Our school is situated in Lombardia, in the North of Italy. This region is characterised by a continental climate with cold, snowy winters and warm, muggy summers. In recent years, there have been several sudden temperature changes and peculiar atmospheric events (strong winds, torrential rain etc.), that are absolutely unusual and have attracted the attention of children, adults and local media.
Caravate School is situated in the village of Caravate in Varese Province in Italy. There are 94 students, in five classes. The age of the students is between 6 and 10 years old. Almost all the students live in Caravate, only a few of them come from near villages. In this zone of Italy, the villages are all close together.
The work we describe here was carried out in the ‘Pathways Project Curriculum Workshop’. The objective of the project was to make personal connections between the children and to share observations about the environment around the school and the village which the school serves. Participation offered an opportunity for the Italian pupils of Caravate School to learn about different cultures and daily life in both Nepal and England. It took place over two school years, 2013/14 and 2014/15, during which time we held a number of Skype communications and exchanged simple objects and hand-written letters.
Through this project, we were able to address a number of the guidelines in a creative and innovative manner that incorporated the local changing conditions described above. For example, in the guidelines for science (one of the four main subjects) it states that “students have to observe and interpret local and global environmental changes, both natural, and those caused by humans”. In geography, “students have to know and plan safeguard actions and recovery of the natural heritage”. Recycling, fighting against pollution, renewable energies, biodiversity and climate are also mentioned. These guidelines allowed us enough flexibility to incorporate this project into the school timetable, and to work with the students for two years, perfectly in line with the National Curriculum. We were also able to address some of the guidelines for learning English. For example: “teachers can create situations where the foreign language is used to promote learning in different subjects and contexts”. At the outset of the project the children began by meeting and interviewing elderly people in their families, regarding their own experiences; then we got in touch with the Protezione Civile – a government agency which takes care of population, buildings, structures, and so on. We followed different events, mostly climatic, and volunteers from the Protezione Civile came to our school and taught the children how to actively look after their environment. For them, looking at and listening to older ‘climatic’ pictures, videos and anecdotes provided a window into the past. The children soon started asking: “Why in summer is it getting so hot?” “Why doesn’t it snow anymore?” and eventually “Why has the climate changed?”
In this project, the communication was always in English, a logical choice which however was a challenge for both the Italian and Nepali children, but it was also an incentive to learn another language which is essential nowadays. But for some of our children it was even their third language, for they themselves came from different places, for example Morocco and Nigeria.
At the end of our programme, we noticed that the pupils were more aware that pollution has increased in recent years, and that society has over-used (and continues to over-use) technological equipment (such as keeping up-to-date with the latest phones, computers, and tablets), as well as deforesting unnecessarily. This excessive deforestation, for example, leads to landslides and changes in the geographical landscape. Using these examples of cause and
effect as a basis, the children themselves formulated possible solutions to improve the situation, for example by saving energy, creating less waste, preserving the environment and buying local products.
We have successfully kept in contact with our Nepali and English schoolmates, and through a few short lines (always written in English), we managed to get to know each other and to exchange our opinions. Through this process of putting what we have learned about where we live into a dialogue with other children from regions with very different climatic, geological and cultural characteristics, and overcoming the linguistic obstacles, we have strengthened our understanding of how local issues are the consequences of global changes and have a deepened awareness of the meaning of equity for different people. All of this has been achieved using a courageous, creative approach to addressing the requirements of the curriculum. Our work demonstrates that the curriculum need not be a constraint on our creativity as teachers but may in fact be the bedrock on which a courageous teacher and their pupils can build a creative and challenging programme for learning about the environment, including its past, present and future.
Our goal for the future is to work closely together and learn everything we can from each other to improve our resilience and plan for a more equitable and inclusive world. What an experience!
Tiziana and Francesca are teachers who work in Caravate School in Lombardia, Italy. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in NAEE’s 2017 journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 114). To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.