Recognition of eco-schools04.05.2019 - 13:04 | Christian Possa
Myanmar’s Ministry of Education has adopted the criteria developed by the Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation for Clean&Green Schools on a national scale. In an interview, Programme Representative Brigit Burkard explains why this is so important and what could result from it.
Brigit Burkard, what does this recognition mean?
It’s a huge victory, because it means we can say that we, a small NGO, and not even one from the environmental sector, developed something that will be adopted across the country. We had this goal up on our wall planner in Trogen for over a year and now it’s suddenly happening.
Why is this so important?
We’ve been working together with the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry since 2016. We drew up an agreement with them stipulating various requirements that we need to meet: for example, a survey examining the environmental situation of the schools in our project region. Do they have clean water? Is there a waste management system in place? Do they have energy-efficient stoves, etc.? The statement also specifies that we are developing five model eco-schools. Within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Myanmar has pledged to develop eco-schools, but has no relevant experience in this area. As we are familiar with this issue and the options and opportunities it presents, we seized the chance to get involved. In theory, this recognition from the Ministry of Education could enable each of the estimated 47,000 schools in the country to build its own eco-school using our criteria.
Why don’t we work directly with the Ministry of Education?
Our agreement is only with the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry. Of course, our long-term goal is to work directly with the Ministry of Education, as this would enable us to work with all schools on an official basis. However, this is very difficult to achieve. The government actually requires both ministries to develop the eco-schools collaboratively. We have managed to establish an initial, successful partnership, which is an achievement in itself. And now the Ministry of Education knows who we are. It’s important for them to know how greatly they could benefit from this.
Could we have an impact on whether schools adopt the nationally recognised criteria?
Right now, that still depends on the schools’ headteachers. How motivated are the people in charge? We can invite interested staff to our model schools and show them what a waste management system looks like or how saving firewood works in practice. In other projects, we also use our environmental handbook for teachers.
The handbook was also developed as part of the agreement with theMinistry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry. It’s a teaching aid for lessons on environmental topics. There are five volumes, covering subjects such as water, earth, and air. The first book is quite general, and then the following four build on one another. The books have been recognised by the department for environmental protection and have already been translated into English.
Could this existing knowledge be replicated across different projects or even different countries?
The environment department uses the handbooks to educate its own staff. We also have partner organisations using our handbook in other public school projects. In Laos, we work together with the teaching staff, who have also been tasked with developing green schools. This year, they’ll come to Myanmar to visit our model schools. The governments always have similar restrictions, and there are rarely criteria in place. So we’ll be sure to share our criteria with them. We’ll also show them the handbook, which can be adapted to the context.
Why is environmental education such a major issue in South East Asian countries?
Myanmar, for instance, is regularly battered by tropical cyclones. Entire villages are flooded. At the same time, there are a lot of arid regions where desertification is spreading rapidly. As the country has opened up, a new problem has emerged, of unforeseen proportions: waste. Myanmar doesn’t have a single disposal system in place for plastic or electrical devices, as its inhabitants used to live in close harmony with nature.
How can our model schools help to improve the situation?
There have already been a lot of small-scale changes. In the past, these schools didn’t have any kind of waste management system in place. People just threw plastic away without thinking. Nowadays, there is no longer any plastic lying around. People recycle and make an effort to consume as little as possible. Together with the village community, the school is organised into different groups (vegetation, water, waste).
What does the Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation want to achieve next in Myanmar?
We want to develop national guidelines for eco-schools. That means setting out detailed instructions with precise steps to follow, so that every school that wishes to become an eco-school has clear guidelines on how to go about it.
In the following video, the directors of our model school explain why they’re turning it into a Clean&Green school.