Teachers in Wales trained to bring Eco-Schools into primary education

The concept of Eco-Schools is flourishing in Cardiff. How does a pupil-led project inspire children to fight for climate change?

Eco-Schools has become a prevalent movement in Wales. Image source: Keep Wales Tidy

Around 75 teachers from 30 different schools in Wales will learn how to educate pupils about environmental protection in a new Eco-Schools training course.

The scheme expected to take place at the end of February aims to help local schools to form Eco-Committees run by children and integrate environmental issues into curriculums.

“The way we teach Eco-Schools is not looking at a PowerPoint document through literature. It’s really getting children involved from activities of recycling things to science programs,” said Nia Lloyd​, the spokesperson for Keep Wales Tidy, the charity that has launched the training course every year since 2014.

This year it will start from 26th February to 12th March, providing new practical know-how for teachers to run Eco-Schools as the Welsh government announced in January a new curriculum for primary and secondary schools is due to be implemented in 2022.

Ms Lloyd said the training “would include some practical activities for the coordinators and teachers to go through and also a Q&A and a support session”.

The core values in Eco-Schools is to make children learn from doing meaningful outdoor activities. Image source: Keep Wales Tidy

While climate emergency has been declared by thousands of scientists at the end of last year, serious wildlife declines and predictive deterioration of environmental changes are now confronting Wales.

According to the State of Nature report in 2019, the biodiversity of wildlife in Wales has dramatically decreased with over 70 species already extinct and one in six endangered.

A projection funded by Nestpick also shows that by 2050, Cardiff is estimated to be the sixth most affected place due to global warming, compared with other 85 cities in the world. The potential impacts include sharp rises in temperature and sea level.

“It’s definitely the youth that leads to change and environmental matters. We’ve seen like Greta Thunberg and the global strikes. It’s their future. They need to understand what changes they can do now,” Ms Lloyd said.

“But also think about what kind of world we will be living in and how we can make it better when they’re adults.”

Environmental education tends to empower the next generation to build up a better relationship with nature.

Mary Colwell, a writer professional in nature and species conservation, points out that environmental education is a vital action to respond to the climate crisis.

She has been campaigning for a new GCSE in natural history since 2017, saying that children nowadays spend most of their time indoors and become less related to the natural world, which leads to an unprecedented gap between nature and human beings.

“The relationship between us and the planet is not just a matter of being told facts, it has to be a strong emotional connection too, and I hope the GCSE in Natural History will show that is possible.”

She added that simply encouraging people to take action is not enough, instead, fully understanding other life forms and how fascinating they are can intrigue students to care for the environment genuinely.

She believes it is time to put the environment back into education as the main subject and said the Eco-Schools programme is a great project which should be continued and run successfully.

In the digital age, children and teenagers spend far more time staying indoors, lacking the connection to nature.

Eco-schools, a worldwide programme designed to build up environmental education, is currently introduced in over 60 countries and first carried out in Wales by Keep Wales Tidy in 1995.

The number of schools taking part in the programme has increased over the past years. Until now, Ms Lloyd said over 90% of schools in Wales are Eco-Schools.

The project funded by the Welsh government has seven steps beginning with encouraging pupils to set up a committee and organise action plans to improve the school environment.

“Committee will be a handful group or it can be as big as the school wants of pupils that are involved and also responsible for what they’ll be looking at as an Eco-Committee. So, that’s a pupil-led decision. It doesn’t come from teachers,” said Ms Lloyd.

She also added, “And then they produce an Eco-code. It could be like a code of conduct where they turn off the lights every day, they don’t use any single plastics, they bring in their lunches, and stuff like that.”

The example of how a pupil applies for joining the Eco-committee.
Image source: Keep Wales Tidy

The eco-code should be published afterwards and students in the whole school need to follow the rule.

Then in the next few steps, committee groups will work with other pupils and teachers to report and monitor the result including positive impacts and insufficient progress.

“That’s how pupils can get involved, even if they’re not in the Eco-Committee as well,” Ms Lloyd said.

Teachers will also bring eco-friendly activities from outdoor into the classroom, delivering topics like litter picking, waste minimisation, energy-saving and so on.

Almost every class can be linked to environmental issues and make pupils aware of the context of climate change.

“Recently, they looked at how many air-miles it took for a banana to get to somewhere… Buying local groceries is understanding the environmental impacts of food in a way that students probably didn’t understand,” Ms Lloys said.

Pupils are encouraged to make their decisions and come up with new ideas on how to improve the school environment.

After running through the Eco-Schools process, schools can apply for certain awards ranging from the bronze, green flag, and platinum, which symbolize the achievement of making positive changes in the environment.

Many schools in Cardiff have reached platinum award, which is the top-level, based on years of engagement in running the project.

Dozens of teachers have given positive feedback to Keep Wales Tidy, saying students became proactive to create plans to improve environmental problems and keen on achieving the goal.

Some schools have undergone the transformation from not caring about recycling into not only establishing a complete recycling system but also attempting to reduce waste.

Ms Lloyd said some changes might be small but “when pupils go into schools, they understand how to recycle things. They will take these positive messages home. So it’s just making sure that those ideas can trickle to the families and wider communities”.

Further information, visit Keep Wales Tidy and its training course page.