Green wave sweeps nation's schools

Educators note rising interest in environmental issues among haredim, Arabs.

Green recycle grap224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Green recycle grap224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Environmental Protection Ministry and the Education Ministry are slated to declare the new school year a green one at a ceremony next week in front of the principals of all the elementary schools in Israel. While many of the ministries' environmental education programs will be continuing from last year, the Environmental Protection Ministry said Monday that it had increased its budgeting for old and new programs by nearly NIS 1 million to a total NIS 5.5m. The ministry also said it was launching a nationwide campaign this year among elementary schools to encourage recycling and efficient use of resources. Zivit Linder, director of the environmental education division at the Environmental Protection Ministry, explained the ministry's philosophy to The Jerusalem Post. "There aren't that many curricula which teach environmental studies, rather sustainability is incorporated into most of the existing curriculums [like geography, the sciences etc.]. We will also stress ecological management of the schools themselves," she said. While the ministry also ran programs in middle and high schools, Linder said this year they were focusing on elementary schools. They also hoped to add to the 150 schools who have already been recognized as "green" schools, she said. To be considered "green," a school has to have an environmental curriculum, a community assistance program and effectively manage the school's resources. There were another 50 schools, in addition to the 150, that were teaching environmental studies, the ministry said. Five thousand pupils took the environmental studies matriculation exam each year. Linder also said that the ministry was in the midst of a study of the Arab and haredi sectors to better understand how to convey environmental messages to those populations. Study coordinator Maya Negev declined to comment because the study was in its initial stages and wouldn't be ready for several months. While the Arab and haredi sectors have oft been considered slower or less interested in environmental protection than their religious Zionist and secular counterparts, several experts told the Post Monday there was growing interest and organization in both groups. Carmi Wisemon, head of Sviva Israel, who recently taught environmental basics to 50 haredi volunteers in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot, said there was mounting awareness and desire to learn among haredim. "There is definitely a strong desire to learn, and to implement. What's lacking is educational material. More and more people are interested in changing the way their neighborhoods look, and their quality of life," he said. The haredi media has also begun to cover environmental issues, thus exposing the community much more, he said. But Wisemon said the haredi school system was a "tough nut to crack." "Every school is independent. If you want to launch an environmental education program, you have to pitch it to every school individually," he explained. Wisemon objected to characterizing haredim as big polluters. "They have a littering problem and population density problems. But look at haredi municipalities like Betar - [it] got five stars from the Council for a Beautiful Israel. The haredi municipalities understand how to work with haredim and somehow manage to do it," he noted. The next step was financial in nature, according to Wisemon. "Haredim are not at the point yet where they are willing to pay for environmental initiatives or education. You can get money for a shul [from donors] but not for an educational initiative," he said. Daniel Trilnick, head of Reshet Yeruka - the Green Network of Schools, concurred with Wisemon's general assessment and added that environmental issues were becoming platforms for dialogue. "It is fertile ground for common ground. People are beginning to realize that environmental problems don't stop at the borders of your neighborhood or town and are beginning to want to educate their children about them," he said. Reshet Yeruka is a 10-year joint initiative of The Heschel Center and the Karev Educational Initiative, a growing web of schools that have embraced sustainability as a central part of their educational vision, according to their Web site. They have run many initiatives in both the haredi and Arab sectors as well as the mainstream Jewish sector. Trilnick added that educational curriculums which linked religious values to environmental ones were beginning to flourish. Arab environmental activism started to spread in 1994, Environmental Quality Unit Northern Triangle Director Muhammad Rabah Aghbarieh told the Post. "It started in Beit Netofa and then spread to Shaar Hagalil, Tamra, to Wadi Ara and eventually to the Negev. The first step was appointing environmental educators to the environmental units," he explained. Units like Aghbarieh's were encouraged and supported by the Environmental Protection Ministry but are part of the local authorities. Aghbarieh and his unit in Umm el-Fahm just recently put together the first conference for imams and the environment. "There is a green extracurricular group and a youth movement. In the schools, the curriculum makes lots of references to sustainability," he said. Linder noted that of 56 schools registered as green last year, 14 were in the Arab sector. "There are also environmental activist groups emerging as a result of 10 years of education," Aghbarieh said. For Aghbarieh, the issue also came down to money. "It is time for the Education Ministry to roll up its sleeves and get to work building good laboratories and outfitting the community centers with professional tools to become another educational source," he said.