Water School for a Living Yangtze


From 2008-2013, 59 primary & secondary schools have been established asWater Schools in 6 key regions from the source of the Yangtze to where it meets the sea, including: Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan, Chongqing, Hubei and Shanghai.

Phase I of the project (Jan.2008-Dec.2010) saw the project established in 5 regions along the Yangtze River basin (Qinghai, Chongqing, Sichuan, Yunnan and Shanghai), where an alternative approach to sustainable water resource education and management was initiated and developed. Through public empowerment and participation, over 60,000 students from 33 schools were directly involved in learning and action, a range of innovative resources were developed and trialled, and the capacity of more than 700 teachers and community educators was built through regular teacher training and experience sharing sessions. Schools, in turn engaged local communities to initiate joint student-community water projects thereby facilitating learning and action in local ecosystems. A linking and learning component gave students opportunities to learn about the experiences of other Waterschool students and the natural and cultural diversity along the Yangtze.

Phase II (Jan.2011-Dec.2013) continued to focus on creating and providing opportunities for schools and communities with the project expanding to another key region of the Yangtze River, Hubei, reaching a total of 59 schools.


To date, nearly 130,000 students and over 200,000 community members have participated in the project. Over 1,100 interactive and innovative water education activities have been carried out, involving a broad range of stakeholders with many activities winning awards at both national and provincial levels. Experiences from the project have been disseminated at a broader level with over 200 media outlets reporting on Water School activities.

Encouraged by the great success of Phase I and II, Swarovski Waterschool China Phase III (2014 – 2018) will extend the scope of the programme to involve more schools and broader communities living in key watersheds across China.


Click on one of the five key areas to learn more:

Water School Project Implementation

Teacher Training Water School Activities Foster & support community action Link at national & international levels Resource Development

Resource Development

Through co-operation with the Ministry of Education China (MOE-NCCT) new educational materials for teachers and students on conservation, water resource management and biodiversity are being developed and will be incorporated into the national curriculum. Materials are interactive, innovative and multidisciplinary, featuring water-education activities that are hands-on and easy to use. Localized components and practical investigations are included so that students use their own environments as the basis for learning.

Beyond this, Shangri-la Institute publishes journal articles, academic papers as well as books detailing cultural and ecological biodiversity of the Yangtze watersheds, and highlighting the success of community driven conservation and development. These publications aim to engage and raise awareness of ESD and water resource management among the broader public in China and beyond.

Classroom Exercises

The Water School curriculum is a powerful means of infusing education for sustainable development (ESD) throughout the compulsory school curriculum. Water related activities can enliven all subjects, provide them with a common focus, and render schooling more relevant to the everyday life of communities.

What is ESD?

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) seeks to achieve sustainable development by empowering people through education to assume responsibility for creating a sustainable future. Based on the premise of ‘learning by doing’, the Water School for a Living Yangtze Programme embeds ESD concepts, principles and methodologies to create opportunities for students to take action, and to promote public participation.

Teacher Training

Teacher Training

Effective teachers and innovative teaching methods are facilitated through continuous capacity building and participatory training for the teachers and community educators involved in the programme. Each year several training workshops will be held across the project regions, engaging a wide range of stakeholders and participants (including staff from nature reserves, members of local communities and representatives from government bodies).

The workshops are important to help teachers develop engaging, hands-on and interactive education methods and to develop the participants’ ability to communicate, exchange and share experiences on management and implementation of the programme.

How do we understand “Experiential Learning”?

The principles of effective teaching and learning that are a necessary part of reorienting education towards a sustainable water future must “fit for purpose”. There are certain teaching and learning strategies that are more suited to teaching water issues than others; indeed, the medium or process of learning is an important part of the message.

Water School Activities

Water School Activities

Interactive and experiential education is emphasised and expanded through the creation of opportunities for students, teachers and communities to be involved in ongoing water quality monitoring of the river and local streams as well as restoring and enhancing its immediate environment.

Lessons and activities are individually designed and tailored to the local cultural and ecological conditions of the school and community; in addition to classroom instruction, the teachers and students work with environmental specialists and local communities to carry out a range of activities.

All activities undertaken by Water Schools contain the following five key elements of action research or social learning:

  • Investigation: students focus on a water-related issue of concern to their community and gather relevant environmental and social data within the watershed using a variety of methods and tools
  • Communication: students exchange data from across the watershed using a variety of media and forums
  • Analysis: students examine collected data to better understand the interaction between their community and the water environment. They identify the interacting structures and processes operating in society and the water environment, and suggest what social changes (technology, laws, regulatory regimes, institutions, beliefs and values, etc) might enable people to live more sustainably with water resources.
  • Action: students create and implement an action plan to resolve the problems they have identified. This should be realistic given their own, the school’s, and the community’s resources.
  • Evaluation: teachers and students reflect on what they have learnt and achieved. They celebrate success and decide how weaknesses/failures might be overcome. They may decide to embark on a further related cycle of social learning.

By the end of such a project, students should see their watershed as both a unique environment and a key element of their daily lives. They should more clearly understand the interactions between ecology and society, and should realize how their actions, now and in the future, affect the quality of life in whatever watershed they make their home. Finally, they will have learned to take responsibility for their learning and to apply that learning to the real world.

Listen to children and ensure their participation. Children and adolescents are resourceful citizens capable of helping to build a better future for all. We must respect their right to express themselves and to participate in all matters affecting them, in accordance with their age and maturity.
Declaration of “A World Fit for Children”, 2002

Foster and Support Community Action

Strong partnerships between Waterschool co-ordination centres, pilot schools and local communities are key in implementing social learning activities that are based on local natural and cultural characteristics. Each of the water schools links with a local community, and under the guidance of teachers, students from Water Schools work with them to investigate and identify local water resource problems.

In addition, community demonstration sites have been developed as a showcase of sustainable water resource management and eco-living, to increase the awareness of community members on water issues. In all community activities, an emphasis is put on linking water education with traditional culture and indigenous knowledge of each region or locality to enrich the educational process.

Examples of community projects planned and implemented by students alongside community members include:


  • Community Wetland Care at Napa Lake;
  • Community River Care in Baimaxueshan Nature Reserve


  • Rivers and Pandas in Mianyang;
  • Reconnecting with Nature and Culture through Water in Dujiangyan


  • Where the Yangtze Meets the Sea, a community coastal co-management project on Chongming Island;
  • Growing up in Cities—a project with urban communities in Shanghai

The River as a Means for Cultural Learning and Exchange

If there is one aspect to living on earth that connects every living organism with its environment, it is “water – our need for, and use of water, in our daily lives.” Water, its quality and quantity, is a subject relevant to all students – any age, anywhere.

Through information exchange and experience sharing, schools and communities participating in the Water School for a Living Yangtze in different watersheds of the river, gained an understanding and appreciation of the many different traditions and cultures of the Yangtze Basin.

Linking & Learning

The Water School for a Living Yangtze provides opportunities for young people living in different parts of the Yangtze River Basin to link their learning with the indigenous knowledge, traditional practice, and belief systems of local and more distant communities. The enhanced understanding and appreciation of their own traditions, increased knowledge of the physical environment of their local watersheds, and the improved skills and rich experiences they acquire through project activities in their communities will enable the students to make a unique contribution to the learning of others in broader communities at national and international levels.

A school community linking and learning project “Children of the Yangtze” has been set up basin-wide together with an exchange project among communities, from different cultural backgrounds, focusing on traditional practices of sustainable water resource management. Through these projects students can share their findings about all aspects of their community and its water use including data on local fresh-water ecology and water resource management. Shared learning can take place electronically through the exchange of information on our website or in person through forums and exchange visits between participants.

A “Children of the Yangtze” Student Congress allows young people participating in the project to share their data and present resolutions for solving problems in the watershed. Community volunteers also participate in or lead discussion groups, teach skills workshops, and serve as resource panelists. The congress provides an opportunity for students to meet and discuss with other students who are involved in water education nationally and internationally.

The learning platform of the Shangri-la Institute for Sustainable Communities, linked to this website, the WS project newsletters, columns in the ‘Tibetan Children’s Newspaper’ and professional journals such as ‘Curriculum Reform in Primary and Secondary Schools’ are also important vehicles for linking and learning. To further facilitate exchange, extensive partnerships are being built to engage stakeholders at national and international levels.

A watershed is more than a physical landscape that is defined by its ridges with one outlet for water to flow. Watersheds support a variety of resources, uses, activities and values, where everything is linked in such a way that eventually all things are affected by everything else in the watershed. Perhaps more importantly, a watershed contains the history of all that went before, and the spirit of all who touched it remains.
George Wingate

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)

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