Sarwat Nasir :
There are schools in Dubai that have placed sustainability as part of the students' core curriculum. The UAE has a strong focus on reducing its emissions significantly.
In a world where many people still believe that climate change is just a conspiracy theory, how do we ensure that our youngsters become more environmentally conscious and responsible?
Currently, more than 150 countries are attempting to make ambitious emission reductions as part of an international treaty - the Paris Agreement - which they have signed to be a part of. The mission is to keep the global temperature well below two degrees Celsius. If we fail, it can create "catastrophic events" on this planet, according to the United Nations, including extreme heat on Earth; the disappearance of coral reefs; and the rise of sea levels that will likely sink small island nations.
So, how can our educational institutions prepare young students to go green and protect their home planet?
A teacher at Sharjah Indian School, Latha Narasimhan, believes getting students more involved in eco-friendly-related clubs, workshops and competitions can help encourage pupils to turn green projects into a lifestyle, rather than an assignment or a chore.
"Making them conscious of their everyday habits to conserve energy and protect the environment with their little acts can go a long way in teaching them to value the earth they live in.
"Reducing lunch waste, reducing litter in and around the classroom, reducing the use of paper, taking print-outs only when necessary, turning the fans and lights off when not in use, growing at least one plant and such easy measures can be undertaken," she said.
"The mindset to be a part of the environment starts with a development of love for nature, therefore opportunities to spend time with nature needs to be provided by the school apart from visits to museums and amusement parks. Spontaneous involvement works better in the long run and it should not be merely for competition or an award-winning exercise," Narasimhan said.
The UAE has a strong focus on reducing its emissions significantly. The upcoming Expo 2020 in Dubai identified sustainability as one of its three sub-themes, showcasing sustainable living that can be created and adopted by people worldwide. Dubai has an entire residential area called 'The Sustainable City', designed in a way that ensures all tenants are living an environmentally responsible lifestyle - all the way from using recycled water, using solar panels, and growing their own food.
As for the education sector, there are schools in Dubai that have placed sustainability as part of the students' core curriculum. The Fairgreen International School - located in The Sustainable City - is one of them.
Fairgreen's campus has been designed to minimise the school's environmental impact, utilising solar power for all its energy needs, recycling all its water for agricultural use, and implementing waste segregation and wind energy generation.
Walid Abushakra, chairman of Esol Education - the organisation behind Fairgreen, had said: "From the campus and architecture to the curriculum and activities, the entire school will adhere to a 'sustainability first' ethos. Our graduates will understand the urgency and importance of sustainable living, which will guide their academic and career choices. They will be pioneers of renewable energy research and urban agriculture, eco-entrepreneurs, and public policy change-makers."
Pupils call on peers to join eco-friendly campaigns
UAE students are calling on their peers to get more involved in clean-up campaigns, planting initiatives, recycling drives, and other eco-friendly projects.
A student at The Winchester School in Jebel Ali, Mir Faraz, said he has had the "proper guidance" from the adults around him, which is why he continues to carry on an environmentally conscious lifestyle.
"Having been a dedicated environmentalist since the age of three, I attribute my love of the planet to the fact that my parents have always encouraged my sister and me to be environmentally responsible. At a very young age, we were enrolled as members of Emirates Environmental Group that helped us learn a lot as well as engage in initiatives like recycling campaigns and clean-up drives," Faraz said.
"At home, I've always seen recyclable materials being segregated from general waste. I've been taught to conserve electricity and water. My school has also played a big part in helping me engage in environmental initiatives. Proper guidance and encouragement play a big role in making students realise that sustainability is indeed a way of life.
"I believe that the key to getting students involved in environmental issues lies in the five 'Es' - educate, enlighten, encourage, empower, and engage. It is the awareness and knowledge of the threats our planet is facing that will make young students realise that extra efforts need to be made to protect the environment. At the same time, it is important that they are made to understand that taking care of the planet is the responsibility of every individual who inhabits it."
Aryan Muralidharan, a student at The Millennium School in Dubai, said a "green attitude" is essential for youngsters to be inspired to take action towards helping fight climate change. He believes students can start creating change by implementing initiatives in schools, which can get other pupils involved as well.
"Conserving energy and giving back to Mother Earth is the need of the hour. It is extremely important that students are made aware of this need. This can be done through a variety of methods. Students can be encouraged to be a part of clean-ups and tree-planting activities. Active participation in such events fosters the spirit of giving back to the earth among the youth," Muralidharan said.
"Apart from this, assemblies and poster-making contests about energy conservation can be conducted. The phrase 'Green Attitude to Green Action' is quite relevant in this context. Students should be encouraged to follow a hands-on approach by giving them opportunities to be part of activities like gardening and 'recyclathons'. They should be encouraged to keep their own garden as well. Adopting these measures can create green warriors of the future."
Youth must be included in discussions on environment
Our earth is dying slowly day by day. It scares me to read the damage we are doing to our beloved earth. Seeing beautiful animals go extinct due to their habitat being invaded is devastating. We in the 21st generation will suffer if we don't do something about it now. Schools should focus on engaging students in earth-friendly, sustainable projects and connecting these topics with all the core subjects taught in class. Environmental awareness should be taught under three main headings, namely natural resources and environmental revitalisation, hazardous waste substance prevention, and resource management in the community. More emphasis should be placed on research-based learning on areas related to natural resources and environment, enabling students to understand the concepts of quality of life, economy and society.
Industrialisation, urbanisation, and technological advancement are crucial, so as to enhance the quality of life on earth. However, this has taken a toll on the environment. Students should be taught about the interdependence of existence, e.g. bees and pollination, vegetation cover and rain, etc. In my school, birthdays are celebrated by planting a tree or a flower. If this practice is carried out worldwide, imagine the number of trees that would be planted in a day.
Schools should organise an 'ecosystem pen pals' programme as a way to connect students globally, allowing them to exchange best practices. A lot of campaigns that are connected with all aspects of the environment, if conducted on a regular basis, lead to positive outcomes that change the youth's outlook and behaviour.
Students should be given opportunities to get involved and participate in environmental summits and become part of discussions to make better visible changes. We are the future, involve us, and let us be part of the change.
As Margaret Mead had said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." No matter how small the change one makes towards making the Earth a better place, it is better than doing nothing at all.
The many ways young students go green
>Reducing lunch waste
>Keeping the classroom and the school's surroundings clean
>Cutting down on the use of paper
>Printing out files only when necessary
>Turning fans and lights off when not in use
>Growing at least one plant in school or at home
>Going on nature trips with the class and the school
>Participating in eco-friendly drives like clean-ups
>Making recycling and waste segregation a habit
>Joining awareness initiatives like poster-making and workshops
>Signing up for a club that focuses on protecting the environment
Raising eco-conscious kids
If changing weather conditions, intensifying heatwaves, rising temperatures globally do not convince the sceptics of climate change, no scientific report will. Our mindless consumption and disposal of waste has a bearing on our planet. But with new thinking, our ability to initiate change through our children, we might be able to correct the course and prevent our downfall. Parents and teachers should lead the change and help raise children that are more sensitive to our environment than our generation is.