In this section

Find an IB World School

The IB in

Opinions - A planet for tomorrow

The IB community shares its views on teaching environmental issues and sustainability – it isn’t all about students planting trees, but every little helps…

A planet for tomorrow

A broad scope for inquiry

Jane Whittle, PYP teacher, The Bilingual European School, Milan, Italy

When we think about sustainability, it is easy to consider the ‘doom and gloom’ issues. Teachers may shy away from the subject, not wanting to scare students or provide them with a bleak outlook on the world. From teaching a range of inquiries based on sustainability, I have found it to be much more than dictating to students about issues such as global warming.

Sustainability can be introduced using small-scale activities that promote citizenship, and students taking action within the school community. I think it is important for students to recognize the value they have to ask questions and make change. For example, waste and recycling could be addressed in terms of litter in the playground. Students could make a map of the areas where rubbish is found (pictured above) and discuss whether action needs to be taken in terms of moving bins. In reflecting, students could think about the positive impact on the world if all schools took action, linking to attributes of the Learner Profile and the attitudes of the PYP.

PYP is a programme dedicated to enagaging students in inquiry. The issue of sustainable futures provides opportunities for real and pertinent inquiry within the context of any school.

Sustainability projects have such a broad scope in terms of development of knowledge, from local community work to
a discussion of how action is taken in the global community – such as the role of the United Nations. There is also a wealth of websites discussing issues in interactive ways, a particular favourite being www.suschool.org.uk, an inquiry-based site.

PYP is a programme dedicated to enagaging students in inquiry. The issue of sustainable futures provides opportunities for real and pertinent inquiry within the context of any school. Involving the school community in sustainability work can promote an exciting message that being environmentally aware enhances our international-mindedness.


Working together as one

Ian Lavender, Principal, Windermere St Anne’s, Cumbria, UK

Humankind is as varied as the environment we occupy, but our gift, and perhaps our curse, is the power to corrupt the environment which defines who we are. This is why man’s communion with the environment must be central to education. Education must help create a sustainable world.

At Windermere St. Anne’s, we are located in a world-famous national park, surrounded by trees, mountains, lakes and wildlife. But the sustainability of this park depends on the climate that gives it life. The farmer of old could control his land by building terraces and fertilizing with manure. With good fortune, planning and patience, he could dig the same land for generations. But today, humankind can change the weather upon that land. Our responsibility is to preserve it and tip it back towards greater sustainability.

We want school leavers to take with them not only the confidence to carry on learning, but also the desire to turn ideas into action.

For our part, we’ve built three pod classrooms out of English Chestnut shingles. They stand on stilts and are insulated with wool. The wooden decking is, in fact, a composite of recycled plastic and sawdust. In environment science, we are developing wetlands and building badger hides. And we work with the Cumbria Wildlife Trust and the British Woodland Trust, learning to preserve ancient trees. By taking students out into the environment, they see first hand the importance of conservation.

Education is about sharing: linguistic differences dissolve when people do things together. Environmental issues, businesses – even families – can span countries, but service to others cements communities and binds humanity.

So cooperation is central to preserving a sustainable world, and learning how to turn ideas into action is essential for sustaining a lifetime of contribution.

We want school leavers to take with them not only the confidence to carry on learning, but also the desire to turn ideas into action. We want them to be inspired to help make a more sustainable and peaceful world.


Let them get hands on

Jennifer Yang, Teacher librarian, Southbank International School, London, UK

Imagine this: the sounds of delighted children running around in the rain to find different colours and smells in their playground; the sight of students digging soil and sawing wood. These were the scenes that greeted visitors to Southbank International School in London, during a visit by Gyles Morris from Naturesbase, a sustainable educational consultancy.

For years, students were only able to look at the playground’s planted areas, and out-of-bounds places were numerous. Now, with the children’s ideas, nearly every part of the playground is accessible. The major stakeholders of school grounds should be involved in their development. Children need to appreciate nature in order to want to preserve it. Nowadays, they rarely lie in the grass, get muddy, or feel at one with nature.

The responsibility for looking after our planet is all ours, and it’s something that is worth working at.

Too often we hear adults telling kids “Don’t go out in the rain” and “Don’t get dirty”. What’s wrong with getting mud under your fingernails or wet feet kicking up piles of leaves? Without this exploration of nature, how can children understand the importance of taking care of the environment?

The children delighted in seeing their hard work come to fruition in our first project to develop the playground. They’re now using their outdoor classroom, relaxing in their sheltered sound garden and looking forward to building a raised pond and a bug hotel to attract an array of minibeasts. All this in a central London location with limited outdoor space.

It’s great when plans turn to action, and to see the whole community involved is inspiring. The responsibility for looking after our planet is all ours, and it’s something that is worth working at.


Opening eyes and minds

Mike Price, Deputy head of college, United World College of South East Asia, Singapore

Scientific methods struggle to give us incontrovertible evidence of climate change. The problem is timescale. The scientific method is not designed to work with such long-term events. As a believer in anthropogenic climate change, I am delighted that the media now make news stories by linking any catastrophic weather event to climate change. As a scientist, I am skeptical of links made to individual storms, heat waves, floods or droughts. An increase in the number or severity of these weather events may be predicted by some climate models, but this is not the same as saying that every one is a symptom of global warming.

How can we predict climatic conditions – past and present? Mathematical modeling of the atmosphere throws up a range of scenarios, dependent not only on the variable inputs of human activities, but also the different algorithms operating within the models. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has opted for average predictions of the future. This is not untypical of a school science experiment, but is this approach side-stepping the issue of determining which model is likely to be least wrong?

ToK provides a significant extra opportunity to analyse whether we can really know if we are in a period of global warming and whether we can justify responding to the prevailing fears or not.

The 17th-century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal and the economist Nicholas Stern reach an interesting coincidence of rationales which can help the non-believer. Both put forward arguments that the consequences of being a non-believer in the event of a belief being true – that God exists or that anthropogenic climate change is real – are more ‘costly’ than being a believer in the event that the belief is untrue (there is no heaven, or hell!) Getting it right would be best, but being covered against a hot and miserable outcome is a good second place.

At UWC SEA, we like to challenge our students with intractable issues. Climate change is perfect for this, so we include it in our annual Theory of Knowledge (ToK) focus week for IB Diploma Programme students. To my mind, this
is the essential culmination of our students’ environmental education. They have studied alternative energies, population growth and resource issues in earlier grades and may have been involved in clearing litter from beaches or planting trees, or chosen to join a student-led global concerns action group. ToK provides a significant extra opportunity to analyse whether we can really know if we are in a period of global warming and whether we can justify responding to the prevailing fears or not.