Eco-schools programme: seeding the future

The environmental education of our younger generation is the most rewarding investment and the eco-schools programme run by local environmental NGO Nature Trust, is one such fruitful investment.

In Malta, the eco-schools programme has been in existence for some 17 years. As a result, 76 Maltese schools are flying a Green Flag – a symbol of environmental awareness and commitment. This is an investment in our country’s future that will yield so much in the years to come.

Introducing this year’s ceremony, during which a number of schools were awarded a Green Flag for their environmental achievements, Nature Executive President Vincent Attard emphasised the fact that “The Eco-Schools programme is instrumental at providing students with tools to think about environmental issues and come to conclusions and solutions. This can be witnessed that, today, it is the younger generations that are questioning the actions of the country’s leaders and putting pressure on them. This awareness is growing each year and the sooner leaders take heed of these calls, the faster we will start mitigating not only environmentally but also socially and economically. Quoting the children themselves in the last EkoSkola parliament – We want to be heard not just liked.”

Eco-School is a global programme currently engaging 19.5 million young people across 67 countries. For nearly 25 years Eco-Schools have been empowering young people to improve their environmental awareness and, in so doing, receive the international Eco-Schools Green Flag award.

The Eco-School programme develops the skills of our younger generation, raises environmental awareness, improves the school environment and creates a whole host of other benefits not just for our educational institutions but, moreover, for our community at large.

The eco-school seven steps educational process targets a change of lifestyle and the guidelines available on implementing these seven steps is very informative.

The first basic step is to set up a participative democracy in our schools through which all stakeholders are actively involved, with the students taking a democratic lead. Assisted by educators, students interact with the different stakeholders and, in so doing, identify the environmental issues that need to be addressed in their own little world and beyond. They are then trained to think, discuss and ultimately arrive at conclusions and results.

Reading through the list of initiatives taken in our schools as a result of the Eco-School Programme is quite impressive. The programme has identified issues relating to water, waste, recycling, energy efficiency and climate change, heritage appreciation, and many more. The lessons learnt first-hand by our students are then taken from the school to their homes, their families and society in general.

Environmental education is about much more than a respect for nature. Nature is not something separate, isolated and compartmentalised during excursions: it also features in our way of life.

As a result of the environmental education which the eco-schools programme provides for our students, our younger generation is being equipped with the knowledge and awareness that environmental damage can be reversed. They are learning that they can be active agents of the change we so desperately require in halting – and eventually reversing – the accumulated environmental damage.

These are indeed the seeds of a bright future.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3rd November 2019

Reflections from Carthage

Tunisia-Med

 

At the University of Carthage in Tunisia between Thursday and today the international community has been engaging with Tunisian civil society. The Fifth Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy – Decentralisation by Participation exchanged views and experiences with all sectors of Tunisian civil society: young people, women and trade unionists were at the forefront, with very passionate views on the Tunisian roadmap to democracy.

Why has the Arab Spring in Tunisia provided different results from those reaped in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria?

Yahd Ben Anchour, lawyer, former Chairman of the High Commission for the Preservation of the Revolution, and charged with overseeing  constitutional reform in a post Ben Ali Tunisia, emphasised the fact that the roots of this more successful outcome can be traced to a number of policy decisions in the late 1950s. The then Tunisian strongman Habib Bourguiba had championed free access to education, including higher education. He had, moreover, championed gender equality right from the first days of independence.  Tackling these issues made Bourguiba an exception in the Arab world.

From outside Tunisia, Bourguiba’s personality cult, the large scale clientelism over the years as well as the leadership of a one party-state naturally overshadowed his otherwise significant  social achievements, which are considered by many as the essential building blocks of today’s Tunisia civil society.

Even though a number of Tunisian women are still shackled by tradition, the number of them active in public life is impressive. It is this exceptionalism which has given the Arab Spring in Tunisia the edge over neighbouring countries and consequently the reasonable chance of success.

Mohammed Bouazizi’s  self immolation and subsequent death on the 4 January 2011 brought together all those dissatisfied with the Tunisian regime, leading to its downfall and laying the foundations for the first democratic state in the Arabic family of nations.

The debate in the Global Forum focused on the discontinuity of the electoral process in contrast to the permanence of political dialogue and participation. In a society which has rediscovered its hold over its own destiny, it is emphasised that political participation bridges the gaps of political time and goes beyond political monoplies. All Tunisian participants emphasised the fact that direct democracy reinforces – and is complimentary to – representative democracy.

Power originates from the people, who ultimately remain its sole arbitror. This can be done through referenda, not just to delete legislation but also to propose measures which the elected representatives did not consider necessary.

It is an ongoing debate that sees young people, women and trade unionists together with a new generation  of political activists debating the next steps to be taken by a democratic Tunisia.

It is in Malta’s interest to nurture this democratic development on our southern borders. We are not accustomed to having this type of neighbour!   During a recent meeting with Tunisian Premier Habib Essid, Malta’s Foreign Minister George Vella stated that Malta was willing to support Tunisia’s democratic process.  Back in 2012, in the first months after the revolution, Michael Frendo, then Speaker of Malta’s House of Representatives,  had also been in Tunisia, offering Malta’s  hand of friendship and cooperation to our neighbours.

Some positive developments for a change to our south.

Published in The Independent on Sunday : 17 May 2015