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Environmental Awareness Starts Young

With his drawing of "a crying mermaid" in hand, 12-year-old Zhang Wenpeng said people must wake up to the fact that damaging the environment was destroying everything progress had worked for.

"To save water is to save our lives," he said.

His classmate in the fifth grade of Guiyang Experimental Primary School in Guizhou Province, 11-year-old Zhou Zhiyun, has painted a big shining bulb, calling upon people not to waste electricity.

The students were at a class meeting, discussing "what is climate change and what we can do."

A video introduced the topic before students and they were given the floor to air their own views, either with drawings or by expressing their opinions.

It has become routine for all the classes in the school to organize similar activities, said Xuan Zhiying, headmaster of the school.

Xuan said the school, a "green school" approved by the Guizhou Provincial Environmental Protection Bureau, has set up a meteorological observation station on campus, through which students can observe weather changes and record the data on computer.

Various activities with an environmental theme are held to encourage students' participation in these issues.

The school encourages the students to pass on what they have learned in school to their parents and communities.

"My family used to keep all the lights in our house on all night - now we only turn them on when we need them," said Zhou Zhiyun.

"Our school is also a 'global village'," said student Du Yixian.

The students have elected their own head of the "village," an accountant and an auditor to organize and supervise "village business."

Each class has established a recycling station to collect reusable waste such as paper and tins.

The collection will then be placed in a big recycling center next to the school gate and sold to recycling companies. Any money made will go to help students in poor areas, said Du.

The school was twinned with a Canadian school, the Jamieson Elementary, earlier this year to exchange information and experience on the environment, especially climate change.

"Chinese schools are treating environmental education more importantly, so more 'green schools' like the Guiyang Experimental Primary School are emerging," said Jiao Zhiyan, director of the Center for Environmental Education and Communications of the State Environmental Protection Administration.

Jiao said China has now approved 16,933 green schools like this, with 284 at national level.

Another 208 primary and middle schools are expected to pass national inspections at the end of the year.

The idea of the "green school" originated in Europe in 1994. They have to include environmental education in their curricula and take full advantage of teaching personnel, materials and facilities to improve students' awareness of the environment.

China introduced the concept in 1996.

"Education is important and effective and can help youngsters develop better habits. Meanwhile they can be good vehicles for passing on knowledge to the community," said Jiao.

He said China started to carry out programs among youngsters in 1995.

The first program was a Sino-US venture, which set up some meteorological observation stations in schools and encouraged pupils to collect climate data.

Since then, Jiao's center has carried out many joint programs with support from international organizations like the United Nations Environment Program and countries like the United States and Sweden. Some transnational companies have also been involved.

Chinese youngsters are getting more and more actively involved in international contests and activities in the field.

Two groups of Chinese middle school students took part in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition in Sweden, a worldwide award that encourages young people to carry out scientific research and technical inventions in water pollution control and water conservation.

Three senior middle school students from Taoyuan Middle School in Foshan, Guangdong Province took part in the 2004 global contest in August with their "Black and Grey Water Separating" treatment for household sewage.

"We didn't win the big prize, but the judges liked it and we have learned a lot from contestants from other countries," said participant Chen Haobin from the Taoyuan Middle School.

(China Daily November 18, 2004)

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