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Training teachers key to combat climate change

By Harriet James
Tuesday, April 6th, 2021
Esther Wamungu asseses what her students are learning. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES
In summary

By educating teachers, Koen Timmers of Take Action Global hopes to transform mindsets and help deal with adverse effects of climate crisis. 

Harriet James @harriet86jim

When schools closed abruptly mid-March last year due to Covid-19, most teachers found themselves with no jobs, and had to figure a way out of the situation.

 Passionate about integration of the 21st century skills and ICT training, Esther Wamungu, a high school teacher of English and literature at Githunguri Secondary School in Ruiru, partnered with parents who had smartphones and children continued learning through a project dubbed “#eteachingandlearningofenglishfromhomestaysafe.

“I employed low tech digital, innovative and flexible strategic tools and platform such as SMS, phone calls to train my students.

I also enrolled for online professional development courses with Google for education, which has greatly assisted in reimagining education post Covid-19,” she says.

Because of her voluntary efforts in ensuring education continued during the pandemic, Esther was recognised and appreciated by the Cabinet Secretary for Education Prof George Magoha as an education innovator.

She was almost nominated for the Earth Project, with her project among the top 100 in the world.

This meant she would receive online training resources on climate change. 

“I was elated to receive the news that I will be receiving training on something I’m passionate about.

The pandemic break made me realise how urgent and important it is to use education as a tool towards combating climate change.

My heart bled when I saw entire schools and immediate environments in Baringo county submerged, making students look for alternative learning spaces and families losing livelihoods,” she says.

She underwent the training under Take Action Global, a programme established by Koen Timmers in 2017. 

For Timmers, the conversation began back when he was teaching refugees science and English in Kakuma Refugee Camp. 

He met Jennifer Williams, who became the co-founder and co-director of the organisation.

Being that they are both passionate about education and development and bridging gaps for marginalised communities, they opted to train teachers on the same.

“There are many ways to tackle climate change, but we have opted to use education to change children’s and teachers’ mindsets so they can change their behaviour with regards to their environment. 

We want to ensure students are not just memorising stuff on climate change and learn things by heart to be assessed, but are coming up with solutions for climate change, which is more authentic,” says Koen.

Ambassadors train teachers and guide, coordinate and facilitate the whole process. So far, the organisation has around 80 ambassadors, and each has about 50 to 200 teachers who they train for six weeks.    

“Our curriculum is endorsed by the World Wide Fund for Nature and we are also working with them to gather data on how it will be translated into 15 different languages.

We also learn from other peers in other nations on solutions required to tackle the climate change issue,” says Koen.

They are also in contact with the Ministry of Education to bring more schools on board.  

So far, there are 76 teachers who have been trained and have received certificates. They have planted trees and their students have found solutions to issues such as energy.

The projects they have been working on have offered skills such as collaboration, creativity, empathy, critical thinking- something Take Action Global is proud of. 

Dr Louise Gichuhi, education economist and one of the trainers in the programme says people have to be taught to protect the environment. 

“It is good to sensitise teachers on climate change and encourage them to develop schools and community mitigation strategies that are locally based,” she says.

As for Esther, she is happy to apply what she has studied to her school. She noticed the area is relatively dry and when it rains, the school floods making it almost inaccessible. It inspired her to come up with the ‘Adopt a Tree’ programme.

“Here, teachers, non-teaching staff, members of the Board of Management and students plant a tree yearly since 2016 and water them using plastic bottles.

We collect plastic bottles from our immediate environment outside school, thereby reducing plastic menace.

Every morning, students check on the trees and report on dry ones for immediate replacement.

This way, the school is gradually turning green and, therefore appealing. Flooding is gradually subsiding,” she says.

She plans to use what she learnt in her training to start a climate Change Action Club, which will look into ways of combating climate change in the school first and then the immediate community. 

“Our school is situated in a relatively hot area and we hope to embark on a solar energy project to supplementing electrical power among other projects,” she says 

In future, Koen wants to turn the project to full year programme with professional development and measuring its impact in every teacher they have trained.

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