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.
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.