How green are their valleys?

Welsh environmental education is geared up for the year 2000, says Alf Alderson

As we hurtle towards the end of the millennium, one area of common ground, particularly among the young, is the environment - where we've gone wrong, what to do about it and how we can make sure it doesn't happen in the future are all issues that exercise many young minds.

But the resources to feed this quest for knowledge have not always been readily available to teachers - until now, and provided you're based in Wales.

The Environmental Education Council for Wales (EECW) was set up just over a year ago with the aim, according to director Guto Owen, of providing "a one-stop shop" for teachers who were looking for material - however esoteric - related to environmental issues.

The organisation has three main areas of activity. It aims to develop a comprehensive database of environmental education and information resources and identify any gaps in provision, to steer an all-Wales strategy for environmental education for the 21st century, and to establish an environmental network for Wales. Mr Owen says: "We aim to be everything from a clearing house for information on the environment, to a multimedia resource for schools. "

He gives last year's Sea Empress oil spill off the Pembrokeshire coast as an example. "We have a working group collating the material available from the many organisations that have been involved with the Sea Empress so we can provide schools with user-friendly information about the disaster. We are putting things on a plate for schools throughout Wales so they can use global, or in this case local, environmental issues for teaching programmes."

One of the EECW's main tools in this respect is the Internet. It also has a resource database linked to those of major environmental organisations such as the Environment Agency, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Welsh Water and the Countryside Council for Wales (which has provided the funds and support to set up the EECW). So if a school requests information which is not directly available to the EECW, the council can usually access it quickly from elsewhere.

There are plans to involve all 2,500 schools in Wales in a "green envelope" and a "green treasure chest" scheme. The former will mean "collating material from a wide variety of environmental groups, placing it in a real green envelope and posting one to every school in Wales," says Mr Owen. the Green Treasure Chest is a similar project but, he adds, "in this case we'll provide all 44 Welsh local education authorities with a chest containing a selection of videos and CDs which can be loaned out at intervals to all the schools in their area. There will be two chests and envelopes, one for primary schools and one for secondary. We're hoping to get a lot of feedback from both of them. "

The EECW database is specifically aimed at primary, secondary and special needs schools. While this is already some achievement given the organisation's relatively short existence, the council is not content to rest here.

Other major projects in the offing, include the development of an environmental network for Wales, based in Cardiff but with associated IT "offshoots" throughout the country. Here teachers, students and schools will be able to access material related to their work, projects and interests. "The idea is that, within reason, wherever you are in Wales, you'll be able to get hold of whatever environmental information you require by using one of these IT centres," says Mr Owen.

Eventually, the EECW hopes to expand its work to become part of a national forum on environmental education, as the material at its disposal is global as well as local.

The council also plans to publish jointly with the RSPB a school environment policy guide . This will act as a checklist for enhancing environmental education in the classroom as well as looking at a school's environmental "ethos" (taking into account energy management, litter control and so on) and the relationship between a school and its wider community.

But the best way to get a real feel for the EECW's work is to contact it directly. Even if you're not having problems answering awkward questions about the chemical composition of crude oil, there is sure to be something there to help prepare you and the environment for the next millennium.

The Environmental Education Council for Wales, University of Wales, 45 Park Place, Cardiff CF1 3BB. Tel: 01222 395559.

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