Students drawing the value ‘acceptance’.
This school year Wieneke Maris – geography teacher – is taking a sabbatical with her partner Niels – biology teacher – and she is travelling through Europe to discover examples of innovative sustainability education. The world is in an ecological and climate crisis that threatens our future. She worries about this, and for her the best way to deal with that is to contribute to a solution. She visits schools and institutions to learn more about education for sustainable.
Text and photos: Wieneke Maris
At the top of my list of places to visit on my journey in search for sustainability education, was the REAL school in Budapest. A school founded in 2019 by Barna Barath and his wife Viktória after they returned to Hungary from the Green School in Bali. The REAL School aims to educate for sustainability, primarily through real-life, entrepreneurial learning.
Barna and Viktória wanted to start a school centered around sustainability in an urban setting. Its mission is to “Inspire and Empower the next generation to dream and build a beautiful world.” I was lucky enough to join the school for four days to see for myself how they do this.
I had so many questions for my visit, the main one being: “How is sustainability integrated in the different facets of the school?”. I have found some answers, and left with new questions as well.
Learning in the REAL world
When I ask Iris and Paul, two students who give us a tour of their school, what they like most about it, they say without hesitation: “Excursions!”. As it turns out, every Wednesday is scheduled for excursions for all students. Examples are: visits to the surrounding forests, the island in the Danube river right next to the school, a museum, or a walking tour someplace outdoors. Every week is different, but the goal is the same; to go out and learn in the real world. I was able to join a group of students filming their documentary in the city center of Budapest, visiting historic locations. At the same time a younger year group walked to the island in the Danube for a dose of experiential learning in nature. By timetabling going outside weekly, students get to learn in the real world. Research shows that experiential learning like this has the most transformative power; essential for transformative sustainability education.
Although not all excursions are in nature, it does form an important part of the programme. Apart from the excursions there is also an outdoor classroom and a school garden in development. Enjoying being in and a part of nature is so essential to taking sustainable action, but is so often missing in schools. To quote David Sobel: “If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.” (Thank you Carmello Zamora for sharing this quote!). What strikes me is how these aspects really facilitate teachers to take their students outside by providing a time and a place to do so.
Dream to Reality
To keep learning real and relevant, all year groups take part in Dream to Reality; projects around a central learning question for a real audience. One of the students proudly showed me their contribution to a magazine about the impact of fast fashion students made together with fashion and publishing experts. Apart from the magazine, the students organised a fashion show with upcycled clothes. I like the agency these projects provide to students, to inquire into an authentic problem and be empowered to act for a more sustainable world.
Sustainability of the environment and school
In search of sustainable school food, the REAL school founders have started their own sustainable plant-based canteen: The Planteen. This cool place provides food for the students every day, and is open to people from outside as well. The school acts on social sustainability too. For example, it has provided places and scholarships for Ukrainian refugees. Setting an example of what is possible when we take action to make the world a more beautiful and sustainable place.
My visit to the REAL school has shown me some elegant solutions to facilitate experiential learning in the real world. Having successfully included these elements into the school, the team is now working towards a curriculum that is centered on sustainability, integrating it structurally into all subjects. I really enjoyed the discussions about this with Andy Carpenter, Barna Barath, Carmello Zamora and Dave Strubeck, to name a few.
And I have now added this question to my list: How do you create a curriculum centered around sustainability? What structure, knowledge, skills and concepts need to be a part of it? My journey in search for sustainability education continues, and I leave the REAL school feeling grateful to have met these fellow travelers.
Please join me on my journey, and share examples of how to make the world more sustainable through education: I would love to hear from you! Send me an email at wienekemaris[at]hotmail.com