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Education for Sustainable Development: When students become fair trade entrepreneurs

Sustainability and climate protection start in daily life, and they are something children can learn. Educational establishments all over Germany are involved in UNESCO’s Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development – and schools are foremost among them.

When stomachs rumble at the Erich Kästner School in Ladenburg, Baden-Württemberg, students buy snacks at the school shop. And since spring 2018 the snacks on sale have included not just sandwiches, biscuits and gummy bears but also fair trade bananas and chocolate. The idea of offering the ethical options stems from a project undertaken in a religious and ethical instruction class where 15 students aged between 13 and 14 took a close look at fair trade and global production chains.
The same issues also came under scrutiny at the Hainberg Grammar School in Göttingen. Over the years, a small project there evolved into a school cooperative trading under the name “Macadamiafans”. Established in 2012 by a volunteer project group, the “company” is now an integral part of the curriculum. Ninth or tenth grade students opting for it as an elective subject spend lessons managing the school enterprise: receiving deliveries of nuts, processing online orders, keeping accounts, despatching packages, engaging in marketing and maintaining customer relations. The nuts are sold through local retailers and other outlets and the proceeds are used not just to support African farmers but also to finance scholarships that help fellow-students gain experience abroad. School cooperatives are a form of organisation in Germany that enables students to put their own business ideas into practice as a group. They receive advice and support from the cooperative association in the federal state in which they are based.

Entrenching responsible action in the education system

The Erich Kästner School and the Hainberg Grammar School are just two of nearly 500 educational establishments all over Germany involved in the UNESCO Action Porogramme on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). From schools and nurseries to UNESCO world heritage sites, botanical gardens and zoos – they all work towards a common goal: to entrench sustainable thinking and action in every area of the education system.
The German Commission for UNESCO is supported in the ESD programme by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Together, they have collected proposals to optimise the way children and young people can learn how to act sustainably. In 2017, they channelled those proposals into a National Action Plan and online platform. The ESD website offers teaching materials that schools and other institutions can download for free. From seed poster to environmental radio play, to sustainability board game – aids for putting across the ESD message are available in diverse formats all age groups.
Educational establishments have responded in all sorts of ways to the appeal to work harder for ESD: they train “climate guides”, hold exhibitions on globalisation and arrange eco-friendly summer camps. But a special role is played by schools and nurseries, which are attended daily. Around 400 are registered on the Action Programme platform, making contributions that range from stocking fair trade coffee in the canteen to organising project trips and setting up international exchange programmes.

  • Photo (detail): © DUK/Till Budde

    The “Journey Around the World – Climate Zones of the Earth” exhibition at the Klimahaus Bremerhaven 8° Ost is visited by around 100,000 schoolchildren a year. The youngsters are guided through a series of rooms that transport them to different places and climate zones – to the Sahara, for example, the tropical rainforest and the underwater world of Samoa, where they also get to feel the differences in temperature and humidity.

  • Photo (detail): © Hainberg-Gymnasium

    Students at Hainberg Grammar School in Göttingen set up a company: “Macadamiafans”. The revenues it generates are used to support African farmers and finance scholarships that help fellow-students gain experience abroad – for example, by working on a reforestation project in China.

  • Photo (detail): DUK/Till Budde

    Uelzen’s vocational schools train “energy detectives” to improve energy efficiency at the schools. The young sleuths analyse energy consumption in the buildings and establish where it can be reduced. The schools also stage a “Green Day” and a “Waste Avoidance Week”.

  • Photo (detail): © DUK/Till Budde

    The Uelzen vocational schools also have a number of student-run companies: “HoBaTec”, for example, makes wooden structures such as barriers and forest benches for customers in the region; other students develop nesting boxes and insect hotels for the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union – in a virtually waste-free production operation where all wood shavings are recycled as fuel.

  • Photo (detail): © DUK/Till Budde

    Early education can also be sustainable: 200 nurseries in Hamburg and southern Holstein work together as members of the KITA21 network. Through play, they introduce one to three-year-olds to subjects such as energy, nutrition and consumerism.

  • Photo (detail): © VEUBE e.V. Ökologisches Schullandheim „Spohns Haus“

    Gersheim in Saarland is the home of the ecological school hostel Spohns Haus, which is also the environmental education centre of the Bliesgau Biosphere Reserve. The historical buildings accommodate up to 70 children on sustainable class trips or project weeks.

  • Photo (detail): © VEUBE e.V, Ökologisches Schullandheim „Spohns Haus“

    Within the Bliesgau Biosphere Reserve, Spons Haus offers projects where youngsters can explore and experience nature for themselves – here, for example, by conducting experiments with soil. Other projects on offer focus on water, solar energy or bees.

Networking schools and environmental initiatives

The ESD campaign attaches particular importance to strengthening links between schools and environmental initiatives. If a school seeks a local partner for a sustainable class trip or project week, for instance, it can use the digital map of Germany on the ESD website to find an initiative nearby. 
The Erich Kästner School, for example, was supported in its project by the development education initiative One World Centre Heidelberg. The Centre’s “Global Classroom” project offers a range of activities, including workshops and themed city walking tours on globalisation. Young participants learn the consequences of their own consumer behaviour and climate change.
An additional incentive for local authorities, places of learning and networks that promote ESD is provided by ESD awards. Laureates can use the UNESCO Global Action Programme logo for their operations and have access to advice from Freie Universität Berlin. 63 examples of good practice were thus honoured in 2017.

The article was originally published here and was republished with permission from Goethe-Institut.

Author: Petra Schönhöfer, freelance journalist and author.  

Copyright Text: Goethe-Institut, Petra Schönhöfer

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.

January 2019


david mbuvi
23 January 2019

This is so exciting. I wish all our schools can tap in the hidden and often wasted away potential in their learners everyday

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