Arab Green Schools... From here, environmental slogans become a sustainable reality

Arab Green Schools... How do we bring climate issues to young people?

مروة بدوي
السبت 30 مارس 2024 | 03:19 مساءً

The idea of green, environment-friendly schools has emerged in the world as a new direction that applies sustainability and adapts to climate change. These schools are defined as educational institutions that follow a sustainable development educational approach.

Green Schools operate through 3 directions: Theoretical learning, rational use of resources, active involvement in community initiatives and activities. Most notably feature is that students' environmental educational experiences are not limited to classrooms but extend beyond, where they use natural environment as learning sources and opportunities, and sharing direct and indirect experiences among students; What helps to create highly capable and efficient citizens, enabled to solve environmental problems.

“Green in Arabic” searched for the most important initiatives that contribute to application of sustainable schools concept within Arab world, whether governmental or sponsored by civil society institutions, in an attempt to convey a rich educational experience that raises the issue of the environment attractively to draw the attention of young people, far from talking about crises, shocks and the dramatic treatment of the issue of climate change.

The Egyptian experience

The number of children in Egypt is 39.6 million, accounting for about 22% of the total number of children in the Arab countries, which amounts to about 178.6 million children, according to the statement of Egypt's Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics in November 2023.

Egypt is the largest country in terms of children population in Arab world. That’s why the importance of applying green schools in Egyptian governorates has increased, as pointed out by “Hamdy El-Hawari”, a researcher in climate justice and education for sustainable development. He explained that transforming the school into a sustainable environment helps to provide students with environmental information, skills and trends. It allows parents and the community to participate in making the school an environment-friendly society, as well as creating a culture of sustainability for all.

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Green Egyptian Schools

“Al-Hawari” states that there is a government interest in expanding the establishment of smart sustainable schools in cooperation with the private sector and NGOs, including the “Green Schools Initiative”, which is one of the initiatives of Egypt’s Vision 2030, aimed at developing the education and training environment, building the capability of teachers and trainers, and encouraging schools to educate students, educators and parents on climate issues.

“Al-Hawari” pointed out that the “National Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development”, the training arm of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, launched the "Green Minds Initiative" in Fayoum schools, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Technical Education. The Institute also successfully implemented this initiative in another 5 schools in Cairo governorate. The total number of students benefiting 2400 students as follows: 1385 student of primary stage, and 1015 of preparatory stage, in addition to training of 50 teacher of primary stage on concepts and aims of sustainable development.

With regard to the curricula adopted within these schools, the researcher on climate justice and education for sustainable development noted that the hubs through which the green schools program operates depend on reducing water and energy consumption, conserving biodiversity, managing waste well and taking care of healthy nutrition.

UNICEF and elementary schools at the "Southern Egypt" level

Egyptian children are among the groups most vulnerable to climate and environmental shocks in the Middle East and North Africa region, according to the UNICEF Children's Climate Risk Index (CCRI). We therefore find interest in children and schools from the United Nations and the Egyptian Country.

UNICEF carried out a series of summer camps on climate change within El-Minya and Al-Fayoum schools in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Technical Education, according to the official website of UNICEF in Egypt. The idea of school camps revolves around participatory activities that raise children's health and environmental awareness.

The Jamal Abdelnasser Elementary School in Fayoum is one of the schools that participated in summer camps supported by UNICEF. The school is concerned with raising awareness of climate issues, through the dissemination of environmental culture and nature conservation through several enjoyable means, which depend on students' interaction and participation in environmental agricultural, artistic and educational activities. These include teaching children to grow seedlings, taking care of plants in the school courtyard, and providing artwork to raise awareness of climate issues, such as a play about a tribe that is exposed to drought due to low rainfall.

The school also offers its students a range of environmental training workshops, such as workshops to learn the basics of home plumbing, in order to enable those young people to rectify minor breakdowns resulting in waste of water, art exhibitions of recycled materials to develop children's awareness of the importance of waste reduction and reuse, and supports good behaviors such as environmental conservation. Teachers are also interested in discussing climate change issues within classrooms in a simplified manner.

The Tunisian experience

Besides the role of the country and international bodies, Tunisia's NGOs play an indispensable role. It is an essential tool for engaging in the transformation of schools into a sustainable environment through the implementation of environmental education in classrooms, collaborating with educational institutions in promoting the philosophy of respect for the environment among students, integrating them into climate education projects and programs benefiting the community and expanding their environmental perceptions.

Among these effective initiatives is the Tunisian Association "Children of the Earth Network", whose vision is that education is the most important way to achieve sustainable development, because through education we can train community members to recognize their impact on the environment, and commit to protecting the planet.

"Green in Arabic" reached out to Radhia Al-Wahishi, President of the Children of the Earth Network, who explained that the issue of education for sustainable development represents the true vision of the Network. The Association is, therefore, active in educational institutions, because all of the network's projects revolve around the school, which is the starting point. She pointed out that real change in sustainability is represented in the good exploitation and conservation of natural resources in the future, what requires supporting students' abilities to be active and influential in this field.

To achieve this goal, the President of the “Children of the Earth” stressed that one of the participatory educational projects, recently focused on by the association, was the revival of school parks. The park represents a space earth through which students can recognize and interact with agricultural and water challenges, with the aim of supporting their capacities to address climate change, rationalize their consumption behaviors and build a sustainable future, especially in the light of Tunisia's water scarcity.

The project “We eat in my school”

The Network is implementing the project "We eat in My School" with the aim of developing the Omar al-Mukhtar School Park, which is located in a suburb near the Tunisian capital. The project is considered a first phase to consolidate a culture of sustainability and healthy food, exploit the perimeter of schools and neglected untapped land in educational institutions to transform them into green spaces; what gives it environmental value. The vegetable garden at Omar al-Mukhtar School is currently about 1600 m2, divided into 500 m2 for vegetables, and 1100 m2 for fruit trees.

These environmental activities deepen the bonds between students and their school and turn environmental slogans into reality. With the assistance of specialized engineers, the child learns the principles of sustainable agriculture, planning of an environmental park and the adoption of a rainwater irrigation system.

Students plant olive trees, apples and almonds, which grow with their own hands, then harvest and eat what they have planted, disseminating healthy food concepts, and providing food to support future food security. These activities support students' life skills as well, such as team integration, interaction with community issues, especially in the climate area.

In addition to school environmental activities and field trips to discover nature, the “Children of the Earth Network” is working to incorporate land conservation and biodiversity concepts within the curriculum, including the project "Strengthening the protection of humid areas in Tunisia through educational curricula", in cooperation with the Ministry of Education.

Alpha generation most capable of environmental change

A discussion took place with Radhia Al-Wahishi, President of the Children of the Earth Network, about the age group most concerned and engaged with environmental issues among school students at all ages. Based on her long experience in the teaching profession, as well as her specialization in environmental communication, she emphasized that the age group most capable of environmental change, characterized by a spirit of leadership, is between 12 and 14 years, or the so-called alpha generation, born in 2010 and beyond. She sees that the thinking and personality of children at this age is more sophisticated and upholding the ideas and principles they are convinced of, so that they may become their defenders, which is the most important for the issue of the environment.

Primary students are natural lovers of nature and have a good relationship with it, but they are young and have no opinion or a way to express. The issue of the environment is no longer one of love or sympathy for nature, but rather of urgency. The problem in Arab countries is to change society's mentality with regard to climate issues. There must be a change out of conviction and experience for society to succeed.

Through her educational and community experience, it has been confirmed that the 12 to 14 year-old age group is interested in climate issues out of awareness, stressing that she bets on the next generation to defend the rights of the environment and protect the life cycle.

Radhia Al-Wahishi, President of the Children of the Earth Network, concluded: "We want to build generations that are active and able to criticize, make decisions, lead change, and operationalize the concept of citizenship. It is the school that will develop these skills in young people; we must therefore respect this institution to its impact on children, perhaps more than their homes ". She stressed on the importance of listening to the perspective of students, because they are the future.

UAE's experience

The Sustainable Schools Initiative is an environmental initiative launched by “Abu Dhabi Environment Authority” in partnership with the “Department of Education and Knowledge” and the Ministry of Education”. It is one of the Environment Authority's leading projects in the field of environmental education.

The official website of the initiative describes it as a participatory and interactive program aimed at promoting the concept of environmental sustainability within schools, as well as providing an opportunity for young people to explore their surroundings, identify innovative mechanisms to reduce carbon footprint, preserve animal species. It also aimed at supporting students' sense of responsibility, what encourages them to take positive steps to protect their environment and address negative impact or practices against society. It is a comprehensive initiative targeting students, teachers, parents and administrators.

Sustainable Schools

The initiative includes about 464 participating schools. Each one has been able to integrate four components into its activities to become a leadership school within the initiative, which are:

I. Auditing green schools or assessing the school's environmental performance, through important steps that reflect the impact of the school on 5 important environmental elements, namely: (air - water - land - waste - energy).

2- The school's interest in environmental clubs to discover new ideas, and so that interest in the environment would be a lifestyle for young people.

3- Attention to field trips to visit natural places and learn more about the environment so that the student feels as a part of it.

4- Train the trainers, focusing on the teacher so that he or she realizes how to be part of the sustainability process, and then convey this concept to the students.

One of the most important advantages of the initiative is that students can evaluate their own schools and then set targets to improve these outcomes in accordance with the rules of the initiative, while publishing the school’s result with all statistics.

The initiative also provides green e-learning with the aim of enabling learning anything remotely about sustainability, and creating an atmosphere of collaboration between different schools, students and teachers in several different places.

The schools of the UAE’s initiative have already succeeded in achieving many environment-friendly practices; Water consumption is reduced in 96% of the participating schools, while 62% of schools reuse wastewater. More than 82% of sustainable schools recycle waste, and 73% of school students use mass transport to reduce emissions. In addition, 82% of the initiative's schools have also started growing native plants and green spaces, according to the Initiative's official website.

All UN Member countries had endorsed the 2015 sustainable development goals, with the aim of eradicating poverty, losing biodiversity and preserving the blue planet. In order to achieve these global goals, wrong human practices and behaviors must be changed, which will only be achieved through quality education within a green system that respects the environment and natural resources. Regardless of each school's method of implementation of the concept of sustainability, it remains more important to transform the concept of environmental conservation from a mere slogan or issue for discussion into a reality, lifestyle and thinking pattern for each school's students