PR: Nominations now open for the Future Policy Award

Hamburg/New York, 5th April 2019 – Global contest announced by the World Future Council, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), with the support of the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Youth Policy Labs.

World Future Council endorses “Fridays for Future” movement

On the eve of the biggest global “Fridays for Future” youth strike for climate, the World Future Council offers its strong support to the dedicated young people holding leaders accountable for their climate commitments. If we are to meet the 1.5°C target of the Paris agreement bold action needs to happen now.

World Future Council new handbook: exemplary education policies

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.

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.

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There is no more powerful transformative force in the world today than quality education. It is an indispensable part of the development equation, promoting human rights and dignity, helping to eradicate poverty, fostering sustainability and building a better future for all. It empowers people to determine their own destiny. In our world of nearly eight billion people with finite
natural resources, individuals and societies have to learn to live together, taking responsible actions in the knowledge that not only do they impact people in other parts of the world, but have profound implications for future generations. The future health of the planet rests on creating an education that is at least as far-reaching, systemic, and transformative as the problems we face. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) does just that. It can play a key role in promoting positive values and sustainable lifestyles, and empowering people of all ages as actors for peace and inclusive social change. Learning is a key component of innovation, strengthening our collective ability to address complex global and local challenges. There is growing international recognition of ESD’s potential as an integral and transformative element of quality education and lifelong learning and a key enabler of more just, inclusive, sustainable and resilient societies. To do this ESD must continue to empower learners to transform themselves and their communities. Through its embrace of progressive pedagogies, technical and vocational training, and 21st century skills, ESD is helping learners developing fundamental skills, knowledge and competencies such as critical thinking, scenario planning and collaborative decision making, collaboration, and problem-solving

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Read more in the latest UNESCO Newsletter

Ghana on its way to its enhanced child protection system

Ghana on its way to its enhanced child protection system for survivors of child violence

For majority of children in Ghana, violence is an unfortunate part of their everyday life. According to official statistical reports, 9 out of 10 children are exposed to mental or physical violence, and physical punishment is a common phenomenon. More shocking are the figures for sexual violence: one out of five girls is sexually abused. There is an urgent need for action to protect children from violence! For girls and boys who experience and survive violence or abuse, a central, child-friendly centre providing the most essential services under one roof would be established from the first quarter of 2019, where trained personnel from the  Social Welfare, Domestic Violence Unit of the Police Service (DOVVSU) and Ghana Health Service are available to offer prompt, secured and confidential service to victims. Our team conducted a technical workshop with representatives of Ministries and other key stakeholders responsible for child protection in Ho, South-East Ghana together with experts from Zanzibar to discuss and develop a roadmap to establish a pilot in Accra. These are the main results at a glance.

Samia Kassid – opening remarks

In November 2017, the World Future Council Foundation invited political decision-makers from 12 African and Asian countries to Zanzibar to acquaint themselves with the country’s comprehensive Children’s Act and its implementation. Zanzibar won the Gold Award of the “Political Oscar” Future Policy Award in 2015.

The Ghanaian delegation, consisting of representatives from the Department of Children of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare and the Law Faculty of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration were inspired by the one-stop-center model that Zanzibar has currently implemented in 6 out of 11 districts.

 What is a one stop center?

One-Stop-Center (OSC) are central contact points for children and their families affected by (sexualised) violence. Here survivors can find psycho-social support, a police office to initiate criminal investigation as well as medical treatment including collection of forensic evidence under one roof. Ideally, legal help is part of the centre. The graphic illustrates the model:

As an important element of a strong national child protection system, the one-stop-centres provide survivors (girls and boys, women and men) with various initial services under one roof. As a result, the affected person does not have to go through the trauma of narrating the incident several times and also receives quick help. It helps parents stay focused on treating their child and persecuting the perpetrator. In cases without the OSC, survivors mostly have to visit different institutions – that costs money and time and often parents lose the momentum to persue the case. The later a case is reported, the harder it is to gather evidence of abuse on a child’s body.

Ideally, a one-stop center provides four services and is usually docted at a hospital:

  1. Psycho-social support – this is where the first interview takes place and the social worker decides which further steps are required. If there is an abuse / violence, the child will be escorted to the next room, where a police officer in civilian clothes and trained in child-friendly behaviour will fill in the form to follow up the case.
  2. Medical examination: in a third room, a medical doctor takes care of the child. Here the first medical and forensic examinations take place. If the child needs further special treatment, it will be treated immediately in the hospital.
  3. The employees of the one-stop-center are provided by the relevant ministries (Health, Interior, Family Affairs) and the Centre is (at best) coordinated by the Ministry of Health. All employees receive same training so they can better collaborate and follow same procedures and guidelines in writing the reports. This makes it easier for the police and the courts to track and prosecute cases.
  4. Support for counseling and legal aid is ideally offered in the fourth room.

Ghana on the way to pilot a one stop centre

A member of the Zanzibar team sharing her experience at the workshop

The Director of the Department of Children, speaking at Workshop

After intensive discussions with the Department of Children from April 2018, the World Future Council Foundation organised a technical workshop to fully introduce the state agencies in the establishment and management of a one-stop-center model in Ghana from the 25-27 November 2018. We invited experts from Zanzibar to Ghana: Deputy Chairwoman Halima Abdallah, who spearheaded the establishment of the One-Stop-Center in the Ministry of Family and Health, Dr. Marijani, who has been responsible for medical and forensic investigations since its implementation in 2011, and Farshuu Khalfa, head of a one-stop center in Stone Town. Their insights, expertise and practical experience were most welcome and helpful in drawing up the roadmap for Ghana.

Under the auspices of the Children’s Department, 30 key representatives and decision-makers took part in the workshop to discuss the need for the OSC and to develop the roadmap for a pilot program. The participants represented the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, the Social Welfare Department and the specialised Domestic Violence Unit of the Police service – DOVVSU.  Medical representative and international child rights organisations including ActionAid, World Vision, International Needs, UNFPA and UNICEF were also present.

The most important results of the workshop at a glance:

  • Development of a roadmap for the establishment of a pilot in Accra
  • National coordination agency of the One-Stop-Center pilot program will be the Ministry of Health with support of other ministries
  • An inter-ministerial conference is scheduled for the first quarter of 2019 to decide on the roadmap and timetable
  • A core group will identify a possible location for the pilot program in Accra

Working groups during the workshops.

Strengthening the child protection system in Ghana

Strengthening the child protection system in Ghana

Last week, the World Future Council was on a scoping mission to Ghana to introduce the model of one-stop-centers to stakeholders in Ghana. The aim is to build on the existing structures to strengthen the child protection system in Ghana. Together with the Department of Children we had good discussions with the National Child Protection Committee in Accra and the Northern Regional Child Protection Committee in Tamale. We met dedicated and engaged partners and look forward to work with them on a pilot in November this year.

one-stop-centers

The one-stop-centers provide essential services for survivors of abuse under one roof. During our international conference on child protection we hosted in Zanzibar last year, we introduced the model of one-stop-centers, which inspired Ghanaian policy makers attending the conference. The Zanzibar’s Children’s Act 2011, which won our Gold Future Policy Award in 2015, layed the foundation for the child protection system in Zanzibar.

Policymakers gather to share child rights best practice on protection and participation in Zanzibar

From the 28 – 30 November the World Future Council (WFC) hosted an international child rights conference in Zanzibar to explore the positive impacts of Zanzibar’s Children’s Act and share success stories on child protection, child friendly justice and participation from around the world. Representatives of ministries and policymakers from 12 countries, mainly from Africa and Asia, alongside experts on children’s rights and representatives from civil society drew up the Zanzibar Declaration on Securing Children’s Rights, committing themselves to taking strong action to eradicate all forms of violence against girls and boys. The assembly greatly benefited from the expertise and passion of two WFC Councillors Dr. Gertrude Ibengwé Mongella, former President of the Pan-African Parliament and Dr. Auma Obama, Chair and Founder of the Sauti Kuu Foundation.

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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.

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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

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.

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“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! 

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Promoting, Protecting and Realising the Rights of Children: A Matter of Political Will

Promoting, Protecting and Realising the Rights of Children: A Matter of Political Will

Every child has the same human rights as adults. These include the right to life, food, health, education, development, a clean environment and the right to be heard. However, despite recent advances, many children today still suffer from poverty, gender inequality, homelessness, abuse, preventable diseases, and unequal access to education. Their rights are forgotten or ignored. Approximately 300 million children go to bed hungry every night. Environmental degradation and conflicts are forcing children to flee their familiar surroundings and live as refugees. Others are forced into exploitative work and cannot exercise their right to education, robbing them of the chance to create a better future.

Good laws and policies – and their effective implementation – are the foundation for protecting the rights of girls and boys that were enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Children in 1989. However, children’s rights are not brought to life through pronouncements; they require resolve from our leaders and most importantly practical implementation on the ground.

It is now up to national governments to show the political will to ramp up actions at home and lead the response against the violation of children’s rights by ensuring such international commitments are adhered to through laws. Civil society must also play its part to ensure that ignorance and inaction are no longer an option! Instead of asking why things need to change, we have to finally start focusing on the how and highlight solutions that work!

The good news is solutions exist

This year, the World Future Council is celebrating the best laws and policies to secure children’s rights, with its ‘Future Policy Award’, to raise global awareness of those solutions that successfully overcome the barriers preventing children from enjoying their rights to a clean and healthy environment, to education, to protection (from child labour, child trafficking, child marriage) and to participation. Only by highlighting these solutions can we speed up policy action towards just, sustainable and peaceful societies for future generations.

From America, to Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania, we have already seen significant changes in policies and attitudes towards children and their rights that provide hope for the future. We are in a unique position to learn from pioneers who have shown us how it can be done. Now it is up to us to replicate and build on their success stories. Fortunately, we do not have to start from scratch.

In Zanzibar, the “Children’s Act” which won this year’s Future Policy ‘Gold Award’has proven to be an effective response to child abuse and violence, while promoting and protecting child rights at the same time. The law has led to a marked societal change in attitudes towards children in the country. Alongside a revamped child protection system, many schools are now piloting alternatives to the previously widespread use of corporal punishment and thousands of children have been assisted in returning to school from harmful work. A pioneering feature of the law was a village-level child consultation process which provided young people with an understanding of the law and their rights, giving them the opportunity to voice their priorities and feed into the law’s drafting process. Their views are now represented by over 200 active Children’s Councils.

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The state of Maryland in the US was the first to require students to be environmentally literate as a high school graduation requirement. The results point to positive school-wide impacts in knowledge, behaviour and local action projects as well as broad improvements in student’s learning outcomes across a range of subjects. Other states, such as Kentucky and Utah have since developed education plans based on Maryland’s “Environmental Literacy Standards”.

Finland’s ‘Basic Education Act’, adopted in 1998, guarantees children’s equal access to high-quality education and training, irrespective of ethnic origin, age, wealth, language or location. Finland’s holistic and trust based education system produces excellent results, both in terms of child well-being and international test scores.

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In Sweden, the Children and Parent Code prohibits all corporal punishment and other humiliating treatment of children. It has fostered a profound change of attitude across Swedish society in relation to violence against children, gaining a very high level of awareness and support, including from children. Sweden is also working with other states to promote universal prohibition of all violent punishment of children.

Finally, Argentina’s Supreme Court’s Judgement which upheld the country’s constitutional right ‘to an environment which is healthy, balanced and suitable for human development’ led to a comprehensive inspection, restoration and clean-up plan for the heavily polluted Matanza-Riachuelo river basin in Buenos Aires. These efforts have provided clean drinking water and sanitation to over a million people and are directly benefitting local children through access to health care and relocated housing. It demonstrates what can be achieved when judges start recognizing and enforcing environmental rights which are included (but not enforced) in three quarters of the world’s national constitutions.

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Inaction no longer an option

By looking at these examples, we can lay out the policy incentives required to build a world of growing solutions, rather than growing problems. It is essential that we highlight these best policies, engage our communities to spread the word about them and empower policy-makers to implement them. Action requires more than intent and good will: The time has come for world leaders to step up to the challenge and leverage their powers on behalf of the youngest members of our societies.

Giving these policies the recognition they deserve by awarding them with the Future Policy Award is only the beginning. We need to raise more global awareness of these pioneering examples and assist policy-makers to develop and implement similar initiatives. The time to act is now!

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