DUBAI // The race is on for 20 schools who want to be the first to win prestigious Green Flag status.
To qualify for this international symbol for eco-friendly educational institutions, the schools have been given a year to implement the Eco-Schools programme.
As many as 32,156 schools in 47 countries have done so to date.
The programme is spearheaded around the world by the Foundation for Environmental Education and is being introduced here by its local partner, the Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS).
A Green Flag will be awarded after the effective implementation of the seven-step programme, which includes setting up a committee to oversee environmental projects at the school, integrating environment education into the curriculum and working with the community to promote sustainable living.
To achieve these goals, EWS has begun training teachers at 15 public and five private schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, with the support of HSBC.
Amina al Shamsi, the principal of Al Zwra School in Ajman, says they are determined to lower their energy consumption by 60 per cent this year. Staff and pupils will monitor the use of water, electricity and waste output with the help of an Eco-Schools carbon calculator, developed for UAE schools to measure their carbon footprint.
Razan Khalifa al Mubarak, the managing director of EWS-WWF, said the first 20 schools would be prepared for international recognition by her team, along with volunteers from the sponsor HSBC.
"These schools are proactive in addressing environmental issues and many even managed to reduce their electricity and water consumption by 50 per cent last year," she said. "These are good indicators that they are capable and ready."
More than 100 volunteers will be mentoring the staff and pupils twice a month this year to meet the Eco-Schools criteria, said Ajita Nayar, the education and awareness officer. "We will also be linking up local schools with Eco-Schools in other countries," she said.
Sheela Anand, eco-adviser at Our Own English High School in Sharjah, said two of their pupils would be sharing ideas with a school in Ireland by video conference this week.
Some school representatives said they had their work cut out. Amelia Joan Brown is a teacher at Greenwood International School in Dubai, where she heads up the Eco-Schools programme.
"We want to be a Green Flag school but have to start right from scratch to bring about changes within the school," she said. "Recycling and energy conservation is not a common practice with our students, but we will get there," she said confidently.
"Educating children in their formative years will lead to more conscious citizens and spur a spirit of action to find solutions and alternatives," Ms Mubarak said.
HSBC will also be running an eco-code climate competition in which participating schools create posters detailing their school's environment goals. The national winners will compete internationally for a cash prize.
How to get a Green Flag
The Eco-School International Programme was launched in 1994 in response to needs identified at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Schools must complete seven steps to attain Green Flag status:
Step 1: Establish an Eco-Schools committee The committee should include students, staff and community volunteers. They meet at least once every half-term to discuss programmes and progress towards targets.
Step 2: Conduct an environmental review Students gauge the ecological footprint of their school by measuring energy, water and waste consumption.
Step 3: Create an action plan The school develops a project that addresses environmental issues.
Step 4: Monitor the actions and evaluate progress Monitoring takes place to make sure the programme is on track, and the entire school is involved. Projects are reviewed, and non-successful ones are eliminated.
Step 5: Link it to the curriculum Integrate environmental education across all subjects and all grades through activities and case studies.
Step 6: Involve the school and the wider community Schools are expected to work with their communities to achieve results.
Step 7: Publish an Eco-Code By the end of the year, the school should have a mission statement detailing the objectives of their eco-plan