Diplomats tour `eco-campuses,' laud progress

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Jan 23, 2005 - Page 2

A campus with a rainwater catchment system and a school with blank textbooks impressed ambassadors and representatives from 11 countries as they went on a tour of sustainable schools and eco-campuses earlier this week.

"The rainwater catchment system is an excellent and practical idea. Take the hand pump I see here for example: in my country, we practically always use hand pumps to pump water," said Malawian ambassador Thengo Maloya during the visit to Taipei County Shengkeng Elementary School, whose rainwater catchment system recycles two tonnes of wastewater per day.

According to Maloya, people with no water in their villages need to travel around to get water in other places. So conserving and reusing water can be really important, the ambassador said.

Organized by the Ministry of Education, the tour was designed to demonstrate the achievements of schools participating in an "education for sustainable development" program.

Aiming to share the success of the program with the diplomats, the ministry invited them to join the trip for the first time since the launch of the tour last year.

The tour took the guests to Taipei County Shengkeng Elementary School and Ci-Xing Waldorf Education School of Ilan County. Both schools participated in the program, which was orchestrated by the Ministry of Education three years ago to create a more eco-friendly learning environment and develop creative curriculums in schools.

Participating ambassadors said they are impressed by how participating schools help students find satisfaction both within themselves and in their relationship with the environment.

"The two schools we visited showed two different educational approaches based on the same idea, which is to cultivate students' global views. I think both approaches help students appreciate the outside world and the self within," said the representative of the Turkish Trade Office, Unut Arik.

Shengkeng Elementary School, one of the 256 schools participating in the program conducted by the Ministry of Education since 1999, has carried out sustainable campus reform plans.

According to school principal Lin Jian-zong (林建棕), the reconstruction plan has turned the 100-year-old school into a campus with tree-lined pathways, green corridors, wetlands, a rainwater catchment system and solar technology for conserving energy. More importantly, students' involvement in the process provides practical examples of how to protect the environment.

"We continually develop curriculums that motivate students to explore the environment. Activities like tree planting and inviting local farmers to give lessons successfully brings teachers, students and community members together to not only experience nature, but more importantly, to learn from nature," Lin said.

Tomasz Nowacki, the chief representative/director-general of the Warsaw Trade Office said that it is crucial to motivate students to protect nature voluntarily.

"The development of ecological schools in Poland began in the 1980s. I think environmental education should focus on how to bring out children's willingness to cherish nature," Nowacki said.

In addition to sustaining schools' ecology and energy-saving facilities, another key element of "education for sustainable development" program is reorganizing the traditional curriculum.

Ci-Xing Waldorf Education School, whose educational philosophy is based on the concepts of Rudolf Steiner, a German educator, is the second school the tour visited. It showed the creativity on the design of their curriculum, which is teaching without any textbooks.

According to Ci-Xing's principal Chang Chun-shu (張純淑), the school is the only government-owned and privately-operated school in Taiwan. The school gives teachers the freedom to present lessons creatively. Without textbooks, students create their own lesson books by drawing and writing down what they learned in classes. In addition, the school does not adopt nor encourage competition by giving tests. Instead, teachers use "individual evaluation charts" to detail each child's achievements.

Jose Miguel Holguin, Prime Secretary of the Dominican Republic's embassy, lauded the philosophy of the school's program.

"The school's education is systematic. By teaching children how to think, instead of what to think, I think students are free to develop their own individualities. I really appreciate their educational philosophy," Holguin said.

Ambassador Francisco Ricardo Santana Berrios of the Republic of El Salvador, also admired the school's effort to provide students with an open learning environment.

"The interaction between teachers and students is impressive. I think through creative classes, such as singing and personal story-sharing, children are given more space to think creatively and freely, Berrios said.

Sandor Matyus, the representative of the Hungarian Trade Office, although appreciating the innovative teaching method, said that the school should pay attention to students' adjustment when they go on to receive higher education.

"I am anxious about the gap between this free-style learning environment and higher education institutions. For example, without a textbook, I fear students may face some reading difficulties when they go to high schools or colleges. This is something the school needs to be careful about," Matyus said.

According to the program designer of the campus reform plans, Su Huey-jen (蘇慧貞), director of Department of Environmental and Occupational Health of National Cheng Kung University, the program has enlarged participating schools' ecological areas from 23.4 percent to 35.8 percent.

Besides, 60.5 percent of city schools began to plant organic products on campus.

Many schools also develop new curriculum to bring out the creativity of students.

She said that since the program has showed some achievements, the next step is to seek collaboration from international community.