Taking a cool approach to a hot global issue
British Council unites HK and British students in an eco-awareness programme. Liz Gooch reports
Scientists are predicting global catastrophe. Politicians from left and right are either capitalising on the fear factor or doing their utmost to ignore the political hot potato.
Throw in a good dose of the celebrity factor, with rock concerts in major world cities, and you have an environmental problem that has captivated the world.
With experts predicting that the next generation will suffer the potential fall-out of climate change, from more droughts and floods to dramatic rises in sea levels, it seems apt that the debate, most often heard in laboratories and parliamentary chambers, is being taken to the classroom.
This week's launch of Climate Cool, a British Council project that merges education and information technology with the climate-change conundrum, kickstarted a three-year project that will begin in Hong Kong and British schools before spreading to other countries, including Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, within six months.
In Hong Kong, 11 aided schools and the English Schools Foundation will be involved in the project, which will target Form Two students, the first cohort to study the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education.
Students will take part in face-to-face and online activities that will involve local students working with their British counterparts, while Form Six students will act as mentors.
The project, which involves an online learning platform developed by IT company UniServity, is being hailed as an effective learning tool that can be used in a range of subjects such as geography, environmental education, sciences, integrated humanities, liberal studies and IT.
The Education Bureau's Deputy Secretary of Education, Chris Wardlaw, said the project represented 'best practice' in teaching and learning.
'It's a step forward for our young people in trying to actively engage in this critical issue,' he said.
Mr Wardlaw said the programme would encourage collaboration among students and teachers, and build on their prior knowledge.
'The programme has all the right things to engage students,' he said. 'I think it'll get a lot of interest from the schools.'
Mr Wardlaw said while Form Two students were the target group, the project could be broadened across a range of curriculum areas.
'It needs to be meaningful and purposeful as part of the curriculum, not just as an add-on, but that's up to teachers to use it well and I think they can.'
Mr Wardlaw said the project emphasised cross-discipline learning.
Roger Cheng Hon-man, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong's education department, acted as an academic consultant on Climate Cool. He said the project's mode of learning strongly reflected the spirit of liberal studies.
It encouraged students to be active learners and the mentor programme could help schools develop an innovative form of student leadership.
Dr Cheng said the project would also boost local students' English skills through interaction with their overseas peers.
'English has to be learned in an authentic manner. The interesting part of the Climate Cool project is it becomes a very interactive component for students to immerse themselves in the English medium without being aware of such an environment,' he said.
The learning platform will also include a 'Teachers' Zone' where teachers can connect with their counterparts in other countries and share resources.
Sam Bevan, a science teacher at Creative Secondary School, was confident the project would help in the classroom.
She said the programme would complement the International Baccalaureate middle years programme that her school taught because it focused on interdisciplinary learning and encouraged students to learn through exploring.
Ms Bevan said the IT platform was an appealing way for students to share their ideas. 'They love to communicate using this virtual world. I think for students it's something they're very comfortable with. It's a new avenue for students to share their ideas and get a bigger sense beyond their own school, to get a bigger picture. We're really trying to open our students' eyes,' she said.
Ms Bevan said learning online was natural for this generation of students.
'I can really see how for students in this age group - they love sitting and tapping at the keyboard - just how exciting this can be,' she said, adding that the international nature of the programme would be particularly beneficial for monocultural schools.
Oscar Yu Ho-cheong, a Form Two student at Creative Secondary, took part in Tuesday's question-and-answer session with students at Honiton Community College in Devon, south west England.
He said that while he and his classmates were often bombarded with the dos and don'ts involved in protecting the environment, they would be more likely to try to conserve energy if they knew more about the causes and impact of climate change.
'We know the climate is changing and we know what we can do, but we don't really know what is the real impact in Hong Kong,' said Oscar, 13.
During the project's first 'lesson', Hong Kong Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying explained how global warming was affecting Hong Kong, with more hot days and rising sea levels. He said students could make a difference by living 'a less material-intensive way of life', using less air conditioning and taking cold showers in summer.
British Council director Ruth Gee said Climate Cool would enable young people in Hong Kong and Britain to share opinions and develop ideas for policymakers and ordinary citizens.
Hong Kong students would be able to collaborate on socially responsible programmes like a beach clean-up and local universities would monitor and evaluate the programme. Ms Gee said she hoped that by the end of two years, some of the students would have met in Britain and Hong Kong.
'It was clear at the launch that these students take their responsibility seriously and will do their best to improve the environment and reduce Hong Kong and the UK's contribution to global warming. That aspect of social responsibility is our ultimate aim,' she said.
The South China Morning Post is a media partner for Climate Cool. For more information visit www.britishcouncil.org.hk/climatecool