By Cathy Dzerefos
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Although these words were written in 1971 by Dr Seuss in The Lorax,1 the call for empathy and mobilisation of the green movement has never been as necessary as it is today.
As a microcosm of society, schools are the starting point to inspire the youth and bring about transformation. Since 2003, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) Eco-Schools Programme has steadily empowered teachers to combine their job function with environmental learning and action.
Charged with change
The Eco-Schools Programme operates in 58 countries and attracts international funders such as the Wrigley Company Foundation,2 as well as local corporates such as Nampak3 and Nedbank.4 It has also developed a network in all nine South African provinces to support both independent and government schools to achieve progressive Eco-School awards. Environment is a common thread in all curricula and subjects; it is applicable to both urban and rural schools and is relevant from pre-school to high school. A success story in any Eco- School – be it a creative lesson plan, a spectacular eco-event or a competition won – can cause a ripple effect throughout the country, as teachers and learners are inspired or adapt ideas to suit their own situations.
Schools with varying levels of resources participate on an equal footing, as they do not compete with each other but rather with themselves and what they can change in the course of a year. The seven Eco-School steps have always been: (1) formation of an eco-committee; (2) auditing the school’s environmental status quo; (3) choosing a theme; (4) doing an eco-action project; (5) linking the action to classroom learning; (6) showcasing work for external assessment; and (7) receiving recognition. Eco-Schools progress from Bronze, Silver and Green Flag to Gold and, after five years, qualify for the prestigious International Green Flag and thereafter the Platinum award. The ultimate accreditation is the Diamond Decade.
Making it easier for your school
In the past, a school’s portfolio of work has been assessed by WESSA at the end of the school year. Teachers have often voiced dissatisfaction with the timing and administrative burden. In addition, the extraordinary action projects and lessons that were being done at schools only became evident at the end of the year, when there was little time to showcase the positive stories and examples.
In December 2014, WESSA’s schools programme manager, Avril Wilkinson, came up with a solution. The seven steps would be retained, but would be summarised in a poster comprising three or four powerful photographs and accompanying succinct text. Each theme would warrant one poster. So a school participating for the first time in the Eco- Schools Programme would submit one poster, while a school going for the International Green Flag in their fifth year would submit five posters covering the five themes. To ensure that all schools’ work would be professionally exhibited, it was decided that poster production would be centralised. At any time of the year, a school can complete a theme. The evidence photos, logos and text totalling 400 words are sent to Thobile Nzimande, who arranges the assessment of the work done and production of the poster. This would then be made available to the school to make as many copies as they would like.
1. Geisel, T.S. (1971) The Lorax. New York: Random House Books for Young Readers.
2. See: http://www.wrigley.com/global/principles-in-action/foundation.aspx.
3. See: http://www.nampak.co.za/Nampak-News.aspx.
4. See: http://www.nedbank.co.za/website/content/home/index.asp.