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Sustainable schools—myth or purposed reality?

Published: 
Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Caribbean has felt the devastating effects of climate change more than ever over the past year.

From the passing of two Category 5 Hurricanes (Irma and Maria) that devastated so many countries in the region to unparalleled flooding in parts of T&T, this is the worst it has ever been.

It is because of these activities and many others which have happened in and to our Caribbean neighbours that so many questions are now raised. Can we start making changes to mitigate and adapt to our changing climate? Where do we start? Should environmental issues and management become a priority of the government’s agenda? These are the types of questions which are crucial to Sian Cuffy-Young, behaviour change consultant and managing director of Siel Environmental Services Limited. In her opinion, the answers to some of these queries may be inherent in education for sustainable development(ESD).

“Climate change mitigation and adaptation are of paramount importance now more than ever,” says Cuffy-Young. “It can provide the appropriate knowledge, skills and behaviour change where informed decisions can be made and actions taken for climate resilient sustainable development.” According to her, the starting point for this important change is with our nation’s schools and with our children through ESD and the creation of sustainable schools.

What is a sustainable school?

Cuffy-Young explains that it is one that cares about the waste it produces, the food it serves and even what the food is served in. It involves the energy and water the school consumes and prioritises the difficulties that may be experienced in the surrounding community.

Cuffy-Young explains that by definition, “ESD calls for sustainable development to be integrated throughout the formal curriculum in a holistic manner, rather than being taught and/or experienced on a stand alone basis.” This means that a school will incorporate teaching and learning for sustainable development not only through aspects of the curriculum but also through sustainable school operations such as integrated governance, stakeholder and community involvement, long term planning and sustainable monitoring. It also is the promotion of relevant and interdisciplinary education that fosters critical thinking and problem solving which leads to active and participatory learning.

She explains, “Children are powerful agents of change and research has shown that providing them with empowering and relevant education on a myriad of environmental issues, inclusive of climate change for instance in a nurturing school environment can reduce their own and their communities’ vulnerability to risk and contribute to sustainable development.”

Cuffy-Young stresses that ESD must be locally relevant and culturally appropriate. Schools like Sandy Bay Primary and Junior High in Jamaica are examples of ESD being implemented in the Caribbean. This programme was divided into four categories in which each school participated, managing garbage, “greening” the school, establishing an environmental club and conducting environmental research. It seeks to involve schools in activities which improve the school environment, increases student environmental knowledge and enables schools to serve as sound environmental management within the local community. Right in Trinidad, Cuffy-Young noted and applauded the work of Bishop Anstey/Trinity College East, a school she has worked with, on theirefforts with ESD with its integration into the school’s pillars of operation.

These days the schools are working towards exemplifying sustainability in teaching and day to day practices so that students not only learn about sustainability in the classroom but experience sustainable living through everyday school life. They have done plastics recycling and school gardens.

While these programmes are progressive and commendable, Cuffy-Young explains that for this to become more widespread in the Caribbean and T&T, there must be buy-in from the top down starting at the Ministry of Education with the principals, the teachers and finally the students.

“There must be an understanding and appreciation for how important the creation of an environmentally literate society is and how that step begins with the children,” she emphasises. “It is necessary to have a society in which the individuals as a collective make informed decisions concerning the environment and are willing to act on these decisions to improve the well-being of others, society and the global environment. It must be a society that participates in civic life.”

Besides the benefits to the environment, ESD promotes out of the box thinking and a willingness to adopt strategies outside of the norm and formal way of learning. It involves the integration of both formal and informal instruction as out of school education can be just as enriching as learning in school. It helps students understand our environment and related issues of sustainable development. It provides a means of bringing the curriculum alive, and it can promote health and well being benefits as well as opportunities for children to learn how to evaluate and manage risks “Learning also about the place they go to school and interacting with it harnesses the students’ curiosity and encourages them to ask those hard questions, to think and be more independent in their learning while the teacher becomes the facilitator of that process and the imparter of knowledge,” says Cuffy-Young.

She also emphasises the lasting impression ESD can have on our\ students and their futures.“We need to create future leaders, future decision makers, movers and shakers who care about what’s happening in the world at large. Environmental education through the route of sustainable schools does just that - it focuses on what we know works, makes learning relevant, sparks interest, challenges ideas, nurtures curiosity, hones skills, inspires action and helps all involved learn how to learn.”

Cuffy-Young has herself developed a programme through her own business to help apply ESD to local schools. If you would like your school or a school you know to be a part of her Sabrewing Sustainable School programme, contact her through email at [email protected] sielenvironmental.com.

More info

Principles under which a sustainable school programme operates include:
• Health and Wellness
• Green practices e.g. gardening
• Responsible transportation and reduced emissions
• Water conservation and pollution reduction
• Energy conservation
• Structures for environmental learning
• Habitat restoration
• Solid waste reduction
• Community partnerships
• Environmental education

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