Learners at 18 schools around the country have been supported by Sun International in a two-year partnership with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) as they create eco-classrooms to build environmental resilience in schools and their communities.
Sun International donated just over a million rand to support the programme in schools in areas surrounding their properties – Cape Town’s GrandWest hotel and casino, Bloemfontein’s Windmill Casino, Gauteng’s Central Office and Carnival City, Pretoria’s Time Square, Durban’s Sibaya Casino, Worcester’s Golden Valley hotel and casino and the South Coast’s Wild Coast Sun resort.
The programme kicked off in August and runs until the end of July 2023 involving over 450 learners ranging from Grade 6 to 10.
“Learners that understand the science, impacts, and solutions, are better prepared to deal with the climate crisis and advocate for mitigation and adaptation policies at a local and national level,” said WESSA senior project manager Nomfundo Ndlovu.
WESSA is one of South Africa’s oldest and largest independent non-profit environmental organisations, having formed in 1926, when a group of passionate individuals got together to campaign for the creation a National Parks Board (now known as SANParks), to ensure the proclamation of the Kruger National Park and other national parks.
“Education gives people the skills and knowledge to be better prepared for, and better able to recover from, natural hazards. With knowledge and skills, they can adapt more flexibly. With our educational programmes, WESSA hopes to inspire the next generation to advocate and act for a healthy planet they are proud of,” Ndlovu said.
“Sun International Eco-Schools project will support schools with the creation of eco-classrooms where learners, teachers and school leadership will use the eco-schools seven steps framework to chart a way to building resilience in their schools and communities,” said Sun International’s SED Manager Heidi Edson. The steps are: Write an eco-code, form an eco-committee, do an environmental review, develop an action plan, monitor and evaluate, link to the curriculum, inform and involve others.
Edson said schools had advanced to having completed their environmental review “where learners are able to articulate the pressing environmental issues and start to seek implementable solutions to tackle some of these challenges with the support of WESSA and Sun International”. Some of cross cutting challenges that will be addressed are poor waste management, substance abuse and poor sanitation.
Schools will also select specific themes that will give them specific focus areas for their projects. “This is vital in the sustainability of projects because teachers and learners are trained to do this themselves, and thus can continue maintaining their projects and start new ones.
“The learners will gain much from participating in the programme, from science learnings to values, knowledge about plants and animals, human and environmental health, to practical skills such as learning how to separate recycling and how to plant indigenous plants.” Soft skills include self-confidence, leadership abilities, critical thinking and the will to act and advocate.
An environmental campaign is also run at schools, aligned with calendar dates such as World Food Day, Arbor Day, World Environmental Health Day and World Water Week.
To ensure long term sustainability, teachers will be supported to establish Sun International teacher hubs which will grow to become a “community of practice”, where teachers come together to share expertise, work collaboratively and a space for professional dialogue.
Edson said the Eco-Schools programme aimed to respond to UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goals.