Children are the future!

Nature-based Solutions education in schools through a Whole School Approach.

by Loukas Katikas – 16.05.24

How can we best integrate education on Nature-Based Solutions (NbS) to address sustainability challenges, promote resilience, and transform schools into sustainable learning environments?

Nature-based solutions (NbS) play a key role in ensuring a sustainable future, and their deployment starts in the classrooms! Pupils are the future change-makers of the world; it is, therefore, a chance for them to learn about the benefits of NbS early on to enable them to envision a sustainable future. Recognizing the potential of NbS in educational settings, this article explores the key ‘ingredients’ for effectively integrating NbS into different educational contexts through different scenarios of plausible futures for NbS in education by delineating different pathways to introduce such a topic at European schools.

To achieve this goal, the Nature-Based Solutions Education Network NBS EduWORLD), a Horizon Europe project,aims to nurture an NbS literate, inclusive, and sustainable society by building synergies between NbS professionals and education providers across sectors, formal and non-formal settings, and ensuring free and easy access to high-quality NbS knowledge resources.

Inspired by the past and ongoing experiences in different European countries, NBS EduWORLD will help identify potential opportunities and challenges for integrating innovative, engaging, and creative topics into Learning for Sustainability (LfS) education programs. Besides, as OECD Report 2020 highlights ‘There are always multiple versions of the future – some are assumptions, others hopes and fears. To prepare, we have to consider not only the changes that appear most probable but also the ones that we are not expecting.’

But what are the main ‘ingredients’ to succeed in this and move towards the desired futures for Learning for Sustainability programs?

To transform schools into sustainable learning environments, it is important to introduce innovative topics for greening the curricula as well as, to use methodological and holistic schemes. Through this, schools can be transformed into lighthouses for tackling sustainability challenges, promoting sustainability citizenship, and, most importantly, developing competencies and cultivating the cultural shift needed towards a more sustainable future. After all, the role of education in the face of the current world challenges and in the shift from a “business as usual” to a transition mode is an indisputable fact. As the schools become innovation hubs, they assume their share of responsibility. Being innovative means being open by involving local communities in the teaching and learning process and functioning as an incubator for exploring ideas and inventions.

Thus, a self-sustaining, innovative, open culture in schools that benefits the broader community rather than creating isolated pockets of experimentation is the key. This can be achieved by empowering system-aware people and implementing at scale a process that facilitates the transformation of schools into innovative ecosystems that act as shared learning sites. By being a shared responsibility between leaders, teachers, students, parents, and the local community, these learning sites increase their communities’ science capital and the development of responsible citizenship.

Katikas_Tsaknia_ Sotiriou_2023_Photo credits_EC_2023

Figure 1: Linking selected NbS activities for each primary school grade to different societal challenges, based on the Greek Environmental Education Programme (Katikas, Tsaknia & Sotiriou 2023, EC, 2023)

The driving forces for nurturing NbS in education

A Whole School Approach (WSA) provides a framework for reorienting and redesigning education considering the above-mentioned emerging global sustainability challenges, in which all educational processes that influence learning are addressed. It’s an integrated approach and it invites a holistic, systemic, co-creative, and reflexive effort by all stakeholders involved in education to meaningfully engage students. The approach encompasses teaching and learning, curriculum design, vision, planning and governance, active learner and staff participation, involvement of families, management of buildings and resources, and partnerships with local and wider communities.

This process employs the Living Lab (LL) methodology that puts people in charge of the innovation process and makes complex concepts very tangible. Synergies and mutual learning become a reality when students explore issues that are relevant not only to themselves but also to others, and community partners offer insights but also benefit from students’ attention, research, and creativity. The teaching and learning must be interdisciplinary and transformative to realize this learning. Such activities can be like*integrating strategic interventions using NbS in areas with higher Heat Risk Indices in Athens (see Figure 2a and the StoryMap, here) or Living Lab activities related to the structure and operation of a seismograph, its construction with low-cost materials, and how to acquire and process data using student-friendly software to calculate the epicenter and magnitude of an earthquake (see Figure 2b and the educational material here). By establishing the school as a Living Lab with the local community, the students also can become more rooted in their habitat and gain a sense of place and connectedness.

Figure 2: Exemplary cases of different Living Lab activities of Ellinogermaniki Agogi school, Pallini, Greece. On the left, secondary students are working on different NbS concepts for greening the neighbourhoods of Athens as part of their NbS Living Lab projects, collaborating with NbS experts. On the right, high school students are working on STEM Living Lab concepts, creating their own seismograph installed at the school, as part of the SeismoLab Network

Making the future tangible: Scenarios of plausible futures for NBS in education

Scenario planning provides a structured way to get an impression of what the future might look like. The scenarios themselves show how to support the long-term strategy of mainstreaming NbS in Education in different cases. They are ways to uncover the specific steps and challenges that must be considered when anticipating the future of integrating NbS in education. But what are the main goals considered while structuring these scenarios?

  • Learning versus Education for Sustainability
  • Conventional schooling or Open Schooling
  • Localized or national pathways and initiatives
  • Plausibility or business as usual
  • Seeking for change – investing in the cultural shift

The idea behind defining scenarios is to reveal and test assumptions, stress-test and future-proof plans and generate shared visions for the future of LfS to guide actions in the present. As the ‘Four OECD Scenarios for Schooling’ underlines, scenarios are fictional sets of alternative futures, they do not contain or consist of predictions or recommendations and recognise that there is not only one pathway into the future but many. Some of them can be imagined or described and some others might be still unexplored or difficult to be delineated. In this context, three scenarios include:

  • Flourishing from inside out:

    In this scenario, innovative schools that already have a vision and effective leadership, follow the WSA and they are transformed into NBS Living Labs showing the way. The schools themselves are the initiators, the designers, and the leaders of the processes. on the ‘Flourishing from inside out’ scenario, we have to consider how many different ways schools could potentially define their own pathways for NbS education.

  • Open the way from outside in:

    In this scenario, Ministries, Directorates, Municipalities, and Organizations collaborate to develop a stepwise design to scale up NBS in Education establishing the schools as NBS Living Labs. They develop comprehensive frameworks that integrate NbS principles into the curriculum at all educational levels. The transformation is coming through policy integration, capacity building, funding mechanisms, and collective knowledge exchange and networking, fostering a sense of ownership among all stakeholders.

  • Crossing Paths:

    In this scenario, a hybrid situation is presented where individuals, NbS experts in their field, teachers or school principals, and professionals outside the school meet or follow an initiative, a policy, or a framework, and in this way, transform their school to NBS Living Lab following the WSA. The collaboration between the school community, NbS, and environmental experts and organizations is evident since both the schools and external stakeholders have already built a collaborative scheme in past policy – and school – driven initiatives.

Overall, the transformative potential of schools as living NbS Living Labs should be highlighted, regardless of the approach taken.

Key Takeaways

  • Schools may play a pivotal role in fostering sustainability, resilience, and environmental awareness among the wider community;

  • A Whole School Approach (WSA) is the key to activating and supporting all educational processes that influence learning and the school-society interface;

  • Through co-design and collaborative efforts among education stakeholders and inspired individuals, NbS Living Labs can provide valuable learning experiences and contribute to building sustainable societies;

  • Through partnerships, capacity building, and community engagement, NbS in education may become a systematic approach supported by strong governance structures and collective knowledge exchange.

References

  1. European Commission, (2023). European Research Executive Agency, Nature-based solutions – EU-funded nbs research projects tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis, Publications Office of the European Union, https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2848/879543

  2. Hagy, S., Morrison, G.M. and Elfstrand, P., (2017). Co-creation in Living Labs. In: Keyson, D., Guerra-Santin, O., Lockton, D. (eds) Living Labs, Springer, Cham., https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-33527-8_13

  3. Katikas L., Tsaknia T., Sotiriou S. (2023). Scenarios of Plausible Futures for NBS in Education Deliverable, Nature-Based Solutions Education Network (NBS EduWORLD), Deliverable 6.1 of Work Package 6 of the NBS EduWORLD Horizon Europe project (Grant Agreement No 101060525), August 2023, Ellinogermaniki Agogi, Pallini, Greece, http://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.13514.95684

  4. Mathie R. G. and Wals A.E.J. (2022). Whole School Approaches to Sustainability: Exemplary Practices from around the World, Wageningen: Education & Learning Sciences/Wageningen University, https://doi.org/10.18174/572267

  5. Tilbury D. and Galvin C. (2022). European Commission Input Paper: A Whole School Approach to Learning for Environmental Sustainability, Expert briefing paper in support of the first meeting of the EU Working Group Schools: Learning for Sustainability, European Commission, Retrieved by: https://education.ec.europa.eu/sites/default/files/2022-02/input-paper-whole-school-approach-sustainability.pdf