Thursday, February 22, 2024

NZ joins world’s largest sustainable schools programme

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Eco-Schools is a student-led programme that is structured to place students at the core of their school’s journey to sustainability, and to help them expand their learning and environmental projects into the wider community. Photo Beaumont Primary School

Engaging the youth of today to help protect the planet of tomorrow

Iconic charity Keep New Zealand Beautiful is proud to bring Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE)’s Eco-Schools programme to Aotearoa, launching the world’s largest sustainable schools initiative to Kiwi students.Eco-Schools currently has 19.5 million students and educators from 59,000 schools in 74 countries engaging with its sustainable development education programme.Eco-Schools is a student-led programme that is structured to place students at the core of their school’s journey to sustainability, and to help them expand their learning and environmental projects into the wider community. Students take control by creating an Eco-Committee to implement an Environmental Review that identifies the environmental issues within their school. They then create an Action Plan and implement projects that minimise their schools environmental impact and enhance sustainability.Measurement and collaboration with the whole school and wider community is an important part of the Eco-Schools programme. Students, supported by their teachers and adults, work through Seven Steps towards gaining a prestigious and internationally-recognised Green Flag Award for their school. The programme is open to all schools, including ECEs, primary, intermediate, secondary and special schools. It is free to get involved, allowing children across Aotearoa to access environmental education regardless of their school’s circumstances.“We’re proud to bring such a prominent global programme as Eco-Schools to Kiwi students,” said Keep New Zealand Beautiful CEO Heather Saunderson. “Just as the issues of climate change require a global perspective, our mission in bringing Eco-Schools to Kiwi students is to help them gain a valuable international perspective, while also having a path for them to improve the environment in their own schools and local communities, in their own ways,” she said.Benefits for our tamariki as well as for our environment Whilst Eco-Schools is designed to make a positive impact to the environment, participating schools and the wider community, it is also a powerful educational tool. Eco-Schools and environmental action can help young people to feel empowered, reduce climate anxiety, build confidence and teach them new skills.Statistics NZ estimates that in 2023 there will be 1,130,500 New Zealanders under the age of 18 years; they are set to inherit Aotearoa’s and the world’s environmental problems, but they are also tomorrow’s decision makers and the champions of climate change.Global and local perspectives for our youthBecause Eco-Schools is an international programme, schools from different countries can collaborate at a global level, allowing students to compare their Action Plan projects with those of Eco-Schools students around the world. Even as Kiwi Eco-Schools students participate in small, local actions, they are in fact continuously participating in a larger, national and global movement.“Young people experience a sense of achievement at being able to have a say in the environmental management policies of their schools. The programme doesn’t dictate the environmental actions or projects that a school should work on, rather providing a framework for students to work on the issues they are passionate about,” said  Saunderson.“Today’s youth will become the business leaders and politicians of tomorrow, making decisions affecting our entire planet,” said Saunderson, “so it’s our role as educators to help prepare them to address and mitigate the climate problems we continue to face.”Nearly 30 years of environmental educationStarted in 1994, Eco-Schools is recognised by UNESCO and the United Nations as a world-leader within the fields of Environmental Education (EE) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Schools are asked to link the focus topics from their Action Plan to one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Participating schools can gain access to certified recognition through the internationally-recognised Green Flag Award, which serves as a visible indication and celebration of a school’s commitment to sustainability education.

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