Introduction to 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 Waterschool China programme embeds ESD concepts, principles and methodologies to create opportunities for students to take action, and to promote public participation.
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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, some of which are to be incorporated into the national curriculum. This includes a Waterschool China National Curriculum and Activity Pack, which is a collection of hands-on multidisciplinary water-related activities for K-12. All 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. Locally adapted components with practical activities are included to encourage students to use their own environments and communities as the basis for learning.
In addition, a range of materials on various water related topics are developed and adapted to meet the needs of diverse target groups and styles of learning, including specific materials for teachers, students, and urban and rural communities. Apart from books developed, 108 columns in the Tibetan Children’s Newspaper have been published which reaches 160,000 students every 20 days, and 36 columns in the Geography Teaching Journal, which is distributed to over 10,000 teachers across China. Beyond this, the programme makes use of the resource materials developed by the Shangri-la Institute including journal articles, academic papers as well as books detailing cultural and ecological biodiversity of China’s watersheds, and highlighting the success of community driven projects. These publications will help further engage project participants and raise awareness of ESD and sustainable water resource management among the broader public in China and beyond.
Learning of innovative teaching methods are facilitated through continuous capacity building and participatory training courses for the teachers and community educators involved in the programme. Each year several training workshops are 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 as well as teachers from water schools).
Teacher training workshops cover a broad range of topics, from initial discussions of project implementation to mid-term assessments of lessons learnt and achievements realised to the final dissemination of experiences. The workshops are important to help teachers develop engaging, hands-on and interactive education methods and to develop the ability to communicate, exchange and share experiences on management and implementation of the programme.
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. Many activities undertaken by water schools include steps of:
• 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 realise 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.
Most of our project schools are located in large communities and nature reserves. As such they are effective at actively engaging community stakeholders, with an average of 3500 people directly involved by each school. Some of the examples include: water quality monitoring, cultural performances and public awareness campaigns, local biodiversity studies and activities promoting preservation of endangered species such as the Giant Panda and Yunnan Golden Monkey.
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.
The Waterschool project has always placed great importance on the facilitation of platforms for learning and exchange at local, regional, national and international levels. Emphasis is placed on creating learning partnerships and platforms that combine learning in formal, non-formal and informal settings, and efforts are made to link learning institutions from the different settings. By creating such platforms change happens at a broader level and the influence of the Waterschool project is expanded.
Waterschools are linked through a ‘sister-school’ initiative, training workshops and regional newsletters, which for the majority of teachers and students provide a means to voice their thoughts and opinions. National events also enhance regional communication between schools, for example the annual participation in the UN’s World Water Day.
An external relations programme to engage media, local authorities and potential partner organisations has been established. Through this programme we aim to impact policy and decision-making processes by increasing participation and voice; this is done by engaging a broad range of regional, national and international stakeholders including: government departments, higher education institutions, businesses, nature reserves, monasteries. In terms of social impact, we work to create social awareness by sharing experiences from the Waterschool programme through CSR events and by participating in international meetings such as the 2009 World ESD Conference in Bonne, 2012 IUCN World Conservation Congress and the World Water Forum. The project has also been reported on several national media platforms including: People’s Daily, Sina News, Chinanews.com, China Education Information Network, People.com.cn, The Chinese Central Government’s Official Web Portal, China Radio International Online and China Development Gateway. Journalists from the “World Trade Organisation Tribune” and “Green Living” have published articles on the project in the Chinese language magazines.
This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)