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Sustainability Literacy for African Children through Literature

Children from Sagbokodji riverine communities where we provided solar installations for free

Given the enormity of the climate challenge, it is surprising how limited coverage of our changing climate receives in current children’s fiction. More importantly, how more limiting literature for African Children by African authors who understand their reality. As these children approach being a youth in this decade, they will be responsible for the future protection of our fragile planet. So, their knowledge and engagement are critical. Sustainability literacy is essential to Nigerian children, Africa at large. We have observed that children are deeply concerned about environmental issues and worry because their voices are not being heard, nor that their opinions are considered.

Through literature, children can better understand global issues, engage in critical inquiry about themselves globally, and combine narrative structure with information to take children beyond and expand their knowledge of complex scientific concepts such as climate change. Education is key to the integrated global framework of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), reaffirmed as a central concern by the United Nations and UNESCO. There is a direct relationship between childhood education and achieving Sustainable Development Goals. As we approach SDG 2030, proper childhood education provides a sound footing and foundation that equips a child to become professional and competent to handle the development issues outlined in the global goals. Education for sustainability shapes learning and attitudes and provides the proper foundation for these children to tackle different aspects of sustainability in a localized manner as they transition into adults. REES Africa understands the challenges of education for sustainability in Nigeria, one of which is its absence in the curriculum. We have identified this gap and have organized different strategies to enable the reality we seek.

The first strategy is through literature

This infographic shows the problem with representation in children’s books. Credit: Huffington Post

Huffington Post explains how the limitation of diversity in children’s books are failing our kids as books are supposed to be mirrors, image builder and a source of powerful inspiration. With suitable literature, children move from a position of powerlessness to a place of possibility.
To tackle these two grave issues inclusively, Authors Tenn Zipa and Yetunde Fadeyi, founder of REES Africa, created a narrative titled “JEMIMA & THE WIND TURBINE,” sharing stories and experiences which an average African child aged 5–15 can relate to. In the Words of Tenn Zipa,

‘Ever since I could read, I’ve been obsessed about story telling as it depicts ingenuity and mirror our immediate society. Having studied Literature books for children, I have come to a conclusion that there is a huge gap and we need a better representation of our environment in the literature for our children.When Yetunde Fadeyi, My co-author narrated her childhood experiences ridden with environmental issues to me, I thought it very important to share with the world how environmental pollution and climate change affects the average Nigerian Child and how children can make change, no matter how small as this little change can alter the course of their lives for good.’

Jemima and the Wind Turbine (Available on Amazon Kindle)

Jemima and the Wind Turbine tells the story of a young girl who lost her parents to carbon monoxide poisoning from fossil fuel in the urban slums of Lagos, Nigeria. She moves in with her uncle and aunt, who are advocates of environmental sustainability. She becomes immersed in a sustainable lifestyle and ends up impacting her immediate society. With the help of her relatives and organizations, Jemima eventually builds a wind turbine for her community to help them. The state governor is so impressed and gives both Jasmine and Jemima full scholarships to study to any length. Jemima grows up to work in the United Nations, creating localized change within communities through global cooperation. Jemima’s character mirrors the life of an Average Nigerian Child and how they are affected by energy and environmental issues. To this effect, we have written this book to serve as a guide to immerse, educate, and imbibe children into the Sustainability culture. This book secondarily teaches gender equality and leadership attitudes which children need to understand during their formative years. The book is endorsed by Catriona Laing, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of the Environment, and several other notable organizations.

The second strategy is through mulitstakeholder engagement

The objective of this project centers on quality, equitable and inclusive education for all, which underscores SDG 4. This is because the importance and linkage of education to the development of any society cannot be over-emphasized. To develop its financial, human, and sociological resources, the nation must invest in education. This is because education is fundamental to the development of any society. However, it must be the right kind of education- an essential tool for achieving growth at all levels. Hence, Education for Sustainability could play a significant role “in preparing present and future citizens and aiding societies to make the necessary transitions to sustainability.
Before now, REES Africa has sensitized ten primary and junior secondary schools in Ogun, Lagos, and Oyo State, creating awareness about the SDGs 7 and 13. We have introduced children to the effects of plastic pollution, renewable energy resources, how they function, and how they contribute to the environment. We also carry out several demonstrations on solar energy and plastic upcycling. To kickstart this discussion for sustainability literacy, we organized a multistakeholder dialogue on a critical analysis of education for sustainability into the childhood curriculum.
This event was held at the British Council, Lagos. We had different stakeholders from the government, civil societies, children, public and private schools, and private entities discuss the need to communicate sustainability to children early. The stakeholder engagement also addressed how we can inculcate sustainable development education into the curriculum.

The dialogue and focus group discussions helped assessed the awareness, interest, knowledge, confidence, participation and engagement, gaps, and training needs in environmental sustainability among representative students and teachers of public and private primary and junior secondary schools that participated prior to (Pre-test) and after (Post-test) the dialogue and focus group discussions.The feedback from the dialogue highlighted the need to create mentorships for teachers and students in schools, influencing children with more literature and storytelling, Social media campaigns, amongst others.

Overview of students, government entities, CSOs and schools represented during the multistakeholder dialogue and the book launch

Our third strategy to ensure our goal of reaching at least 10,000 African children across the world in 2021 is a pilot Literacy drive to distribute 2000 copies of ‘Jemima and the Wind Turbine’ across Nigerian Schools.

This project will begin in August in Nigerian primary/junior secondary schools to educate children on innovative ways to ensure sustainability. Children in rural schools will be provided with hanging libraries by a partner TNCI (made of USED fabric) equipped with the books, distributing a minimum of 2000 books across these schools. At the end of the sessions, students will assemble a solar lamp or upcycle plastics into creative art. This engagement will be rounded off with a COVID-19- compliant summit to analyze the reports garnered from our engagement to scale the efforts to achieve sustainability, presenting our research paper, policy guide, learning toolkit, and manual for teachers Education for Sustainability. For scalability, we are also working on developing and designing a curriculum within our cohort and alumni network, engaging the Federal Ministry of Education and NERDC mainstreaming ESD into Nigeria’s curriculum. We aim to inculcate the sustainability-themed book “Jemima and the Wind Turbine’ into the Nigerian Syllabus and encourage other SDG-themed books to follow suit. This program will drive more strategic efforts to mainstream ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) across basic education systems in Nigeria.

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