A simple but powerful kindergarten experiment in biodegradability is just one of the innovative ways schools in Lithuania are embracing sustainability.
The Lithuanian Children and Youth Centre's Sustainable Schools' programme began in 2013 to promote and create awareness about sustainable development through developing school communities that are better able to manage and develop their own resources. The programme was among nominees for the 2018 UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), part of UNESCO's wider work on ESD.
The Lithuanian programme, based in Vilnius, works through the formation of Green Teams of ten people in educational establishments which can include everyone from teachers, students and parents to administrative staff. So far, 139 educational institutions ranging from kindergarten to non-formal settings have signed up to the programme to learn how to improve the quality of life for future generations.
Project Manager Lina Blazeviciute said: 'Five years ago the programme started at a very simple level with a website where schools could sign on to evaluate their eco footprint’.
'The first schools started with sustainability ideas like stickers reminding everyone to switch off lights and turn off taps. Now those same schools have moved on to more complex projects such as food gardens and sustainable mobility. For example, last year a school wanted to encourage children to cycle to school. Instead of holding a one-off event they took the children and conducted a careful study of the areas surrounding the school identifying traffic hazards and where bike lanes were needed. They submitted the results to the municipality who made improvements leading to more bike use.'
Each school starts the programme with a themed conference with sustainability experts invited and in addition there are two or three training sessions a year for teachers and liaison with universities to keep abreast of research. Participating schools draw up a plan at the start of the academic year, which is submitted, to the programme, which advises, on its content and structure.
At the end of the year a report is written showing what has been achieved and the number of participants engaged. Schools are awarded points culminating in an award ceremony where Green, Silver and Gold medals are handed out for achievement.
Innovation fills the funding gap
'There are many really innovative ideas,' said Lina. In one experiment with very young children at a kindergarten, they buried an apple core and a sweet wrapper and left them for several weeks returning to find the core had completely disappeared, but the sweet wrapper was still intact giving a simple but valuable lesson in biodegradability.
Other schools have started their own food and herb gardens after workshops on building greenhouses and growing vegetables and produce their own juices and healthy breakfasts.
'We are always looking for ways to engage children and make the topics fun and interesting. and here is where we really rely on teachers to do a great job,' said Lina. 'For that reason, we are very interested in new methodologies on to talk about sustainability to children’.
Making sustainability the norm
Introducing children to the biodiversity, which exists outside their classrooms or houses, is also part of the programme.
'We urge teachers even in urban schools to take children out and get them to discover the richness of their own environment, how many different trees, or insects or animals there might be,' said Lina. The programme also organizes structured biodiversity hikes in natural parts which can attract several thousand participants.
The ultimate aim of the programme is simple.
'The next step for us is to ensure that sustainable schools receive proper political attention. We would like that sustainability became the norm rather than the exception. Our government already uses the concept of a 'good school'. Now we want one of the criteria for becoming a good school to be sustainability. We also want to strengthen our international partnerships so that we can share our experiences,' said Lina.