by Laurence Myers, Sustainability & Service Learning Coordinator International School of Kuala Lumpur
This article was originally published in Environmental Education, journal of the NAEE - http://naee.org.uk.
August 2010 marked the beginning of a new era for the International School of Kuala Lumpur. The faculty position of Environmental Coordinator (now the Sustainability & Service Learning Coordinator) was created and, with it, came a fundamental shift in the way ISKL saw itself. A grassroots initiative, the position was a recommendation by the school’s Green Team to the Head of School and Board of Directors to allow time to be given to something we all viewed as important. It also marked the beginning of a bold new direction. Through the development of curricular standards & benchmarks, and our newly acquired “Green Flag” status through the Eco-Schools program, we are moving with confidence in that direction.
The Coordinator’s first job was to infuse aspects of ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) into what we are teaching. Our starting point was adopting the eight themes recommended by UNESCO to create a set of standards and benchmarks for each division. The themes have been expanded into a series of standards to which teachers can make on-going contributions. To support this, a resource bank has been constructed to help teachers bring in relevant topics as part of their delivery of the subject. The idea is that the ESD curricular efforts are a living model for sustainability and can adapt to changing conditions and levels of preparation (for we all know that communities need time to change).
In addition to the ESD standards and benchmarks, which are currently documented 232 times across our curriculum, we introduced an ESD framework – a project based approach – to teach the interconnections between society, economy and environment. We utilize this framework to varying extents across the curriculum, from pre-school through high school. To this end we have a variety of examples of how our curriculum utilizes our own school’s facilities as well as our environmental indicators to study and provide solutions to school problems and concerns. This is also extended to the home. For example, a yearlong math project in eighth grade on sustainability asks students to identify a utility in their home, provide possible solutions, and go through a project whereby students undergo a series of changes to their habits to reduce their use. The end of the project asks students to project the time it would take for them to reach utility use to the level that is sustainable.
As a natural bridge we are currently applying service learning methods toward ensuring that our students recognize the connections between sustainable thinking, processing, action planning and serving. Though still in its relative infancy, our programming is expanding and becoming more broad-based with the creation of various committees aimed at bridging ESD and service learning. In addition, we are utilizing collaboration to ensure that unit planning follows an increasingly integrated approach as we move forward.
Measuring Environmental Impact
Another key area is reducing the school’s environmental impact. A Green Vision statement has been adopted to show what we are working towards and five accompanying indicators (i.e., energy, water, paper, CO2 emissions and waste) are monitored to see how successful the changes to our practices are. Currently improvements are being made on a variety of fronts such as the use of ecologically sound cleaning products and the development of an extensive composting program. ISKL has, similarly, developed and adopted “sustainable procurement guidelines” as a guide to decision making for resources. Our recycling program has expanded to include sets of bins (non-recyclables, aluminum, paper, plastic and juice/milk cartons), many of which were sponsored by teachers and student groups, also helped to reduce our waste. We make exclusive use of recycled paper for photocopies and educational needs.
The school will hopefully soon be in a position where the canteens produce no waste for landfill. One big move in this direction is the building of a bio-digester on our elementary campus, which has proven to be a big educational success (particularly with our students doing the 5th grade alternative energy unit) and has kept food waste from the cafeteria to close to zero. We also currently run a composting-from-home program for families, which is also utilized by our canteen vendors.
ISKL measures electricity, water use, paper and copy use, use of EDS standards and benchmarks as well as air travel carbon emissions. These are what we refer to as “environmental indicators” and are used to generate data on how we are doing on the operational side of things. We use the data from these indicators to inform practices and also to provide students with a data set in which to study, particularly in recommending alternatives. One such initiative was utilizing IB group 4 projects, which focused on planning for our new campus (discussed below), to generate study of sustainable practices that we can use as we plan for our new home.
Student Ownership & Initiative
Central to making ISKL a truly environmentally friendly school is the need to empower students to lead environmental initiatives. High School Earth Club students currently run a successful community recycling program once a month that coincides with our community composting program. The middle school global issues club promotes awareness of the Millennium Development Goals. The elementary school has a Roots & Shoots club and a Green Earth Club which both focus on environmental issues as well as getting out into nature. This year we also introduced an elementary school Recycling Club that will provide much of the necessary work for our on-going programs on our Melawati (elementary school) campus. At the High School the now-three-year-old Green Council, which is student led but represents our entire school community (students, teachers, administration, staff, parents), has become the umbrella organization for ISKL environmental efforts. One of the main tasks of the Green Council is ensuring that our school is utilizing the Eco-Schools 7-step methodology in most everything we do. This was critical in our becoming South East Asia’s first Eco-Schools Green Flag recipient on August 21, 2013! But even now we expect the leadership of the Green Council to continue and the Eco Schools 7-step methodology to be utilized as we infuse student initiative ever deeper into our school’s environmental ethos even as we embark on more ambitious plans to reach out into the community.
This past year’s Eco-Schools initiatives, which have focused around the Eco-Schools theme of “Nature and Biodiversity”, have included the creation of a Malaysian Garden, the construction of the bio-digester, and a hydroponic garden (with vegetables and herbs to be used by our cafeteria), a tree planting on campus (with local species) and a tree inventory, with data collected informing decision for our new campus. These, of course, are only some of the instances of “bringing nature in”. The other side of the story, “getting out to nature”, is something we’ve done for years. A week-long adventure expedition in the Middle School is the feature of our Malaysia Week program and has been the shining light of ISKL’s outdoor education for years. Only recently has the high school come up with its own version (though a bit more service based) called the Global Action Program. Where Malaysia Week takes students out to sites all over the country, the GAP program takes them further afield to places as far away as Tibet and Nepal, as well as more regional or local destinations. To overcome the obvious environmental costs associated with this air travel, we have committed to paying for carbon offsets through Climate Care and also have instituted a color-school that provides limits for student choice so that they cannot do to more than one location that is considered “long” distance. Giving students more access to the natural environment will be aided by the inception of the International Award Scheme at High School and tree planting with the Global Environment Centre will help the students recognize the need to give something back to the environment.
Of course you can’t have an environmental ethos without an Earth Week, can you? And you can’t have an Earth Week without student involvement and this past April was no exception. From Cliffhanger Climbing Club outings, to community clean ups, to Earth Club recycling to can crushing competitions, rock concerts for the Reefs, awareness campaigns at local shopping centers and uniform swaps at school, the Earth Week 2013 was a success! One week of putting nature on the minds of children, getting our community out and about and making the world a more aware, engaged place!
Plans are underway for the building of a new campus that will host all our schools. We are eagerly awaiting the formal agreements and are crossing fingers that it will happen relatively soon. Why? Because our board has committed to a Green Building Index (Malaysia’s equivalent to the LEED program) Platinum rating for the new campus. Filled with natural spaces and with a planned abundance of natural and sustainable teaching stations, we are hoping the new campus will become the critical link for our programs. A true example of sustainability in action, where the students, like the adults, can recognize the value of sustainable planning, where the associations are made between what we teach in the classroom, the ethos we hope to instill, and the practical, real-life example they will utilize each and every day.
It’s a good time to be at ISKL for sustainability. In truth there is much more to do, and molding minds and capacity takes a lot of effort. When determining what to do first, at ISKL we have chosen that the best way forward is to put sustainability everywhere. There are, of course, limitations and difficulties and things always look better on paper. But we have a structure to make it happen and a person responsible for it all. The Sustainability & Service Learning Coordinator’s job is to find that balance and balance is, after all, what sustainability is all about!
For more information on ISKL’s initiatives and on-going updates, feel free to visit the following sites: