» Okayama City: a social revolution in sustainable development
31.01.2017 - Education Sector

Okayama City: a social revolution in sustainable development

© Okayama City Daisan Fujita Elementary School

Okayama city, famed in Japan for its high quality of living, has another claim. It is a world leader in the promotion of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

That’s why in 2016 the Okayama ESD Project received the UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development for its ‘whole city’ approach to ESD involving schools, the government, corporations, NGOs and more than 260 groups of citizens, ranging from children to elderly people.

Okayama City, population 720,000, is located in Okayama Prefecture, some 700 km west of Tokyo and blessed with long hours of sunlight and spared natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes it is a major producer of rice, vegetables and fruits.

ESD begins in elementary schools such as the Fujita Dai-san Elementary School where weekly ESD classes are based on the theme of “Let’s find Fujita treasures”. Pupils spend a year visiting local farms and meeting with human “treasures”, elders with specialized knowledge of the local area. Fourth graders learn about global environment and garbage recycling while fifth graders study agriculture and actually take part in rice planting. Sixth graders look beyond Japan to discover “What is happiness?” by working with the non-profit organization Heart of Gold, communicating with foreign schools via Skype and undertaking fund-raising activities.

Schoolteacher Ms Mayumi Itakura, 49, said: “Our children walk through the rice paddies to come to school every morning, but before ESD classes, they seldom took an interest in what is grown there. Now they have become interested in different kinds of rice and some even come to me to ask about how it is grown. One child became eager to take over a family farming business in the future.”

The key to success is that all learning is reinforced with practical application. After learning about agriculture, one child suggested preparing a bento, or box lunch, with food grown locally in Fujita District and the idea came to fruition. 

Other students work on ESD on a voluntary basis outside school. At the UNESCO-associated Okayama Ichinomiya High School, the UNESCO Club was founded 14 years ago and its main activities involve learning about fair trade and selling fair trade products. The scheme has resulted in the production of a replaceable plastic umbrella manufactured in Cambodia with a percentage of proceeds to be donated to the country.

One strong feature of the “Okayama Model” is community learning centres (CLCs) called “Kominkans” which serve as ESD hubs. Originally set up for citizens to participate in cultural activities, there are currently 37 community learning centres in Okayama City, one in each school district, and partnerships have been built with CLCs in other Asian countries.

Kyoyama District CLC is especially dedicated to ESD. Mr Mitsuyuki Ikeda, 57, Director of the ESD Promotion Council of the Kyoyama District of Okayama City, was working as an environmental consultant some 20 years ago when he became involved in it.

“At the Kyoyama Kominkan, there are about 90 clubs initiated by citizens, for dancing, cooking and English conversation, as well as some 20 Kominkan-led courses including ESD activities,” he said.

“Among the ESD initiatives, we organize environmental checkups twice a year, an open forum called ‘ESD Café’, filmmaking to record the traditions and memories of the Kyoyama District, ‘Friendly Kyoyama’ for communication with foreign students, and the annual ESD Festival.”

One result of the work of the CLCs is the construction of the Kannon Temple Ditch, a pleasant 400 meter-long walkway through greenery and water, which came about after a suggestion from a junior high school student who told a Forum with the Mayor: “It is hot here due to the heat island effect. We would like the school district to be more temperate and comfortable with well-managed greenery and clear water.”

The current challenge is to develop future core leaders to ensure sustainability and to this end Mr Ikeda and others created Kyoyama ESD Fellowships ten years ago.

Our target is to produce 1,000 fellows per year within the Kyoyama District. That would make 5,000 in five years, meaning that out of the District’s population of 25,000, 10 per cent would be certified as fellows in five years. When 20 per cent of the entire population change their attitude, they affect the entire society. That’s the ‘social revolution’ ESD aims for,” he said.

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