GREEN TALK IN THE CLASS­ROOM

Qatar To­day speaks to the win­ners of the last Green Pro­gramme for Schools win­ners about their suc­cess in spread­ing the green mes­sage among their stu­dents.

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Qatar To­day speaks to the last Green Pro­gramme for Schools win­ners about their suc­cess in spread­ing the green mes­sage among their stu­dents.

Qatar's past and present en­vi­ron­men­tal record needs some se­ri­ous off­set­ting. You wouldn't think that a desert state would lead the world in per capita con­sump­tion of wa­ter. But it does. Qatar res­i­dents con­sume al­most three times as much wa­ter as the global av­er­age. Our elec­tric­ity us­age is noth­ing to write home about ei­ther. While we should not give up on try­ing to change our habits, it's the younger gen­er­a­tion we should fo­cus on, to make sure they don't de­velop waste­ful ways in the first place. How do we teach these im­por­tant lessons with- out bor­ing the kids? By not teach­ing it at all and in­stead mak­ing prac­tices like turn­ing off the lights and us­ing less wa­ter part of their sub­con­scious, ev­ery­day ac­tions: to mak­ing them the am­bas­sadors of the a green move­ment.

This was the thought be­hind Qatar To­day's city­wide ini­tia­tive, Green Pro­gramme for Schools, that in its first year saw par­tic­i­pa­tion from 26 schools in Doha. From pro­vid­ing colour­ful and en­gag­ing sig­nage to be used around the school re­mind­ing chil­dren to switch off the lights when they are leav­ing a class­room or telling them how waste­ful it is to leave the tap run­ning for long and cre­at­ing a team of stu­dents and teach­ers in each school who can find in­no­va­tive ways to pre­serve and con­serve, re­cy­cle and re­use, the pro­gramme aims to make en­vi­ron­men­tally-con­scious thought and ac­tion sec­ond-na­ture to stu­dents.

Af­ter a year of mon­i­tor­ing the schools' ac­tiv­i­ties and con­sump­tion lev­els, the best per­form­ing ones were hon­oured for their com­mit­ment, con­sis­tency and fresh-think­ing on Novem­ber 6, 2012 at Hafsa In­de­pen­dent School. The schools that were recog­nised that day were Al Shaima Girls In­de­pen­dent School which won the GPS ‘Eco- School of the Year' award; Doha Mod­ern In­dian School for ‘Best Stu­dent Par­tic­i­pa­tion'; and Ali Bin Taleb In­de­pen­dent School for Best In­no­va­tion.

It was re­veal­ing to catch up on these in­sti­tu­tions sev­eral months down the line to

see how they have been get­ting on since the awards.

Khalil Maalla has been part of GPS from its early days and school psy­chol­o­gist Ehab Tantawy has been the co­or­di­na­tor for Ali Bin Taleb's en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties from even be­fore that. “Through GPS we saw the op­por­tu­nity to talk to our stu­dents about im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges like global warm­ing and ways to ad­dress them. We wanted the chil­dren to do their part in keep­ing the school, the city and the coun­try as clean and green as pos­si­ble and this would be our gift to the so­ci­ety,” Maalla says when asked about the school's mo­ti­va­tion to be part of the pro­gramme. Their GPS team has been work­ing dili­gently on a small as­sorted col­lec­tion of pot­ted plants at the en­trance of the school which re­ally helps the fa­cade stand out and some­how makes the sear­ingly hot days seem a tad cooler. Tantawy says they have big plans for that space –in the next aca­demic year the con­crete will be gone and his team is go­ing to be con­vert­ing the whole space into a lush green sanc­tu­ary. A truly re­mark­able ini­tia­tive is the large reser­voir strate­gi­cally placed at the exit. “We en­cour­age our stu­dents to pour the wa­ter left­over in their bot­tles into this when they are leav­ing the premises at the end of the day. It is then used to wa­ter the plants,” Tantawy says. He is in­or­di­nately proud of it and though it might not seem like much at first, it is a first step to­wards en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness and ac­tion.

Like when you walk into another win­ning in­de­pen­dent school, Al Shaima; it gives you a strange feel­ing, the eerie sim­i­lar­i­ties of all the schools' lay­outs, down to the last light bulb. It's like that The Simp­sons episode when Lisa walks into West Spring­field Ele­men­tary School in­stead of her own and doesn't re­alise it be­cause all the floor plans of the district schools are the same. But once you get past that ini­tial im­pres­sion the lit­tle de­tails start to emerge. The walls and no­tice boards are over-flow­ing with art­work and lit­tle nuggets of thoughts – a sur­pris­ing num­ber of them con­cern­ing the en­vi­ron­ment. You don't need to see the large bin­der de­tail­ing the school's en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties that so­cial ser­vices co­or­di­na­tor Maha Ghanim Al Kuwari hands over to see how se­ri­ously the school takes its en­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paigns. And if any­thing will con­vince you that in­for­ma­tion over­load is not the way to "guide chil­dren to move from the­ory to prac­tice and achieve re­sults", it's Al Shaima's creative meth­ods of help­ing stu­dents see util­ity in things we per­ceive as waste. The art room, though now locked up on ac­count of ex­ams, is where rub­bish is given a new lease of life and re­born as things of beauty – trees made out of spare toi­let pa­per and in­ter­est­ing dec­o­ra­tive pieces cre­ated us­ing colour­ful plas­tic bot­tle caps. It's ac­tiv­i­ties like these that en­sure that the peo­ple you are at­tempt­ing to con­verse with are talk­ing back.

It's not for noth­ing that Doha Mod­ern In­dian School was recog­nised for its stu­dents' par­tic­i­pa­tion: the level of in­volve­ment is heart­en­ing. So­cial science teacher and head of the en­vi­ron­men­tal club Bi­noy Mathew can spend hours talk­ing about the work they are do­ing through the club and the GPS team. “Last year we col­lected old used note­books for re­cy­cling and re­use. The aware­ness posters have been put up across the school and even on the buses. We cre­ated and are man­ag­ing a Face­book group – Go Green – through which we try to have mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tions about the en­vi­ron­ment with the stu­dents. Even within the school we try to keep aware­ness lev­els up with events cen­tred around Earth Day and World En­vi­ron­ment Day, both of which we cel­e­brated re­cently,” he says. And the ef­fects are amaz­ing, ac­cord­ing to the prin- cipal Mad­hukar Jha. “There is a tremen­dous dif­fer­ence in our con­sump­tion lev­els. And we per­son­ally see stu­dents tak­ing a con­scious ef­fort to turn the lights off when no one is around and to re­port leaky taps. The self-aware­ness and com­mit­ment lev­els have gone up. In fact, last year the stu­dents sug­gested a clean-up of the Wakra beach and when we ar­ranged it there was en­thu­si­as­tic par­tic­i­pa­tion,” he says.

At Ali Bin Taleb as well, the stu­dent com­pe­ti­tions, morn­ing broad­casts and as­sorted ac­tiv­i­ties have re­sulted in tan­gi­ble dif­fer­ences be­tween what they were pay­ing for wa­ter and elec­tric­ity a few years ago and what they are pay­ing now. Not only that, it has spurred the stu­dent com­mu­nity to work on in­no­va­tive ways to ad­dress some of the press­ing is­sues of the day. Tantawy, who also is the co­or­di­na­tor for re­search ac­tiv­i­ties at the school, was ex­tremely happy about the work the stu­dents put into de­vel­op­ing two thought­ful projects on evap­o­ra­tive cool­ing and wa­ter con­ser­va­tion. In fact, it has en­cour­aged them to work on a new project the com­ing year – one that will mea­sure the amount of wa­ter that is be­ing wasted in in­de­pen­dent school across the city.

Al Shaima is look­ing for­ward to another year of work­shops, com­pe­ti­tions like Young In­ven­tor which en­cour­ages stu­dents to come up with en­ergy and wa­ter con­ser­a­va­tions ideas, distillation wa­ter­ing of plants with re­cy­cled and reused wa­ter and, most im­por­tantly, col­lab­o­rat­ing with other par­tic­i­pat­ing schools to work on com­bined projects, ac­cord­ing to Al Kuwari.

DMIS too has am­bi­tious plans. The stu­dents who were pre­vi­ously in the GPS team have moved on so now a new com­mit­tee is be­ing formed with an em­pha­sis on cre­at­ing more aware­ness. “We want to cre­ate a veg­etable gar­den, use dif­fer­ent bins for waste seg­re­ga­tion, dis­cour­age the use of plas­tic bags on the cam­pus and con­stantly re­mind stu­dents to not take print­outs un­less they have to,” Mathew says. Jha is keen for the com­mu­ni­ca­tion to make its way from the class­room to the home. “This year's agenda is to reach out to the par­ents,” he says. “A sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of note­books are wasted at the end of each year and we have to help par­ents un­der­stand that though they want the best for their kids, they should set an ex­am­ple by reusing the blank pages. So many thou­sands of plas­tic bags are used in the su­per­mar­kets each day. Par­ents can in­cul­cate sen­si­tiv­ity to­wards na­ture in their chil­dren by sim­ple ac­tions like car­ry­ing re­us­able bags when they go shop­ping. This is how we can build the cul­ture of con­ser­va­tion from the grass­root lev­els.”

The schools also sug­gest the Supreme Ed­u­ca­tion Coun­cil do more to en­cour­age en­vi­ron­men­tally-sound be­hav­iour in stu­dents. There are so many in­no­va­tive ways to in­stil ac­count­abil­ity and pride in chil­dren while mak­ing it fun for them as well, Jha says. “For ex­am­ple, if each child were given a sapling to adopt, nur­ture to and record its progress, with the best ef­forts be­ing awarded by the au­thor­i­ties, imag­ine the in­ter­est and en­thu­si­asm it could gen­er­ate. Just one school would be able to plant more trees than any mu­nic­i­pal­ity ever could!”

The sec­ond edi­tion of Green Pro­gramme for Schools will be an­nounced soon. Check out the Green Pro­gramme for Schools, Face­book page and show your com­mit­ment to the green move­ment

The GPS team fa­cil­i­tated at DMIS

Ali Bin Taleb School's ex­pand­ing green cover

Al Shaima School turns waste into works of art

Stu­dents present their year's work at the Green Pro­gramme of Schools fa­cil­i­ta­tion cer­e­mony.

Stick­ers, posters and sug­ges­tion boxes from GPS serve to keep the evi­ron­ment on top of stu­dents' mind.

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