In Zimbabwe, a teacher’s passion became a sustainable way of life for a community.
Headteacher Sibanga Ncube took at heart a Zimbabwean saying when he decided to teach permaculture to his students.
During Mr Ncube pre-service teaching education there was no training in Education for Sustainable Development. However, while pursuing his own interests, he discovered a passion for permaculture. After undertaking small projects, he was invited to attend a training by the Schools and Colleges Permaculture Programme (SCOPE) of Zimbabwe and decided to implement what he had learned in his school.
“Don’t just grow old, plant a tree”
In Mr Ncube’s school, Silhengeni Primary School, agriculture is a learning subject so he decided to incorporate the four principles of permaculture he had learned about in the school curriculum and syllabus. To do so, he introduced permaculture through a tree planting activity. This was a way to familiarize the students with the concept of permaculture, while benefiting the school with an improved learning environment. Indeed, planting trees helped with providing students and teachers with shaded areas, as well as with regulating the temperature in classrooms.He also regularly meets with parents to show them the progress made by their children and to explain the benefits of this programme for the community at large. He indicated that highlighting the school successes was a way to get the community more involved in the implementation of the project.
Gaining life skills
This project taught children life skills that they will carry through their adult lives. They developed their sense of responsibility and discipline; they also learn the importance of teamwork. It also influences their behavior as they learn the spirit of sharing and the value of respect for nature.
Mr Ncube teaches students from age 5 to 14 through a hands-on-learning method, which means that he explains the importance of tree planting to students while showing them how to plant trees. Each child chooses a tree to plant and is responsible for caring for it, i.e. watering, weeding, etc... “It gives them a sense of responsibility and ownership of the project,” said Mr Ncube.
Advice to other teachers
When asked what he would tell other teachers interested in implementing the same type of project in their schools, Headteacher Ncube said that there were three simple things to keep in mind.
First, teachers need to be interested in what they are teaching. “If a teacher is passionate about a project, he will be able to interest children,” he explained.
He then emphasized the need for participatory and hands-on teaching, describing it as the best method to implement this kind of project. “Avoid being a manager, be a participant”, he stated.
The third advice Mr Ncube would give teachers eager to undertake this kind of project with their students is that whichever project you choose to undertake with students it should also need to benefit the entire community.
Headteacher Sibanga Ncube was awarded the 2017 UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development on behalf of the Silhengeni Primary School for its permaculture project. The school will be exploring several ways to improve the projects such as expanding the school garden to become a commercial garden and orchards; improving the nature park to be run by the students and the community; expanding the reservoirs for the school’s water collection.
He also wishes to export the project to other schools. Mr Ncube plans to continue to train teachers in surrounding schools. Indeed, understanding the needs of a community is a key feature of this project as it allows teachers to better contextualize and adapt it to the students.
Mr Ncube also hopes to create school manuals and books to teach students permaculture.
The UNESCO – Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development recognizes the role of education in connecting the social, economic, cultural and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. It is funded by the Government of Japan and consists of three annual awards of USD 50,000 for each recipient.