Thursday, 5 April 2012

Eco-schools go for a greener planet

Latvian schools teach students about their impacts on the planet.

by Ilze Grunska 

Student-made birdhouses. Photo by Ilze Grunska.
Understanding of sustainable development grows together with environmental education – Why should I do something? What kind of footprint do I leave on my planet? 

Children in Latvia are encouraged nowadays to take an active role in running their school for the benefit of the environment and to participate decision making processes in their schools – by setting up Eco-councils which is responsible about green activities within schools and also helps to raise awaraness in local community. 

School workshop activities include using games and video materials and working with energy effective gadgets. Photo by Ilze Grunska.

The Eco-school programme began in 1994 as a response to the needs identified at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held two years earlier in Rio De Janeiro. These needs were recognized as a working on forests and climate change issues as well as a human growing consumption and poverty affect on environment. The message of the conference was: that nothing less than a transformation of our attitudes and behaviour would bring about the necessary changes . Since 2003 the Eco-Schools programme was identified by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as a model initiative for education for sustainable development. Each year Eco-schools works on one of the sustainable development themes to get the Eco sertification: litter, energy, water, transport, healthy lifestyle, school surrounding, climate changes and forests. 

Planting trees, collecting paper to recycle it, giving used things a "second life” by producing new things from recycled materials are just some of the activities implemented by this programme. Riebiņi Eco-school is located in small district which is about 630 km2 big. However school has been a very good "green” life builder localy. Teachers together with students worked on solar and wind energy project and in the result they became the first ones in this district, who got money to install solar and wind energy lights next to the school. Ecoschool coordinator Sanita Upeniece thinks, that it is important to engage students in green thinking. "Everybody should learn how to take care of themselves and of the rest of the world”, she believes. The school is now planning to develop and install a geothermal heating system. 

Student make climate change animations. Photo by Ilze Grunska.

 In the North of Latvia there is another small Eco-school „Oriole” which supports pre-school children with special needs. In the autumn of 2010 the school chose the theme of healthy lifestyle for the Eco-school programme certification. Teachers paid a lot of attention to the children`s menu, sport activities, and kids studied about healthy products and vitamins. As one of the healthy lifestyle`s foundations they managed to raise understanding about healthy human relation, helpfulness and compassion importance in everyday life. 

"Forests” was the theme in the autumn of 2011. In a nearest forest they set up outdoor school with the nature trails, tree descriptions to give children more information about wood as an energy source. They also did different tasks and learned about forest planting and preserving. "Children like to play with wooden toys . They say that toys are warm”, says Iveta Liepiņa, director of the school. When Iveta was in Belgium in November participating in teachers` seminar, she told partners about her school teaching methods, challenges and issues. Collegues from other European schools were surprised that education in "Oriole” is naturally so free and that teachers know how the learning process make more closer to the nature. "I think if we would not turned into Eco school subjects, we would never went deeper into environmental issues and those values embodied from nature”, says Iveta. 
Students in a bicycle race. Photo by Ilze Grunska.

Eco-schools are using also other methods to introduce Latvians to global warming issues and climate change problems. Since November 2011 the Climate Campaign has visited Eco-schools around Latvia twice a week. Climate Campaign runs with participation of Foundation for environmental education (FEE Latvia). These visits have helped students to better understand climate issues and its impact and also find out how individuals can help to reduce their own carbon footprint.

Pupils played "Prediction game" to understand what future scenarios could be like if man made CO2 emissions are not reduced and a globe continues to warm up. The Climate campaign includes four bigger events during the weekends for the families, smaller children and other schools from surrounding. Within these special campaign days, participants have been introduced to the hydrogen car, wind generator prototypes, information about climate change and smart ways on how to reduce energy consumption in their everyday life. Even the smallest kids under the school age has a possibility to make cartoons by their own using recycling materials.

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