x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Environmental sustainability to enter capital's classrooms

If Reem has a carbon footprint of two tonnes every five months, and Rajesh has a carbon footprint of three tonnes every eight months, who has the bigger footprint, and by how much?

ABU DHABI // If Reem has a carbon footprint of two tonnes every five months, and Rajesh has a carbon footprint of three tonnes every eight months, who has the bigger footprint, and by how much? That is the kind of question that students across Abu Dhabi could soon be solving as part of a five-year agreement between the emirate's education and environmental authorities to integrate lessons on sustainability into the curriculum.

The Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) and the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) yesterday agreed to encourage learning about environmental conservation through special projects and activities, which will be developed jointly by the agencies. "We need to embed it within the curriculum," said Dr Mugheer al Khaili, Adec's director general. "In the English lessons, the Arabic lessons, the religion lessons. You should not have it as a subject. It should be embedded inside to use like one of the lessons that you are teaching in any subject."

A committee formed by Adec and the EAD will incorporate critical thinking about sustainable development into everyday schoolwork, said Dr Jihad Mohaidat, Adec's manager for global partnerships. "There's a lot of science programmes and the national identity programmes," he said. "Also, social science as well. There's recycling issues, water-conservation issues, energy-saving issues. All of these will be embedded within various pieces of the curriculum, spanning even from kindergarten all the way to high school."

Clean-up campaigns and the United Nationals Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Arab water-education programme will also be part of the agenda. Majid al Mansouri, the secretary general of the EAD, said the agency has been fostering a culture of environmental awareness for a decade with activities such as the Annual Environment Competition for young artists and essay writers. The EAD's Enviro-Spellathon, which quizzes children with spelling activities while teaching them about wildlife and habitat conservation, boasted more than 150,000 participants last year.

That was more than triple the number of people who took part in 2000, when the programme began. "Ten years ago, we were focusing on biodiversity and species, and now we're moving towards climate-change issues, sustainability issues," Mr al Mansouri said. "It's very important to have a highly educated young generation because they are the future leaders, and the people who can most impact the parents are the children."

With help from Adec, he said, the aim was "to have a more ecologically literate and conscious society". Through the EAD's Sustainable Schools Initiative last year, which challenged schools to assess their impacts on the environment and explore solutions to the problem, 27 school directors pledged to reduce their schools' carbon footprints. Dr al Khaili said he was encouraged to see school administrators and directors among the attendees at yesterday's signing ceremony, which took place at the InterContinental Hotel.

"Our principals and teachers, some of them are coming from Diba and Sila and other places, so this shows the commitment for the project," he said. This year's 10th Annual Environment Competition will begin on October 14, to coincide with Arab Environment Day. The competition also welcomes submissions from university students, and participants can submit their entries online at www.ead.ae.

mkwong@thenational.ae