Tomorrow’s leaders need to be equipped for tomorrow’s challenges, and we must adequately prepare our children for the future they will inherit. As climate change is being felt across the globe and its long term catastrophic impacts have never been so scientifically clear, environmental education is the key to a better future. In an era where more and more children are disconnected from nature, we should recognize the importance of making a real investment in environmental education and outdoor learning. Studies have shown environmental education engages students in learning, raising test scores, and encouraging youth to pursue career in environmental and natural resources. And not only that: environmental education can help children perform better in social studies, science, language, arts, and mathematics.
Engagement at Different Levels
The secret to environmental education is to act at different levels, engaging the entire school and addressing students, teachers, parents, administrators and all members of the schools community. Eventually, it will link up all the participants within the community. The components of this initiative depend on interaction and participation, with teachers undertaking a guiding role by encouraging students to discover solutions on their own.
At first students should determine and check the extent of their use of natural resources in the school. Through this, they evaluate their efforts in the field of environmental management.
As a second step, children should set up and run Eco Clubs. Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities. They also serve as a forum through which the students share environmental problems, along with the school staff, parents and the community surrounding the school, in order to work on finding solutions, and promote a positive environmental behavior. In this component the schools can implement internal and external projects, such as introducing efficient methods of irrigation, lowering the volume of waste, reducing the consumption of electricity and water and trying to reduce air pollution.
The third step focuses on organizing training courses for teachers and releasing educational resources in different themes and curricula, helping them to teach environmental concepts in innovative ways and through various educational materials, such as environmental friendly games. This will help teachers to adapt and to provide students with information about different habitats, biodiversity, climate change and other issues faced at the local level, as well as faced by the planet on a global level.
The final step should be to connect students to environmental causes and issues, and identify solutions through the provision of field trips. Additionally, such trips can be associated with the educational curriculum as they offer direct learning method. This helps boosting the understanding of various concepts by the students, and increasing the chance of using multiple senses such as eyesight, hearing, etc., which helps to raise their capacity to understand what they have learned. The success and engagement of schools to take on the environment field trips is great and extensive and it represents a set full of amazing adventures of exploration and knowledge.
Undoubtedly, the final and greatest outcome is to educate our children on the importance of becoming good environmental citizens.
Challenges in the Middle East
The Middle East region faces difficult natural conditions, and it is clear that steep population growth, poverty and the consequent degradation of natural ecosystems make it a priority when it comes to Environmental awareness and sustainability goals. One of the biggest challenges is certainly the lack of awareness.
Most countries are blessed with high levels of education, with a large portion of the population pursuing secondary and higher education. Unfortunately however, human development and wealth are not always synonym with high environmental awareness and interest in sustainability issues… Jordan and Lebanon, for example, have their primary focus in tourism, which mostly contributes to their GDPs.
An interesting survey conducted in the Sultanate of Oman revealed that the environmental awareness of the Omani public was related to education level but also to gender and age. Males were found to have a higher level of knowledge about environmental issues than females. Males were also more environmentally concerned and tended to engage in more environmental behaviors than females. Younger and more educated respondents tended to be more knowledgeable and concerned about the environment than older and less educated respondents.
Another challenge that countries such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar are faced with, is trying to reduce their consumption patterns. Even though awareness levels seem to be higher than in other countries, these nations are notorious for their unsustainable consumption rates. For instance, KSA and the UAE’s water consumption have reached 265 and 550 liters per capita per day respectively, which significantly exceeds the world’s average.
Participation of Emirati Youth
Educating the UAE youth and preparing them to lead the country’s sustainable future is the first goal in the UAE national environmental awareness strategy and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment encourages the youth to innovate and be part of global environmental efforts.
Recently the UAE has taken a major step including environmental education in all schools: back in November Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, announced that awareness of climate change and how to help save the environment will be taught in classrooms across the country.
Under plans to tweak schools’ curriculum to include learning on sustainability, schoolchildren will also be shown how to take energy-saving measures. These include schoolchildren of all ages, including in private sector schools, learning the importance of turning off lights and air-conditioning when not in use, and how to use less water. Each pupil will also be encouraged to spread the message to their family and friends. One of these initiatives, called Sustainable Schools, is an extension of a program that started in Abu Dhabi in 2009.
As a consequence to all these efforts taken by the government, I observed an increase in the numbers of UAE nationals volunteers participating in our programs: we’ve usually had a majority of Indians and Europeans taking part in our tree planting events or in the anti-pollution awareness drives, but lately large groups of young Emiratis have come forward to participate actively in all our programs and we continue to receive many emails asking to become long term volunteers. This is one of the biggest achievements we could wish for the UAE.