Let’s have a schooling revolution (lower carbon footprint, too)

When I finally left St Johns College all the matrics were presented with an enormous book containing the history of the school.

They proved quite useful in hand-to-hand combat or as ornamental doorstoppers. One legendary boy, ‘Stoner,’ reckoned it would save him from buying Rizzlers until he was 50. I successfully used my copy during basic training in the army; to convince the good Sergeant that I needed special leave to return to the monastery every Sunday.

Today life has changed and we are informed that the old school is targeting a carbon neutral footprint. So we are encouraged not to print the newsletters that are circulated to the 10 000 disciples of the monastery of St John.

Perhaps it is possible to reduce the old school to a carbon neutral footprint. If generation Z can be convinced to take cold showers after sport, adopt a new school diet, observe no smoking rules and submit their homework in braille, that is.

But that’s a very narrow view of sustainable development. Lets examine the modern private school on the triple bottom-line approach ‘3BL.’ That’s not only planet/ conservation but also includes profit and people.

In the course of my travels I am appalled by the extent of the schlepping the kids that features in every RSA city. The difference in the traffic when schools are on holiday is quite amazing.  And some simple calculations show the collateral damage.

Assume 1 student is driven 10kms to school in a 3 liter 4X4 with a return trip after school. That’s 40kms a day, times 180 schooldays – `that’s 7200 kms per year at 150 grams carbon emission per kilometer =1 carbon emission ton ‘CET’ per annum.  It could easily escalate up to 1000 CET’s per school per annum.

This is all pretty immaterial if we are debating carbon tax implementation at R120 per ton.. What’s another R120 in the context of an all-in cost of a private school education. Or a Range Rover costing about R13 per kilometer at AA rate.

A few years ago I felt quite at home in Paris. There were RSA school tours everywhere. Add in a couple of domestic flights a year for school sports tours and many students can easily be adding a further 2 CET’s each to their school’s carbon footprint, just in flying.

If the school adds in 3 CET’s per student just for travel that can escalate up to 3000 CET’s per annum. How does the school ever get back to Carbon casino online Neutral? Maybe they are going to start a plantation and add a section 18A tax-deductible environmental levy to the fee statement. Or put a wind farm on the Clive Rice cricket pitch?

This all does not detract from it being a most admirable initiative for any school to quantify (and presumably publish?) its carbon footprint.  We could even see integrated financial reporting for schools. Professor Mervyn King would be most impressed.

In the alternative history of South Africa the first thing Jan van Riebeeck did when he arrived in the Cape was enroll his sons at Bishops. And it is said that Colonel Graham located Grahamstown in a dry desolate valley so he could send his sons to St Andrews.  The important aspect was that their sons stayed in boarding school and only commuted twice a year. Today, sport included, the academic week is fast approaching 6 days so parents can watch rowing on a Saturday. Yes, we all strive to excel at going backwards.

In Africa it was the tradition that elders educated children. And today the United States seems to be picking up on this simple, effective and sustainable concept. US families are fast moving back to the family arrangement in the Dallas TV series or the ‘6 parent family,’ all living under one roof.

When the baby boomer generation retire they become teachers armed with iPads and supervise generation Z at home. While generation Y works on flexi-time. What is really neat in the arrangement is that parents become actively involved in education instead of blaming teachers when anything goes wrong. To top it all the baby boomer generation would have some purpose in their retirement.

Should we not be looking to initially reduce the 6-day school week to 4? With initially one day a week at home studying properly supervised blended learning packages. If it worked we could strive to reduce to to 3 days at school per week.

Schools would remain open for 6 full days thereby accommodating more students, spreading the fixed costs over a higher fee base and hopefully containing fees. That way we wouldn’t have to continually build more schools, we would simply redeploy the existing resources more effectively.

My Mom was a great teacher and adamant that nothing can replace direct contact between a student and a competent teacher. ‘ That’s when the magic of teaching happens’ she said.  My reply was always ‘Yes Mom, but the cost of direct contact education is fast becoming far too expensive for most parents to sustain.’

’ What Balls, Matthew!’ was always her reply.

Dad was also a great teacher and he reckoned that nothing could inflict more damage than an incompetent or demotivated teacher. So, if Dad was right, surely good blended learning  alternatives can be more effective as bad direct contact education.

If we are going to wait for government to fix the problems within the department of education we are never going to achieve the objectives of the National Development Plan. We all need to get involved and come up with more innovative solutions in education, instead of just bitching from the sidelines.

If the private schools could successfully develop blended learning alternatives in the pursuit of a lower carbon footprint that would be worth a great deal. But if these programs could somehow be shared with those less fortunate in RSA it could make a fantastic contribution towards sustainable development in RSA.  Then all South Africans could be winners.

I had a go at this theme 2 years ago at a private schools conference. Watch the lecture below:

Is it too late to rewrite the book?

This article also appears on www.biznews.com

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