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Eco-education: From eco-schools to eco-citizens

Theodore Roosevelt famously said:

To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.

It’s encouraging to see that the younger generation are becoming more aware of current ecological issues and are willing to be actively involved. Greta Thunberg is only one of the prominent figures that capture the spirit of a generation painfully aware that the need to act is imperative.

The educational system plays its part as well: from the development of environmentally-friendly learning spaces to the education of future eco-citizens, schools have the opportunity of becoming role models for their students and assume a more active role in addressing ecological issues.

Three main components could turn current education into a greener education:

Green schools

Practice what you preach.

If schools want to be more involved in the ecological education, they need to set an example. A school that uses only clean energy – such as wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, bioenergy – will most likely inspire all its stakeholders to do the same, including students.

A school with a zero-waste policy, which uses as little plastic as possible, will send a strong message that this is the right thing to do. The NYC initiative Zero Waste Schools could be a model for the entire country.

If kids see composting machines at schools, perhaps they could talk about them at home and, in this way, convince their families to compost. It can go the other way around, too. Parents can suggest environmentally friendly policies to schools as well to help them become more environmentally aware.

Green curriculum

People at GreenHeart Education have a point:

How do we create graduates for the 21st century if we're still teaching a curriculum developed for the 20th century?

School curriculum should prepare kids for current and future climate issues. Sustainable development, environmental solutions, ecological principles are key elements in green education.

It’s not only disciplines directly related to the environment – such as Biology, Geography, or Ecology – that could go green:

  • Literature classes could integrate eco-fiction works: Arthur C. Clarke’s short stories History Lesson and The Forgotten Enemy (both available in the volume The Collective Stories of Arthur C. Clarke) are two of the many examples that come to mind.
  • Film studies could also include movies like The Day after Tomorrow.
  • STEM disciplines, like technology and engineering, could stimulate kids to solve environmental problems. Green STEM Guidebook offers many successful examples that could be replicated across the country.
  • In Economics classes, teachers could tackle the principles of circular economy, for example.

Green lessons

Walk the talk.

The use of edtech, especially complex and comprehensive solutions, like learning management systems, are essential in green education. With digital tools being available to such an extent, it’s easier to create paperless lessons and thus stimulate kids to reconsider using paper on a daily basis.

Read more: Making the case for paperless schools

An learning management system (LMS) offers innumerous opportunities to collaborate with schools from all over the country in a remote mode, thus reducing the carbon footprint of the educational process. Not to mention that content itself could be designed with an environmental approach.

For instance, in language classes, lessons about food and culinary habits could introduce notions about the environmental impact of our food and future trends (for example, the controversy surrounding artificial meat). Lessons about clothes could tackle the fact that the fashion industry is one of the major polluters in the world.

Final thoughts

Education has the chance of being a major factor in addressing the most important problem of our generation: the fight against climate change. Schools can set an example and raise awareness among their stakeholders about currents problems and possible solutions. But the most essential thing that they should do is to educate the future eco-citizens of tomorrow.

By allowing kids to discover nature and protect it, schools can act as vital pillars in the fight for a cleaner environment. Education has spillover effects across generations, and the effects of a green education policy will be long-lasting. Edtech might also give a helping hand, as digitization is a first step towards reducing the current carbon footprint of education.

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