Environmental education and awareness rising
The importance of environmental education and accessing information about environmental issues should not be underestimated. Article 29 of the UNCRC2 sets out the aims of education, and states that children’s education should help them fully develop their personalities, talents and abilities. It should teach them to understand their own rights, and to respect other people’s rights, cultures and differences. It should help them to live peacefully and protect the environment.
Environmental education is one of the ways to promote the right to a healthy environment and to raise awareness about environmental issues. To be comprehensive a curriculum in environmental education must include the following topics:
- the importance of clean water and how to minimise the waste of clean water,
- environmental harms (including pollution of water, air and soil, climate change, chemicals etc.),
- how to access protection mechanisms to achieve environmental justice,vi
- hygiene and sanitation (connected to article 29 of the UNCRC protecting the right to health)
It is also fundamental that a curriculum on environmental education discusses the rights of children and young people, in light of boosting their engagement and participation.
Climate Action Project
A unique example of an international programme on environmental education is the Climate Action Project which consists of a structured training available in 14 languages. It allows teachers and students (from 3 to 21 years old) to learn and collaborate on environmental topics. Over the course of the programme, the participants explore causes and effects of climate change and have the opportunity to develop solutions and ways to get involved.
Environmental education places itself at the core of good practices for the right to healthy environment, especially if it also includes training on how to participate in the protection of the environment through advocacy and practices. Children and young people can contribute to raise awareness and create educational opportunities for others in their communities and at the international level. Support mechanisms to organise children and young people and communities to raise their awareness and safe spaces for their participation are necessary since otherwise environmental education runs the risk of not being properly implemented. What did we find looking for the best practices in this domain?
- Successful projects often integrated environmental education in the regular school curricula for children and young people, aiming to provide a large number of young people with a solid knowledge basis on their right to a healthy environment.
- To further strengthen environmental education, beyond the classroom environment, introducing after-school activities as eco-clubs and youth networks is an option. How to do it best? Create the eco-clubs starting at the schools, through teachers and headmasters, and then allow children to take the lead and work independently.
- Include the community in educational activities. For instance, in Peru there has been evidence of good use of ancestral knowledge for educational purposes on environmental issues. In Southern Africa, children started to mobilise community leaders and create opportunities within the community to further strengthen education activities on the right of the child to a healthy environment.
Top Tips for child rights programming
To ensure that good practices in environmental education are implemented don’t forget to:
- Consider the child holistically: not simply as a beneficiary of environmental education but also as an active agent, as a rights-holder.
- Enhance educational activities related to the right of the child to a healthy environment and environmental issues not just in the regular curricula but also through informal education, for instance through the creation of eco-clubs.
- Facilitate the inclusion of green knowledge, from a child-rights based perspective through all levels of the education system – primary, middle, secondary school as well as university and professional training.
- Train children on advocacy strategies, ensuring that these are not seen as separate from environmental education but complementary components of one another.
- Promote the participation and inclusion in environmental education of children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and difficult family situations. Adopt an intersectional approach to have a better understanding of the challenges faced by groups like girls, children with disabilities and indigenous children.. For instance, the living conditions of a girl with disabilities living in a rural area should be taken into account.
- Integrate programming activities with child safeguarding policies and a code of conduct.
- Articolo12 – Online course: Child Rights to a Healthy Environment Matter – Our Rights, Our Planet Online Training (unep.org)
- Global Campus on Human Rights, ‘Child Participation and the Right to a Sustainable Environment’
- NASA’s project ‘Climate Kids’
- NEEF – USA’s ‘Environmental Education at Home’
- Fairtrade – UK’s schools