Schoolchildren lead drive for a sustainable future

Clean Energy Business Council

The National - 15 April 2016 - Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The Earth matters to UAE pupils, more than 65,000 of whom joined a schools environment protection programme.

From installing energy-efficient light bulbs to encouraging recycling, schools across the UAE are showing a growing commitment to the environment and sustainability.

This increased interest is reflected in the response the not-for-profit Clean Energy Business Council has received for its Schools Environment Protection Programme, with more than 30 schools and 65,000 pupils taking part in its Sustainable Interschools Competition this year.

“More education is needed on the issues of sustainability and connecting with children and teaching them about energy efficiency, sustainability and environmental impacts of technology; then they grow up with that awareness from a young age,” said Sarah De Clercq, CEBC’s programmes director. “This is an issue that really inspires young children.”

Last year the council launched a competition to encourage schools to plant trees.

“This competition inspired teachers, parents and younger and older students to get involved and work together,” said Ms De Clercq. “For example, younger children asking questions about the trees being planted provided the teacher an opportunity to explain how trees clean the air, while older pupils learnt about the chemical process of turning carbon dioxide into oxygen in the plant.”

The council encourages participating schools to elect two eco-ambassadors, who take part in lectures and speaking events.

These ambassadors have given talks at the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi, where they saw a solar-powered car designed by its students and were taken on a tour of Tadweer’s waste treatment plant in Dubai.

“The idea is that what they learn during these visits they can then take back to their schools and educate fellow pupils,” Ms De Clercq said.

The council has also calculated how much greenhouse gases participating schools emit. This month and next, schools will aim to reduce their carbon footprint as part of a competition, with a Dh20,000 solar power system going to the winning school.

Sanjeev Jolly, principal of Gems Our Own High School in Al Warqa’a, said educating children about protecting and conserving the environment was vitally important.

The school claimed the Dh15,000 first prize for CEBC’s recyclable waste exhibit competition. The cash will be used for energy efficient LED lightbulbs.

“It is a responsibility our school and Gems takes seriously because the protection of the planet for future generations is of paramount importance,” he said.

“Our pupils and staff are very active on this issue and students regularly raise awareness by speaking to people at other schools, malls and in the neighbourhoods they live in.”

But to really change habits and have long-term success the green message needs to be pushed throughout the year.

“It’s not just something you spend a lesson on. It must be reinforced through action in a way that engages pupils to use what they learn in class when they are not in school,” Mr Jolly said. “Looking ahead, we are now investigating how best we can use solar power panels in our schools,” he said.

Government initiatives, such as Earth Hour, also help to keep the issue in the public eye, Mr Jolly said.

Deva Bhelwin, 14, is a pupil at the school and an eco-ambassador who helps to promote green issues, not just at school but also at home.

“People think that saving the environment is such a big thing that there is nothing that they can do that will help, but that isn’t true,” he said.

“Things like not leaving the tap running when you’re brushing your teeth and making sure to switch off lights in rooms if you’re not using them can make a difference.”

Fatima Martin, principal of Gems New Millennium School in Al Khail, said it was vital for pupils to go beyond the classroom and experience practical ways to protect the environment.

“You can learn only so much in the classroom, but having the pupils take part in tree planting or collecting recyclable materials has more impact,” she said.

“Environmental awareness is not solely limited to one activity but can seep into other subjects and children can apply different skills to what they are doing in relation to sustainability.”