Between 2019 and 2021, approximately 120 early childhood, primary and secondary schools across the island were involved in a programme to improve their knowledge of forest conservation and climate change.
This was achieved under the public education component of the European Union’s Budget Support Programme implemented by the Forestry Department. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, through a mix of online and offline hybrid methods, the programme has helped raise awareness of the critical role forests play in Jamaica, including providing water and helping to combat climate change.
The programme aimed to raise awareness of the relationship between climate change and forest preservation as well as to encourage forest conservation practices and the reduction of carbon footprints.
In the first instance, forest technicians from the Forestry Department visited schools to conduct educational sessions and field trips with students. In the second instance, the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges in 2020 resulting in the programme being adjusted and a hybrid approach utilized to reach students face-to-face and online.
For teachers such as Mrs. Odette Francis-Wright from Ramble Primary School in Manchester, whose students participated in the programme, the information provided was relevant and timely. She noted that the 2019 visit piqued the interest of the students who had never been engaged in a programme of this nature before. The students were engaged in field trips, question answer sessions and tree planting activities which gave them hands-on experience and added fun to the learning process. With the COVID-19 pandemic, Mrs. Francis-Wright says project representatives made the effort to reach the students and provide as many activities as they could virtually. They also delivered tokens to the school for participants.
Although both years had a significant impact on the students and their learning experience, Mrs. Francis-Wright says the sessions conducted during the pandemic were perhaps the most significant as they allowed them to make changes to ensure students were not lost in the process.
“The first lesson for grade 6 students was about ‘The Environment and Us’ and we were not there to bring them to the experience. This initiative helped. They were able to watch videos from the Forestry Department about the benefits of the forest and how it protects them. They were also able to interact with the presenters and ask their questions. So when we taught the syllabus we asked them to do activities at home such as examining their environment and the types of soil at their home and what they found in the soil and so on. The students came back with video reports like they saw in the presentations; some great reports like journalists”, she said excitedly.
She rated the initiative an excellent one and very necessary, especially in a community concerned about mining and the destruction it causes to their communities.
“Not only have the students benefited, but teachers also have a better understanding and appreciation of the balance between mining and forest preservation”, said Mrs. Francis-Wright. As for the students, “many of them now have an interest in forestry and want to study the science of it so they can work in that field. I would love to see the programme come back and I would also want to see other schools benefit”, she said.
Ambassador Marianne Van Steen, EU Delegation to Jamaica pointed out that the initiative is linked to the European Union’s Development Agenda for Change and is in line with the objectives of the 26th Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to trigger actions to reduce carbon footprints.
“This initiative is about adapting to protect communities and natural habitats through individual actions. I am happy to see the inclusion of this important topic in the school curriculum and that children are being encouraged to apply the information to their daily lives,” she said.
Noting that climate change mitigation and adaptation are priority areas of focus for the EU, Ms. Van Steen said “preserving forests is an essential solution to the climate change challenge and public education campaigns that engage children can go a far way in helping to change some of the negative behaviours that influence climate change”.
While there were a few challenges with issues such as poor internet connection, overall, the school tour was a success. For the 2021/2022 academic year, a total of 120 schools will be engaged under the same EU-funded programme.