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New lessons for the future

Belarusian organisations played a key role in developing the Green Steps educational toolkit

July 24, 2017 | By Nathan Johnson

Building on the huge regional success of the Green Pack and Green Pack Junior, a REC-developed multimedia educational toolkit for use in schools, the Green Steps educational toolkit was developed to raise awareness outside the classroom about sustainable lifestyles and the positive difference that citizens can make in their communities. Developed in close cooperation from NGOs in Belarus, Green Steps made its debut in that country as well, marking a significant regional breakthrough for the REC.

“At the earliest stage, we carried out research from our end to identify possible partners in Belarus to help test and introduce the toolkit,” REC Education Expert Kliment Mindjov recalled, “but there were a few organisations that got involved very enthusiastically and really pushed things forward by contributing their own ideas and even developing original content.”

Green Steps, which made its debut in 2014, was developed by the REC’s Educational Tools Topic Area with funding from the Government of Sweden. Produced in Belarusian, English and Russian, the toolkit was one component of the umbrella project “Supporting Environmental Civil Society Organisations in Belarus and Moldova (SECTOR), implemented by the REC’s Participatory Governance Topic Area. The Green Steps materials are disseminated free of charge, and online access is also free.

The multimedia toolkit aims to raise public awareness about sustainable lifestyles, citizens’ environmental rights, and changes that individuals can make in their lives to contribute to sustainable development. The primary targets are members of civils society organisations, but there is also information for educators, students and families. The Green Steps awareness-raising materials are divided into four sections: a virtual around several locations typically visited in the course of everyday activities; information on 25-30 topics related to environmental protection and sustainable development; a series of around 50 factsheets that can be used in educational and group activities; and an encyclopaedia containing information on up to 300 species common to Europe.

Three phases

The Belarusian Green Steps comprised three basic phases, the first of which was a feasibility study. This included meeting with local partners, such as national, regional and local institutions and organisations that would play important roles in the following phases of the project. Preliminary plans, as well as the structure and content of the toolkit, were defined with the aim of harmonising the product with specific national needs and challenges.

The second phase involved establishing a national working group made up of experts in environment, sustainable development and civil society from national institutions and universities, as well as representatives from civil society organisations (CSOs). The working group focused on selecting different Green Steps components and shaping them to fit a country-specific context. The national experts provided input on the environmental and sustainable development issues of greatest relevance to the country, and also contributed specific case-studies.

A train-the-trainers seminar was organised for the third and final phase, during which international and local experts trained local partners on how to train future users of the Green Steps multimedia product. The developed materials were then handed over to local partners who were responsible in turn for distributing the materials to CSOs, educational and information centres and other educational institutions.

Results from training and dissemination

In 2015, a training programme was launched in cooperation with three Belarusian partners: the Center for Environmental Solutions, the Green Network, and Nerush. A total of 10 seminars was organised in eight Belarusian towns and cities: Baranovichi, Barysaw, Brest, Gomel, Grodno, Minsk, Mogilev, and Pinsk. Local experts trained participants on how to use the Green Steps materials, and 2,000 copies of the multimedia toolkit were given to trained CSO activists, university students, teachers and educators for further distribution for training their colleagues in Belarus.

The training programme was followed by a variety of promotional activities, including: open classes for schoolchildren organised by the Vitebsk Zoo; a conference organised by the Association for Families of Excluded People; and a presentation to kindergarten teachers.

Shortly after its release, a Green Steps promotion event was featured in a television spot that aired in Belarus. Future educators and practising teachers were invited to the event to get acquainted with the new teaching materials.

“Such methods are already quite popular in Central Europe,” Mindjov said at the event. “Multimedia products are used intensively in education because modern education does not only require students to attend school, listen to what the teacher says, read the books and repeat the facts. Today, mass media and the internet provide attractive opportunities for learning about a wide variety of issues, so we in turn are trying to develop fascinating, interactive, discussion-based methods of presenting information, making it both useful and user-friendly.

At the University of Baranovichi, the question of how to implement Green Steps in Belarus arose already during product development.

“Bearing in mind that we are preparing teachers for pre-school and primary schools, it is quite natural to offer this interesting product to practising educators and future teachers,” said Vladimir Zuyev, a professor at the University Baranovichi. “The set of materials presents both global and national environmental issues in accordance with existing educational standards and programmes, thus its application in practise is 100 percent. In this context, the university has initiated similar presentations, both for teachers in the city and for students—our future teachers. We hope that the university will become a kind of information centre to which educators can turn, ensuring that the product will be used to its full capacity.

Next steps

Over the past three years, the Green Steps toolkit has been upgraded in preparation for a September 2017 launch in Ukraine.

“The new version will be quite an improvement on its predecessor,” says Mindjov. “For one, there’s a ‘Model Stories’ feature, which are basically case-studies that are presented from the points of view of multiple stakeholders. We’ve also added to the list of professions that were included in the original Green Steps. And, finally, we’ve managed to make the latest version even more interactive, more interesting and more detailed.”

A Green Steps training workshop will take place in Ukraine on September 1, 2017.

The REC’s 12 former “Topic Areas” have since been consolidated into eight “Areas of Expertise”. The “Educational Tools” and “Participatory Governance” topic areas are now included under the respective headings of “Education and Access to Information” and “CSO Empowerment and Organisational Development”.

TAGS: Belarus | Education | Ukraine