It is official: from September environmental education will be taught in Italian schools. The subject – which will be called Sustainable Development – will be part of the broader subject of Social Studies and will be compulsory in all schools.
The Italian Ministry for Education recently provided guidelines for the teaching of the subject together with the goals it hopes to achieve, first and foremost to instill a greater awareness among the younger generations on topics that are crucial for society and which can no longer be excluded from the school curriculum.
But let’s go step by step. What is this new subject all about?
As we’ve mentioned, it will be part of the broader subject of Social Studies, which also includes modules on the constitution and the functioning of government as well as digital citizenship. The Sustainable Development subject is based on the 17 goals set by the United Nations Agenda 2030 (a set of parameters that countries have to reach by that year) to introduce the protection of the environment, the construction of living environments, food safety and so on. In concrete terms, there is still a great deal of confusion around separate waste collection and in general on the disposal cycle; providing greater clarity may help young people (and their families) to improve the way they separate waste. It could also provide a better understanding of clean energy or the importance of preventing the wasteful consumption of resources.
Testifying to the importance of including this subject in the school curriculum is the satisfaction of those who have been working with young people for some time, also on a voluntary basis, whereas from September it will enter all schools in a structured way. Elpidio Pota is secretary general of the Mario Diana Foundation, a non-profit organization engaged in educating and promoting culture (in science, the arts and the environment) especially amongst youngsters, which has also introduced a number of projects into schools. When asked how he greeted the decision by the Ministry, Pota is very clear: “I could answer very simply: at last. We can only be happy with this decision. So far, in our own small way, we have filled the gap in the school curriculum. Those teachers who were more sensitive to the subject were already doing something, but in most cases as there was no requirement from the Ministry they just followed the regular curriculum.”
Sustainable Development is based on the 17 goals set by the United Nations Agenda 2030.
Schools were very reluctant to voluntarily teach the subject, fearing they would get caught up in expensive ventures: “In recent years, when we entered schools, we were welcomed with open arms. The first question that school managers asked us when we presented our project was: ‘are there any costs for the school?’ When we assured them that the project and the cost of environmental teaching was at our expense, then everything became simpler.”
To understand what we are talking about and what kinds of activities schools will be introducing, it helps to take a look at some of the projects run by the Mario Diana Foundation. One example is Seguimi, a project that aims to improve the quality of separate waste collection within the communities and institutions where the course is run: “We have been running this project since 2017,” Pota explains, “and we have visited ten areas and involved over 26,000 schoolchildren.” Through Seguimi, each school creates its own ecological island and makes the children more aware of the importance of separate waste collection through gamification: each challenge is presented as a game, the waste containers can be decorated by the children and by rolling a special die each one takes on a different role. Cartoniadi (Paper Olympics) creates a competition between classes to promote waste separation.
A specific feature of the Foundation, which may prove useful to the Ministry of Education, is how it applies the latest technology to teaching. Virtual reality is one such example, taken into the classroom to explain various aspects of environmental education. “To make the learning of what is an important and complex subject easier – like separate waste collection – we can provide schools with another innovative tool, Waste Travel 360°, the first virtual tour of the waste world designed by the consulting company Ancitel Energia & Ambiente. Using devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones, participants can embark on a virtual journey and discover how waste is treated, recycled and transformed.” This could surely make the subject even more engaging.