Why inter-school competitions are a valuable tool for environmental sustainability education

Why inter-school competitions are a valuable tool for environmental sustainability education

Every environmental educator must ask two questions to create activities that are successful at creating interest in the students: What will I create? and Will students be motivated enough to engage and make changes to their own lives?

Great activities created to generate excitement and maximize learning is essential to environmental education. But it's only half of the puzzle. Unless you are proactive about how much students are interested in it and apply it to their lives, you will struggle to find value with your work.

One solution to this problem is competitions. In this guide, you'll learn how to create a successful competition, why it works and exactly how to implement it.

First a little background of how this idea came into works.

October 2020, Covid was as its peak and we were all scrambling for new ideas to get the environmental education program up and running at Thant Myanmar (a grassroots non-profit in Myanmar I was working with).

Having gotten used to working remotely and Zoom taking over our lives, I came up with the idea of using our latest publication contribution called the Plastic Atlas published by Heinrich Böll Stiftung (Berlin, Germany).

It was a win-win. We wanted the Plastic Atlas to reach more students and not just read it but actually pay attention to its content and hopefully use it in some manner.

So, we came up with idea of running a nation-wide competition in Myanmar purely online. It required students to present one chapter and do their own research and provide solutions to the problem stated in that chapter.

We received 29 applicants from 12 schools from 5 different regions of Myanmar. This was a huge feat and an indication that students were enthusiastic to participate in the competition. This answered our very first question.

What will I Create?

What will make students enthusiastic to participate in a competition like this?  

Let's begin with the content. The issue of plastic pollution is rampant in Myanmar and more visible than anywhere else as proper waste management does not exist and therefore we see plastic litter everywhere we go. Students can see that and are aware of it. There is a motivation for students to be involved in solutions to this massive problem of plastic pollution.

Next is the accessibility. The competition was open to any student from any school regardless of status or location. The competition was managed and conducted purely online. This allowed students from all over Myanmar to apply. Also I personally reached out to over 100 local school and educational organizations urging them to compete. A opportunity where a student can showcase their talents and compete with other students from international schools and all over the country is hard to come by and therefore very attractive.

Next is the question of:

Will students be motivated enough to engage and make changes to their own lives?

This is answered by the rewards the winners would get from the competition. I knew I had to give something lucrative to the students. Material possessions or money does not really go a long way. I definitely did not see it fitting as the Plastic Atlas talks about the evils of consumption and it would be counter-intuitive and in very bad taste to do that.

So, I tapped into my supportive network.

I got the winners internships with prestigious companies and organizations contributing to helping the planet in some from or the other. These were WWF, Myanmar Recycles (this company was closed after the coup in 2021) and Thant Myanmar.

I believe this is what made many schools and organizations very willing to participate.

All in all, the competition was a hit.

Winners of Plastic Atlas Competition held in Myanmar on November, 2020

So what are did I learn and what can educators working in environmental education take away from this experience.

  1. Competitions between school or university students is a great way to engage them in the topics of environmentalism. It creates excitement and a drive to work harder. When its also a matter of school pride, it becomes very important for both students and teachers to work hard at it.
  2. Give students tangible and beneficial rewards. Experiences like an internship is not only an extremely good prize but it is something that will help enhance their academic and professional life in the future. It is bound to make a life changing impact on their lives.
  3. Build a network outside of academics. Nothing works better than having supportive people from the private sector or government that work in this industry and who have the position and power to provide for resources.

You can view the full event held live on facebook live here.

Here are some samples of the content on the Plastic Atlas. You can download it from here.

Nitika Bhardwaj

Nitika Bhardwaj

I aspire to contribute in my own little way in the development of humanity through the lens of sustainability and conscious living.