"We don't have a spare planet" – environmental protection through education

Project completed
Boys and girls watching a fellow pupil doing an experiment with water.
Small environmental projects in schools are giving children hands-on training in how to manage water resources, waste and energy. © Neskoski

Environmental protection was for a long time not a political priority in North Macedonia and the implementation of environmental protection laws was slow. Now that environmental education is a compulsory subject in school curricula, school students are becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues. This is leading to an improvement in the environment and the living conditions of people in North Macedonia.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Climate change and environment
Water sector policy
Environmental policy
Education policy
01.01.2010 - 31.08.2016
CHF 3'267'400

After North Macedonia's independence, environmental protection was for a long time not a political priority. The population also had little awareness of environmental issues. The slow implementation of laws, particularly in the environmental area, is a fundamental problem in North Macedonia. One of the consequences of the decentralisation process is that municipalities are taking on greater responsibility for environmental issues and the implementation of environmental protection laws. But their financial and human resources are limited.

Swiss support for educational and environmental issues
Education reforms, particularly in the field of environmental education, are currently being neglected by international donors in North Macedonia. Thanks to its commitment, Switzerland can make a major contribution and position itself as North Macedonia's main partner. At the same time, synergies with other SDC projects in the environmental and water resources area can also be exploited.

Pioneering work by OXO NGO
In 1998, OXO launched a pilot project for environmental education in several schools entitled "We don't have a spare planet". The project was based on the guidelines of the international Eco-Schools movement. OXO succeeded in extending the project and voluntary environmental education has been part of the primary school curriculum since the 2008/2009 school year.

Since 2002, the SDC has supported OXO's work in various ways:

  • Teaching materials: Funding of teaching materials for environmental education
  • Network: Integration of schools into the Eco-Schools network
  • Small projects: Support for the implementation of environmental projects in schools
  • Cooperation: Promoting cooperation among schools, municipalities and the business community
  • Campaigns: Various campaigns to raise public awareness

A concrete example of a small project: Together with the municipal authorities and a local business association, the Astibo nursery school in Štip installed solar panels to generate hot water for the nursery school. The children learned about the value of renewable energy, and the nursery school entered into a successful partnership with the municipality and the private sector.

This initiative has not only resulted in greater environmental awareness and a change in behaviour, but has also developed students' and teachers' project management, communication, fund raising and mobilisation skills. In addition, students and teachers are playing an active role in shaping the life of their own communities.

Institutionalisation of environmental education at the national level
In response to these successes, the project was expanded in 2012. Environmental education was included in the compulsory curricula of pre-school, primary and secondary school institutions across the country. The ministry of education and the schools are very involved in the gradual implementation of the new guidelines. OXO has recently taken on an advisory and support function. The institutionalisation of environmental education across the board as an integral part of state school curricula by 2015 can therefore be seen as a promising development.