Many young South African children are growing up with an awareness of the need to protect our planet. Picture: Pixnio

Eco-schools are harnessing the powerful ability they have to inculcate values in children that could enhance and enrich the welfare of society. Omeshnie Naidoo looks at this notion of socially responsible learning.

It's that moment, empty milk carton in mid-air, when you realise you’re doing the wrong thing and switch behaviour.

Better still, it's when you do the right thing without realising it...when an intrinsic value becomes second nature.

For many young children it is.

Largely due to schools that have adopted an eco-savvy attitude, many young South African children are growing up with an awareness of the need to protect our planet.

They recycle, plant herbs and vegetables, and collect and conserve water, among other things.

The environmental management of the school itself is bolstered by environmental learning - eco-conscious themes in the curriculum - all of which foster deep respect and responsibility for the Earth.

Tree Tops, an independent school in Musgrave, is an International Eco-School registered with Wessa (Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa).

Principal Carolyn Robinson said they take a holistic, participatory approach.

Video by Sacha van Niekerk

“In the classroom, educational themes focus on nature and biodiversity, community and heritage, as well as local and global issues.

“We promote the three Rs - to re- use, recycle and refuse. We refuse plastic bags, bottles and straws. In fact our annual Mini-Walk is a proudly, ‘plastic free’ event - no small task when you consider all the vendors that are vetted for the occasion.

“On a Thursday the children bring ‘anti-waste’ to school for re-using in Design and Technology, box construction and art. This year, for the third consecutive year, our Grade Three pupils are working with Umcebo Design, a Durban art studio whose light fittings and other works of art from waste have been internationally recognised.

“We garden and do beach clean-ups. We have an Eco-Rangers club for our Junior Primary children - the list is endless.”

Robinson says the ‘green philosophy’ needs to be apart of the school’s culture to thrive.

She said, “At the outset, schools may need at least two devoted teachers to drive the programme, but, in time, it needs to be fully integrated into the curriculum and delivered by all the staff.

Martin Gustafsson, an education economist at Stellenbosch University, writing for The Conversation had this to say, “Education already serves as a bulwark against existential threats. It helps communities to understand each other, weakens rampant nationalism, assists in population control and widens the talent pool from which innovation must come. But parts of the world need much more of it.”