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.

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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.

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.

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.

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!

 

Originally published on

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Pioneering child rights policy from Zanzibar wins distinguished award

Hamburg/Geneva/New York – 20 October 2015: Zanzibar’s pioneering child rights law is the winner of the 2015 Future Policy Award on securing children’s rights, beating 29 other nominated policies to the prize. The Award will be presented at a ceremony in Geneva today by the World Future Council, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UNICEF during the 133rd IPU Assembly.

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Future Policy Award 2015: Celebrating the world’s best laws and policies to secure children’s rights

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Abstract

In 2015, the World Future Council’s Future Policy Award seeks to highlight innovative laws and policies that contribute to promoting, realising and securing children’s rights to provision, protection and participation as stated in the UN-CRC and its Optional Protocols. We encouraged the nomination of laws and policies that are successfully overcoming the barriers that prevent children from enjoying their rights to education, participation, and to protection – with a special focus on child labour, child trafficking and child marriage. We also looked into measures that acknowledge the interdependence of environmental rights and children’s rights, and the need to strengthen and spread legislative advances in environmental protection.

 

Future Policy Award 2015: Celebrating the world’s best laws and policies to secure children’s rights

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Abstract

The World Future Council addresses challenges to our common future by identifying and spreading best policies around the globe. We do this by celebrating exemplary policies that create better living conditions for present and future generations through our annual Future Policy Award. Alongside presenting the award we also work with policy-makers to speed up policy action towards just, sustainable and peaceful societies.

 

Realising the rights of children: Nine policies contend for award

Hamburg/Geneva/New York – 23 September 2015: Nine policies from 18 countries and six regions have been shortlisted for this year’s Future Policy Award on securing children’s rights, the World Future Council and partner organizations the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UNICEF, have announced.

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Over 100 young delegates adopt Children’s Declaration on the SDGs

On 20 September 2015, the Voices of Future Generations “Children’s Declaration” was adopted by more than 100 young delegates during the Children’s Summit on the World’s Sustainable Development Goals at the UN Headquarters in NYC. At the same event, child authors from around the world shared their visions of the future with the 70th UN General Assembly. Click here for further information or here to read a copy of the declaration.