stories relates to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Jakob von Uexkull, founder of the WFC, joined the event and welcomed the audience with an inspiring speech.

During the first day of the event, expert speakers from leading international foundations and UN agencies such as UNESCO, UNICEF and UNEP engaged with the authors, UN SDG child ambassadors and children from local schools, listening to their ideas on addressing the Post-2015 SDG agenda. The event was jointly hosted by the Voices of Future Generations initiative and the Mary Robinson Foundation at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. The children offered insightful views on issues such as gender equality, climate change, human rights and access to education and emphasised the need for children to know about their rights, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

mary_robinson_meeting_tyra_at_the_landmark

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and Founder and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation.

A 2016 Future Generations Inspiration Award was presented to keynote speaker Professor Kirsten Sandberg, Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, in recognition of her inspirational work on behalf of children. Several children from local schools were awarded gold and silver medals for their contributions to education, human rights and the environment.  On day two of the event at the Landmark Hotel, another Future Generations Inspiration Award was presented to Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and Founder and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, for being a global mentor to children around the world on whose behalf she campaigns for a better future.

During their time in London, the authors signed an International Partnership between the Voices of Future Generations Children’s initiative and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, a prize-winning leading independent publisher.

Books in the series

The Epic Eco-Inventions; The Great Green Vine Invention,  Jona David. Both books address the need for climate action.

The Voice of an Island, Lupe Va’ai.  Based in Samoa, the book explains how people can work to save their environment from the impacts of air pollution, littering and mangrove destruction.

The Visible Girls, Tyronah Sioni.  The book addresses gender equality.

The Forward and Backward City, Diwa Boateng. Tells a tale of equality between people and the impacts of corruption.

The Species-Saving Time Team, Lautaro Real. The book investigates climate action, life below water and on land.

The Sisters’ Mind Connection, Allison Hazel Lievano-Gomez. The book explores ways to reduce inequalities.

The Fireflies After The Typhoon, Anna Kuo. Addresses life on land and reducing inequalities.