Our entanglement with past structures will not fix the challenges of the future. With the world in a state of flux, we need a rapid evolution of mindsets and action. This cannot happen quickly enough. A new breed of thinkers and doers is needed. ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,’ as Nelson Mandela said.
It is crucial for education to be re-engineered to ensure sustainability for humanity and its only home. A new development in education, the Green School movement, was launched in Bali in 2008.
The movement’s thinking aligns with the UN SDGs and has resulted in four innovative schools across the globe, with one in South Africa. In these schools, pioneering educators aim to address the desperate need to change our current ecophobia to ecophilia – a state of closeness and positive coexistence between human beings and nature. They also aim to enhance critical thinking skills to solve real-world problems. Instead of sporadically entertaining the topic of sustainability, these schools fully incorporate environmental awareness and sustainability into the curriculum and lives of the learners.
Campus buildings are constructed using materials sourced locally. Surrounding grounds are designed to embrace nature. The learners look after vegetable gardens and fruit orchards, thereby participating in producing their own food. Green and renewable energy principles are practised. Green School South Africa contributes energy to the grid and water to the environment, creating a model of sustainability that learners experience first-hand, stimulating critical thinking about the world around them. The result is that eco-friendly values are nurtured and grown – an unceasing Earth Day.
An interdisciplinary approach towards solving real-world problems grows the tenacity in learners to collaboratively address challenges by applying their knowledge and by leaning on one another’s strengths and interests. From time to time, universities and businesses collaborate with learners to help devise solutions to real-world challenges.
This is experiential learning, the kind Elon Musk made use of when developing the world’s first reusable rockets. Musk was prepared for failure and made several colossal mistakes before he and his team finally launched and landed a rocket that could be guided back to earth without burning up in the atmosphere, as NASA rockets had done. His eventual success reignited the mindset of ‘possibility thinking’. In an innovation-driven society, there are no set answers and only through actual trial and error can new solutions to an ever-changing world be created.
In Bali, students became aware of overused cooking oil being dumped in their local environment. Understanding that the consumption of overused cooking oil is also a health risk to people, the high school students initiated a project to address this issue. They collaborated with various organisations such as a local biodiesel plant (Lengis Hijau), Bio Bus (a clean energy company) and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
This resulted in overused cooking oil being repurposed for biofuel, the reduction of carbon emissions, the set-up of a transport business and the creation of a student-coded app to manage their business. Besides producing and selling bio-soap derived from the by-product, glycerine, they exchanged the soap for used cooking oil with the locals, seeding a micro-circular economy.
Sharing the fruit of exploration and discovery with the local and global community establishes socio-emotional connections between the students and others. In line with this benefit, Green School South Africa has conducted extensive research into zero waste systems and shared its efforts and learnings with the local community.
Over and above educating others, Green School South Africa collects waste from surrounding businesses, in particular restaurants, to make recycling of certain waste products viable. It also supports surrounding schools in overcoming various eco-challenges in and around waste management.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) brought out a report in January 2020 titled The Schools of the Future: Defining New Models of Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In this, it was reported that Green School Bali students had worked with the University of Cologne in Germany to build a solar and hydropower system, asking Sunseap in Singapore to further assist with their objective of moving off the grid. Between 2017 and 2018, they implemented seven new renewable energy systems, reducing their environmental footprint by 40%.
Green School is not alone. The Rainforest Alliance, together with Project Learning Tree, has created various nature-based curriculums for schools. Also, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has worked with Ted-Ed to create the Earth School. These are all green shoots extending towards educational shifts that embrace the challenges humanity, earth and climate are experiencing.
The new skills and mindset, fostering reconciliation between humans and nature, will empower this generation with tenacity to act and find solutions without fear.
Nature-based education can create small-scale circular economies to regenerate and repair our socio-economic environment in an impactful manner. To change the future, we need to nurture a new class of change-makers.
Green School South Africa is situated just outside Paarl in the Western Cape and runs open days from time to time.