A school programme that keeps growing

2010-02-25 00:00

SOLAR cookers; vegetable gardens; healthy tuckshops; water tanks. These are just some of the concepts embraced by schools that are participating in the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Eco-Schools Programme.

Now in its seventh year, the programme has become a valuable curriculum framework for schools to work towards sustainable development goals. Since it was launched in South Africa in 2003, the number of schools that are participating has increased from 56 to 1 030 last year. Of these more than half have been working with the programme for two or more years, which is ultimately one of the core aims: ensuring that efforts for better environmental learning and action are sustained and that they become part of how schools are managed.

Among the 633 schools that were awarded an eco-schools award for their efforts in 2009,  another 28 schools were awarded their international eco-schools flag for sustaining and developing their environmental projects for five years. What is particularly noteworthy is the range of schools that have earned this prestigious award, from under-resourced rural­ schools such as Hawkstone Primary­ in Karkloof Valley to more well-resourced town-based schools such as Ashley Primary in Pinetown, thus demonstrating the flexibility of the programme.

When schools register with the programme they commit to improving environmental learning and action through the curriculum. Relevant themes are chosen by the pupils and teachers, lesson plans are developed and school improvement plans and records of their progress are collected in a portfolio. Schools may keep their award for a year, after which another portfolio is submitted and assessed.

Ixopo Primary is one of the schools to have achieved international flag status for 2009.

A proud B. H. Mdluli, the Department of Education circuit manager of Sisonke­, said: “Ixopo Primary­ is the hope and success we should be acknowledging especially in light of the poor matric results that our district has reflected. The eco-schools programme has shown that it is able to mobilise schools to become the voice of the environment while ensuring good curriculum-based learning. We would love to see schools all over the district and country taking up the eco-schools challenge.”

Over the past five years, Ixopo’s eco-schools projects have focused on issues including establishing an indigenous garden and wetland; recycling and reusing as much of their school and home waste as possible, installing water tanks and being active in reducing water use and waste; building and designing solar cookers; introducing a healthy tuck shop that is devoid of junk food; and helping the community by providing home-grown vegetables to those in need.

Ncotshane Primary in Pongola was awarded its gold award for being in the programme for four years.

Besides addressing its own environmental needs it is also a great support system for the surrounding schools with regards to environmental knowledge, involvement and activities and getting them involved in eco-schools.

One of their teachers, Nombolelo Manana­, said: “At the parents’ evening all the parents thanked us and explained that they are so grateful for the environmental knowledge that their children are gaining at the school and sharing the knowledge at home. A lot of them [families] have started their own vegetable gardens at home.”

Principal Jolene Upton from Ixopo Primary sums up the beauty of the programme: “Eco-schools is part of the curriculum and is really very easy to implement. It’s just a matter of seeing the links. It couldn’t be a more important programme for schools to be part of, especially in light of our current environmental crisis.”

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