Sustaining the routes to sustainability

Athens, Australia and misplaced admiration!
November 16, 2015
Sustaining the routes to sustainability
January 19, 2016

I feel I am developing the skill to look outwardly pleased and thrilled while inside I am despairing. Not only that, but I am feeling a real affinity with swans – gracefully, calmly gliding along on the surface while my feet are paddling furiously below the surface!

So the first is about the international work SEEd is now doing on Sustainable Schools and the new interest in whole school approaches since the push for this from the UNESCO Global Action Programme.

The second is about having just bought a Heath Robinson style eco home. But enough of that!

We at SEEd are continuing our travels around the world helping others get started on their whole school approach. Just before Christmas I was in Tokyo and again was amazed by the enthusiasm for sustainable schools and whole school approaches I was met with.

My 3 days in Japan gave me a real insight into their work so far. Given that Japan was the prime mover and major sponsor if the UN Decade for ESD, I was initially curious why they needed help.

But again I was not surprised to see that projects and initiatives had come and gone and outward looking schools were well versed in applying for these. What is always harder is the sustained journey.

Although I was nervous about the language barrier and facilitating activities that I know work in the UK, I should not have worried! The enthusiasm and speed of the group work was amazing! The fastest rich text pictures exercise ever! And 100 teachers doing a carousel in a very cramped, awkward space. Definitely Japanese group culture at its most effective.

I am also enjoying the clear visions teachers have for a sustainable school of the future. It’s getting there that is harder.

However, I was pleasantly surprised and engaged in a visit to a Tokyo primary school the day before. Having been to 4 or 5 very standard and quite didactic lessons, we were then invited to an integrated lesson on making tofu.

Parents, kitchen staff and very engaged 9 year olds! But what was most impressive was the questioning skills of the teacher at the end of the lesson. Truly reflective, affective and critical thinking. The students were obviously quite used to this as you could tell by their thoughtful responses.

The driving force in this school was the head teacher – even though he kept telling me they were an ordinary school, his vision was very clear. So despite a very cramped location in a very urban, densely populated Tokyo neighbourhood they were growing food in pots and in very narrow strips between the school wall and buildings. They were even growing mushrooms on logs and their radishes were also enormous! All the food grown was either taken home or used in school lunches.

Then we saw a photo of the whole school from decades ago and realised that many Japanese schools have a falling roll and the children rattle around in oversized, partly empty schools. Amazing in Tokyo where space is at a premium.

So many real life sustainability issues in action. Great learning opportunities and very few wasted! But apparently ‘ordinary’!

So although we have great practice like this here in the UK, we don’t have a government push to embed this in all schools. The 1000 UNESCO schools in Japan have the government behind them – wish we could get to the same level of commitment here in the UK.

Here’s hoping and keeping looking pleased and thrilled.


Ann Finlayson

Executive Chair, SEEd

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