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Educating for Sustainable Development - Mazingira Safi Initiative
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Greta Thunberg.

You’ve hopefully heard of Greta Thunberg. A 16-year old school girl who’s sending chills down Sweden’s and the EU’s spines with her calls for immediate action regarding climate change. What started out as a lone decision to strike for climate in August 2018 has since been replicated in more than 71 countries in more than 700 places involving hundreds of thousands of people, and has turned her into a global phenomenon: A true advocate for the environment.

Her journey started when she was just eight years old sitting in a class session in school. She recalls crying when her teachers were showing them films of plastics in the ocean, starving polar bears and so forth. While other students were able to move on after watching the films, Thunberg says that couldn’t and that was when she decided to do something about it. Eight years later, she’s keeping her word, bringing in a fresh energy, hard-hitting remarks on the seriousness of climate change and the world is being challenged to do something about it.

I could go on and on about her but, it’s the role of education in her journey that I’d like to highlight today. The importance of education in our lives can’t be underestimated. It’s crucial in equipping students with knowledge, skills and attitudes that help them become fully informed and participatory adults. It enables them to reflect, evaluate ideas and problems and produce solutions. It enables them to develop a concern for issues that affect not only themselves but others in the world. Greta Thunberg is a product of education that changes minds and lives. Those movies ignited the spark that’s become the fire we see today.

Growing up, I never encountered an environmental education lesson. I don’t remember having a practical session on how to plant trees, waste, litter and what not. The closest environmental education I got was embedded in Biology and Geography. Had it not been for my parents, I’d probably be very ignorant.

The same can be said of today. Our children are interacting less and less with nature and more and more with unnatural things. The books they read have very little environmental education content and to add salt to injury, smartphones have replaced the art of reading. Reading opens up children’s minds to another world. And even if they read online, no one googles ‘books or articles on the environment’. It’s just not part of who they are.

Education for a sustainable future is proving to be very important. Unless the children of today know about the dangers they face as a result of poor environmental choices we are making today, they stand no chance in contributing solutions to the myriad of environmentally-related problems that face us today and tomorrow. This is why environmental education and environmental conservation practicals should be made compulsory in Kenyan schools. With environmental education as a core subject, children will be able to interact with the real issues affecting the environment. While not everyone may have an epiphany like Thunberg, they’ll be aware of the importance of the environment. They’ll be able to understand how one individual’s action can better or worsen the situation and be more adept to providing solutions. Until you know the existence of a problem, you see no need and have no inspiration to provide a solution.

How many Greta Thunbergs are lying dormant in our children today? How many young environmental warriors are inactive? Environmental Education shouldn’t begin in a classroom setting. It should begin in an informal one; and at home is the best place to begin because it’s at home where lifelong behaviours are caught. If adults fail to instill good environmental behaviours, a few years from now, they should be ready to explain to tomorrow’s youth and children where they were when the environment was going to the dogs.

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