From awareness workshops and environmental audits to community-level initiatives and efforts to integrate sustainability into the curriculum, schools are sparing no efforts in ensuring student participation in actions for climate change
Dubai, Nov 30, 2023: With the UAE hosting COP28 2023, leading global discussions on climate change, schools and educators from across the GCC are preparing students to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of sustainable initiatives and environmental protection.
While some schools are direct participants in various forums at the conference, many are taking part in various community and school-level activities.
The buzz created in the run up to the conference has also led to a greater emphasis on making environmental education a key component of the curriculum.
The COP28 conference will be held at Expo City Dubai from November 30 to December 12.
The UAE Ministry of Education’s (MoE) decision to launch the Greening Education Hub to achieve the goals of the UAE Green Education Partnership Roadmap in preparation for the UAE’s hosting of COP28 is an attempt to highlight the importance of education in addressing climate change and the need to include education in the official discussions during COP28.
Among the various initiatives being undertaken by schools in combating climate change are environmental audits, integrating sustainability into the curriculum and emphasising COP goals in educational programmes to holding debates and discussions and facilitating hands-on projects.
In one such instance, more than 1,100 students from Aldar Education set two Guinness World Records for hosting the largest climate change awareness lesson and for having the highest number of nationalities attending a climate awareness lesson.
Other schools such as those from the GEMS Education group are participating in the School Conference of Parties Exposition (SCOPE) and in panel discussions hosted at COP28. “Student and teacher engagement extend to attending Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) workshops, enriching the COP28 experience,” says, Asha Alexander, Executive Leader – Climate Change, GEMS Education and Principal of GEMS Legacy School Dubai.
David Hutson, Head of School, Dwight School Dubai says that students as young as those in Grade 3are participating in the event, “applying their understanding of global warming and its impact on our planet.” According to him, students from various school groups are eagerly preparing to attend COP28. “The students are excited about engaging with the exhibitions and exploring innovative solutions for global climate action,” says Hutson.
Laura Whyte, Environment and Sustainability Teacher, Regent International School Dubai says student participation at COP28 will help them better understand the environmental problem and provide insights into regional and global commitments. Select students from Years 9 to 12, she says, “We have got an excellent opportunity to visit COP28’s Green Zone.”
Meanwhile, schools which aren’t directly involved in COP28 are engaging students through school and community-level activities. David Mc Entee, Specialist Teacher, Sunmarke School Dubai says, “Our school, while not a direct participant in COP28, hopes to bring some of our students to the Green Zone where they will have more exposure to global climate discussions and education platforms on the issues.”
Supporting COP28 goals
Schools are also backing COP28 goals through various in-house programmes towards reducing their carbon footprint, waste management and recycling efforts.
At Sunmarke School, a student leadership team collaborates with management to research and implement strategies for reducing water, waste and energy usage. A cooling retrofit is being installed at the school to enhance its cooling by using natural air movement alongside machines in an effort to achieve better efficiency and reduce energy use.
At Regent International School, an environment and sustainability audit was undertaken by students from Year 2 to Year 6, focusing on key environmental areas such as litter and waste management, energy efficiency, water and sanitation, transport, outdoor space and curriculum and education.
David Nguyen, Head of Science, King’s College Riyadh says the school is focusing on educating students about materials’ impact on climate change, as part of which it runs an Eco Club and collects plastic bottles which are re-purposed to build a school greenhouse.
At Aspen Heights British School Abu Dhabi, it is more about curriculum adjustments and hands-on learning opportunities. “Our sustainability curriculum is taught through inquiry-based questions and hands-on learning in Form and class PSHE time, incorporating cross-curricular learning and age-appropriate practices,” explains Emma Shanahan, Principal, Aspen Heights British School.
“In our early and primary years, the Arabic medium teachers have also tailored their teaching to reflect the theme, and the learnings from both English and Arabic Medium teachers is displayed on the Sustainability board in each form/classroom. Year groups have been paired to facilitate cross-age collaboration,” adds Shanahan.
Schools are also actively participating in eco-friendly initiatives such as ‘Plogging’ and the ‘Plastic Pledge’, at times teaming up with external organisations. Speaking about the GEMS’ collaborative efforts, Alexander says, “We are engaged in establishing partnerships with local and international organisations that are involved in climate action to provide students with opportunities for hands-on experiences, workshops and collaborative projects related to COP goals.”
GEMS Education, according to Alexander, has Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) integrated into the curriculum. “Climate change discussions and projects are integrated into various subjects, including science, geography and social studies, emphasising the multidisciplinary nature of climate action during annual cross-curricular and Reggio exhibitions.”
GEMS Founders School – Dubai recently hosted the ‘GEMS Road to COP28 Conference’, a student-led initiative that discussed and debated current issues and topics that are part of the COP28 agenda.
Schools are also encouraging upcycling, recycling and educational campaigns in student-led initiatives.
According to Entee, the three main focus areas for the Sunmarke School in 2023-24 are reducing waste, energy and water. “We have recycling initiatives to promote the reduce, reuse and recycle model both in school and at home, and this is driven by our students.”
Schools are also collaborating with local businesses and projects to help students gain a better understanding of climate challenges. “Children take part in various environment and sustainability-focused ECAs such as Eco Club and Junk Kouture (designing and creating fashion pieces using recyclable items),” adds Entee.
Among the student-led initiatives at Aspen Heights is a ‘Ted-talk’ type competition, with speeches based on one of the UN Sustainability Goals.
Students from Grades 6-8 of GEMS Global Ambassador participated in the ‘Aavishkar’ Innovation Festival, which was based on the theme ‘Empowering Developing Economies’, researching complex issues related to SDGs within developing economies.
At Dwight School Dubai, students are working on a model United Nations project and are tasked with drafting their own United Nations resolutions on global climate action as well engaging in debates on these resolutions with their peers. “This will be closely followed by their upcoming participation as delegates in the ‘Innovating Towards a Sustainable Future’ conference scheduled for March,” says Hutson.