Updated: Jan 31
Raising awareness of environmental issues and understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals (the ‘Global Goals’ or ‘SDGs’) is vital to bringing about positive change. Education must be a big part of the solution and there are many inspiring examples of schools and other education organizations that are pioneering change and inspiring others to do the same.
The successful integration of environmental and sustainability education within formal and informal learning in schools and education organizations (such as NGOs) helps to bridge the gap between environmental issues and social justice matters – across science and the humanities. The Global Goals provide an effective framework for engaging youth in complex sustainability matters. As teachers and youth educators, we must seize every opportunity we can to embed education for sustainability within classroom and outdoor learning, working across ideas and disciplines where appropriate, and building healthy relationships with community partners, whenever possible.
Case Study 1: School 21 and the Sustainable Development Goals
School 21 is an all-through free school established in 2012. It is located in Stratford in London, England. The cohorts are intentionally small, with 70 students per year group.
Education at School 21 is focused on an even balance of head (academics), heart (character and well-being) and hand (generating ideas, problem solving and making). In part, this is achieved through project-based learning (which they term Real World Learning Projects, or RWLPs for short). Projects are designed to combine rigor and motivation to solve real-world problems. Each one is based on an inquiry question.
“Students were motivated to really battle with seriously challenging maths and written reports, with no guarantee of success, because of the very real and tangible chance to make change: they had genuine agency.”
One project in 2017 set out to answer the question: “Can our mathematics help Stratford decide if three new concrete factories are too dirty?” They used algebraic modeling to analyze the impact of the planned factories on air pollution in the nearby Olympic Park with the aim of informing an ‘authentic’ audience (the planning permission panel). Working with the mathematician Elsa Aristodemou and the journalist Emilia Papadopoulos, the students appeared on the BBC London Evening News and soon after the factory development was denied planning permission. Collectively, they had made a significant impact on Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities backed-up by reasoned scientific arguments.
One of the project teachers, Jess Hughes said: “Students were motivated to really battle with seriously challenging maths and written reports, with no guarantee of success, because of the very real and tangible chance to make change: they had genuine agency.”
For more information on School 21, go to: www.school21.org.uk.
Case Study 2: Down to Earth Project
The Down to Earth Project is an award winning not-for-profit social enterprise located near Swansea, Wales. Since its inception in 2006, thousands of vulnerable and excluded young people and adults have taken part in addressing social inequality and tackling sustainability in the community.
"Imagine if the most vulnerable and excluded groups were given the opportunities to not only thrive but to create change we want to see – a genuinely sustainable world." - Down to Earth Project
Down to Earth believe that being outdoors doing hands-on, meaningful and gentle-on the-environment activities is transformative – for both the people they work with and the land. Through their efforts, they have renovated numerous community centers, education centers and two stunning venues using sustainable construction methods.
This innovative project demonstrates that education for sustainability can be used to help vulnerable and marginalized communities. It does not have to be something which is ‘taught’ but it can be experienced practically to demonstrate and provide a way out of poverty, build bridges and promote community cohesion.
For more information on the Down to Earth Project, go to:
Case Study 3: The Mechai Pattana 'Bamboo' School
The Mechai Pattana 'Bamboo' School is a secondary school located in Buriram, Thailand. It was established in 2009 by Mechai Viradaidya, who believed in the need for radical rural education reform in Thailand. Mechai Pattana emphasizes project-based learning, as opposed to the rote memorization that is usually taught in Thailand's public schools. This educational model ensures that the desire for knowledge does not end in the classroom.
"The educational ethos of Mechai Pattana is to develop the complete individual – instilling individual morality, preserving community tradition, and promoting good citizenship."
Rather than strict admission requirements, students are eligible to attend the Mechai Pattana School beginning in Grade 7 by way of a selection committee made up of existing students at the school. This is part of the philosophy the school aims to embrace: given the opportunity, any child can mature into a good citizen, regardless of social and economic background. Students pay their school fees not in money but by completing 400 hours of community service and by planting 400 trees per year. The parents of the students must also fulfill the same requirements in their own communities.
The educational ethos of Mechai Pattana is to develop the complete individual – instilling individual morality, preserving community tradition, and promoting good citizenship. To achieve this, the school promotes the following values: environmental protection, education, poverty eradication, philanthropy, integrity, and democracy and gender equality. On school days, students at Mechai Pattana attend academic classes from 8am to 2pm, and from 2pm they engage in a range of student-run businesses and activities. Students choose which projects and activities they would like to explore, and the teachers facilitate the learning process, so that there are no limits to what can be achieved.
Some students choose to grow fruit to sell for profit, others tend to the chickens and goats, others make ice cream or sell t-shirts and others plan community events and initiatives. Through these activities the students learn valuable skills such as growing food, working collaboratively, starting and running businesses, managing finances and many more.
While there is no environmental and sustainability education curriculum at Mechai Pattana per se, all students graduate with certain knowledge and skills that promote ecological literacy, such as growing food and planting trees. Additionally, by establishing partnerships with environmental organizations, students take part in a wide range of community-based initiatives including tree planting projects, conducting biodiversity surveys and water-quality testing on campus.
For more information on Mechai Pattana School, go to:
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