The Man Who Plants Hope

The Man Who Plants Hope: How cultivating champions leads to replication and scale up of successful practices

"This square of playground will be a rice field by your next visit," said Principal WU Shaowen of Xintian Primary School, Guanlan, pointing at the playground by the teaching building. It's July, 2011, and he is introducing his plan for education for sustainable development (ESD). Four months later, visitors see that the playground has indeed been replaced by not just fields of rice, but also of vegetables and fruit trees, and even a fish pond. When the visitors comment that Xintian is the first school to plant rice and vegetables on school grounds, Wu immediately corrects them. "We are not the first ones to plant vegetables. Actually there are a lot of schools doing this, but they do that for food, while for us, we have primarily an educational purpose. So we are the first ones to plant food at a school for that reason," explains Wu.

Wu, in his early forties, looks young and energetic, but never aggressive. His goal has never been to gain fame among his peers; he is genuinely passionate about his career and the goal of better education for children. Luo Liqun, Director of Education Office at Guanlan, Shenzhen, once called Mr. Wu "one of the outstanding models for Guanlan's education workers." As an example of how he earned this praise, while he was previously principal of Defeng Primary School, he pioneered a program for students to recycle paper to bring attention to environmental protection. Since he started the program in 2007, paper recycling has become part of the culture of Defeng: school community members separate paper from other solid waste, and recycle paper themselves by turning used paper into new, which they also use, giving the students at Defeng the habit of saving paper in their daily life. This program was promoted to other schools at Guanlan in 2009, at Luo Liqun's suggestion and with her support.

Wu joined the ESD project of the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) in 2009, which allowed him to connect to education experts from U.S. and Japan. In June of 2010, he participated in the study tour to Nishinomiya City, Japan. The one-week intensive learning within Japanese schools and communities deepened his understanding of sustainability and education for sustainable development. He noted, "The trip led me to the core of the concept of sustainable development: it means balanced development of human health, economy, environment, society and politics, which fulfills the demands of the current generation without creating harm for the next. ... As the decision-maker in a primary school, I will bring back what I learned from Japan and make it happen. I will combine experiential learning with environmental education, create on-campus facilities for students to learn about the nature, and inspire them to reflect and think up solutions for current environmental issues. "

He has done what he promised. Soon after coming back from Japan, he moved on to another primary school, Xintian, where his new ideas has found the soil in which to germinate and bloom. In the first half of 2011, he made the decision for the school to invest over RMB200,000 (about US$31,750) to design and construct food fields within the campus. "People of my age, we were brought up in the mountains, rivers and fields. We are not ignorant of nature. But children in the city nowadays, they don't know where their food comes from, how it's grown. Their connection to nature and land was broken by urbanization. When I was in Japan, I was impressed that children there have opportunities to learn about environmental issues, in nature, via hands-on activities. I felt I should create the same opportunity for my students at Xintian," Wu said.

The construction of new facilities began in the summer and was completed two months later. Children welcome the new learning and playing ground and all of them volunteer to take part in field work. Due to the limited number of jobs positions, there is even a waiting list! But those that can't yet be actively engaged are still brought in to observe and learn about the process, and encouraged to share their thoughts and reflections via drawing and writing. With teachers engaged in communicating the program to parents, these activities also have the support of parents.

"Teachers are being educated in this process as well," said Ms. Li, the teacher in charge of ESD activities at Xintian. With a happy smile she revealed, "Actually I didn't know how to plant vegetables and rice. So I'm learning and growing with the students. "

In just one year, Wu's first ideas have come into reality. But it's only a beginning. Wu and Xintian Primary School have every intention of deepening and expanding their ESD activities. They are deeply rooting the concept of environmentalism into the minds of students and teachers, and taking real action.

Since 1/1/2011,you are the 3291 vistor!