Think green for the blue planet

5th October 2001 at 01:00
Schools have the chance to win pound;15,000 from the World Wide Fund for Nature for a project that will improve the environment. Douglas Blane reports

Dunfermline seems an unlikely place to find a lush tropical rainforest. After all, this is the town where English monks living at the abbey in the 11th century were so cold they were granted special dispensation to wear hats. However, a rainforest is growing up the Primary 7 classroom walls at McLean Primary school.

This is also the town - then a small but bustling royal capital - from which Scotland first turned its eyes outward to the world beyond its shores. So it is an appropriate place for the Scottish launch of the World Wide Fund for Nature's Our World schools challenge with its theme of local activities having global effects.

The tradition of concern for the wider world is well-established at McLean Primary, which is why the WWF chose the school to host the launch. In 1997 the school was the national winner of the Bright Sparks Award, sponsored by the WWF and Hydro-Electric, for creating a woodland in the school grounds. It was widely praised for showing how eight- and nine-year-old children "can take on responsible roles and develop strong views on how adults manage society and the environment".

This is a key theme of Our World, which aims to raise environmental awareness in the lead up to the world summit on sustainable development that will be held next year in Johannesburg, 10 years on from the Rio de Janeiro Earth summit. It will allow politicians to review the successes and failures of the past 10 years and plan for the future.

The WWF is keen to make sure that it is not just politicians who are heard in South Africa. The organisation intends to select from each of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland one school in which a pound;15,000 sustainability project will be supported. Then from each of these schools one pupil will be chosen to fly to the summit. The four young delegates - the Summit Champions - will be expected to "voice their opinions and those of other young people back home, report back to the youth of the UK direct from the summit and interview ministers and other delegates".

The bright, articulate P7 children at McLean Primary seem undaunted by the prospect of shouldering such weighty responsibilities or mixing in such august company. "It would be really cool," is the laid-back consensus.

The children are well-informed on the problems of the environment but they have only just begun to formulate their ideas on the nature of a project that could win the Our World award. Their teachers are canvassing their views: the WWF's criterion is that proposed projects should "include pupils in the decision-making, planning, implementation and evaluation of the project".

"We've been working on the rainforest for a while but we've only just started thinking about Our World," confesses Jacqueline. "We made these puppets in only a day," she adds, showing the colourful figures used in their impressive show to launch the WWF's challenge.

Clearly impressed by the spectacle laid on by the McLean Primary pupils, Rhona Brankin, the deputy minister for the environment and rural affairs, says: "It's very important that we politicians take your views seriously, because the decisions we take today are going to shape the world you will live in in the future.

"Schools have a very important role to play. By making them more sustainable you are helping the environment, and as a key part of your community you are also leading by example, showing what could and should be done by local businesses.

"The Scottish Executive, through the International Teledemocracy Centre, has launched a web-based consultation, seeking the views of all Scots on their vision for a sustainable Scotland. With this competition we are challenging our young people to tell us what concerns them and what they are prepared to do to solve some of these pressing problems."

For schools that are less inclined to embark on a major sustainability project but want to use the summit as a focus for teaching, Our World will be supporting on-line quizzes, web links and Internet debates between pupils and experts. Nine primary and nine secondary schools will be invited to share their views and talk about their work through an online exhibition. There will also be a news magazine with content provided by pupils and WWF journalists, before and during the summit, to keep schools abreast of developments in Johannesburg.

For more on how to enter the Our World challenge contact Nancy Nairn at WWF Scotland, tel 01887 820449, e-mail nnairn@wwfscotland.org.ukInternational Teledemocracy Centre consultation ends October 8, http:e-consultant.org.uksustainability

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