ÖKOLOG is the first and the main Austrian programme for schools at the interface of Environmental Education (Basic Decree on EE for SD) and school development. It is based on the ENSI approach to Environmental Education and Education for Sustainable Development and takes the challenges and opportunities of school autonomy and school programme development into account.
What is ÖKOLOG
The primary goal of ÖKOLOG is to integrate Environmental Education into school programmes and to make topics such as water, waste, energy, school grounds, health, school climate, participation, etc. visible. Within ÖKOLOG, schools identify the ecological, technical and social conditions of their environment and, on the basis of these, define objectives, targets and/or concrete activities and quality criteria to be implemented and evaluated. Students as well as all other actors at schools should be involved in a participatory way, and collaboration with authorities, businesses and other interested parties is encouraged.
Over 500 schools are members of the ÖKOLOG School Network. Central support is provided by the Federal Ministry of Education and by the “FORUM Umweltbildung”.
At a regional level, support is provided by the ÖKOLOG regional teams. Their main task is to organise further education and training and to promote the exchange of experiences between schools in order to derive maximum benefit from the pool of competence that is being accumulated at the various schools.
ÖKOLOG and School Quality Management
In terms of sustainable development, ÖKOLOG has contributed to quality development and quality management in schools from the very beginning. Since September 1st, 2013 all levels of the school system are obliged by law to establish a quality management system. The ÖKOLOG annual report has been conformed to the school-development plan.
How do ÖKOLOG schools work?
ÖKOLOG schools establish links between their commitment to the environment and underlying social and ecological problems and try to arrange the daily routine of students and teachers in terms of sustainable development:
- ÖKOLOG schools save resources, diminish damage to the environment, design spaces from classrooms to school premises.
- ÖKOLOG schools are active in health promotion and make an effort to create a social school climate.
- In ÖKOLOG schools participation is a main issue. All groups of a school’s community become involved from the planning period throughout to the realisation process. Students acquire skills of responsible action and self-generated initiatives through active participation in decision-making processes.
- ÖKOLOG schools cooperate with their school environment, as for instance with their community.
- ÖKOLOG schools aim to anchor topics of Environmental Education in their school programme. They evaluate school activities and strive towards continuous quality assurance and enhancement.
Advantages for ÖKOLOG schools
ÖKOLOG materials and publications
ÖKOLOG schools receive a starter kit which includes information about sustainable school development and suggestions for concrete measures and projects. Additional ÖKOLOG publications about several topics are freely available to ÖKOLOG schools.
Financial support for projects
The Education Support Fund for Health Education and Education for Sustainable Development provides financial support for school projects. The fund promotes school education projects which deal with the environment and sustainability, as well as NGO projects that contribute to sustainable societal development as defined in the Austrian Sustainability Strategy. ÖKOLOG Schools receive up to EUR 1,200,- per project. (In comparison, schools not participating in any programme are entitled to a maximum support of EUR 500,-.)
The annual report and one thriving school-project of each ÖKOLOG school are presented on the website. Thus achievements are made visible. Concrete information about how to do public relations, based on in-service trainings for school PR, is available on the website as well. In addition the Ministry compiled an ÖKOLOG press review each year.
The Austrian Eco Label
ÖKOLOG schools have a good pedagogical and organisational basis to strive for the Eco Label for Schools and University Colleges for Teacher Education.
Topical Priority: Creating and Using Open Spaces at School (2015-2017)
Creating and Using Open Spaces at School
Schools are developing dynamically from “the classroom” to living space for students and teachers. This means that spaces are needed that encourage learning, where students can work on assignments. Traditional interior designs and use will need to be adapted to new demands. Lessons are no longer limited to the four walls of the classroom. Open spaces at school are important spaces for moving, for learning and meeting points for girls and boys. They are very important for the physical, mental and social development of children and teenagers and give impulses for action-orientated and discovery learning.
12 Aspects of Open Spaces at School
School spaces are also known as "Learnscapes". The term is an artificial word made up of "Learn" and "Landscape" to mean places in which regular lessons take place outdoors and spaces that students and teachers can create together.
Below twelve aspects that emphasize the importance of increased use and careful design of school spaces.
- Movement: School spaces are places to move that offer an alternative from sitting in classrooms. Movement, games and fun play an important rôle in guaranteeing children’s health.
- Perception: Whilst adults primarily gain information and knowledge audio-visually, especially young children learn through all senses. This means that they learn holistically through doing. Necessary experiences can only be made through movement, trying out and action.
- Experiencing the senses: Many children grow up in large cities without free access to the outside. Learning outside can be seen as an alternative to E-learning and the increased use of computers at school.
- Health: Scientific papers show increasingly that “nature-deficit disorder” can contribute to attention deficits, overweight, adiposity, and to an increase of emotional and physical illnesses. Working with nature as well as nature experiences increases human emotional and physical wellbeing.
- Interdisciplinary spaces for learning: School spaces promote the core issues of school, i.e. to support learners to experience and interpret the world. These spaces become vibrant when different subjects are brought together there.
- Inclusion: School spaces offer numerous opportunities for individualisation during lessons and also to do justice to differences in language, culture, sex, background etc. They help us to grasp heterogeneity as a resource, which can be appropriately exploited.
- Gender: School spaces should offer fun for learners of both sexes and all ages. Children with different social and cultural backgrounds should enjoy the open spaces together.
- Competences: Through the many varied activities during the (participatory) creation of school spaces and during learning in the open spaces, essential competences for Education for Sustainable Development can be trained such as participatory and communicative competence, competences to plan, make decisions and reflect as well as various further social, subject and methodological competences.
- Research: School spaces offer opportunities for experiments and observations in the natural environment. Whether in Primary Science or in Biology, Physics, Chemistry etc. at both lower and upper secondary levels, lessons outside offer opportunities for lessons near to reality through research and experiments. They provide impulses for pre-scientific assignment topics.
- All-day Schools: The current trend in Austria is towards all-day schools and thus the creation and use of school environments as places for learning and experiences is gaining in importance to enable child and teenage holistic development as described above.
- Ecology: Spaces that are near to nature offer the ideal area for opportunities to play and learn and, at the same time, are ecological islands for a range of species. The conscious use of resources and ecological background knowledge can change the values and life styles of young people and enhance the natural environment in and around the school.
- Trend: Self-subsistence, urban/vertical gardening, community gardens etc. Nature is trendy! Schools can make use of these current trends and do justice to the trend at school. A variety of links between trends and traditions can be shown up.
Topical Priority: School Meets Community (2012-2014)
Schools are an integral part of communities and schools and communities are inter-connected in many different ways. A community consists not only of the magistrate & mayor or mayoress but also includes all organisations such as firms, businesses and all public institutions such as the fire-service, youth groups, nursery schools, homes for the elderly and associations (nature & sports associations ...).
Aims and Objectives of the School Focus
The aims and objectives of enhanced co-operations between schools and their environment are, above all, the following:
- Exploiting the school environment as a learning environment
- Supporting a practical and sustainable form of learning that is near to life and linked to the school students’ daily lives.
Exploiting & Developing Local Knowledge
One of the main ideas in ESD is to be locally relevant and to construct ‘local situational knowledge’. In this way, schools are no more institutions separated from the real world, proposing abstract general knowledge, but become institutions active in the society, recognized as relevant stakeholders in the development of the community. (from Quality Criteria for ESD-Schools, page 42)
“Local knowledge” is knowledge that is actively experienced by school students and becomes effective, i.e. leads to environmental improvements. This is facilitated by a co-operation between schools and communities, enterprises, associations etc.
Creating new opportunities for school and community
This means that the school includes the community as a resource for teachers and school students in a positive way. Reciprocally the school makes it possible for the community, businesses, associations etc. to address issues to the school to be discussed, worked upon and also for new creative solutions to be developed.
Opening schools up to the community should also contribute to student awareness of the role in a vibrant democracy. Young people (voting at 16) should see themselves as self-responsible citizens, who have the opportunity to bring in their interests and needs into all areas of social life and to continue to do this as adults.
Curricula of New Secondary School and Special Education Centres
Schools are embedded within their social environments, such as the neighbourhood, the district, the municipality or the community. In order to exploit the underlying learning opportunities to the full this must be taken into account when schools open up outwards and inwards.
Opening outwards can be achieved through instruction outside the school as well as by complementing teaching through school events and co-operations with out-of-school partners.
Businesses, public institutions, natural sites / open spaces etc. have proved to be appropriate places for teaching and learning to ensure that the experiences are true to life, vivid and connected to everyday life.
Opening inwards means involving persons from the community, as well as external experts, who can share their experiences, their skills and their knowledge with the students.
Networks contribute to the dissemination of innovations and of quality in teaching and learning.
500 schools from primary to upper secondary vocational schools and five university colleges of teacher education are engaged in the network.
ÖKOLOG schools are committed to an ecological and sustainable school development and are ready to incorporate the aims of ÖKOLOG into their school programme. All school partners take responsibility for the school as living space and together they shape it in a continuing process, which is documented in an annual report.
10 steps on the way to ÖKOLOG
1st step: establish school consensus
2nd step: form a school team and elect a coordinator
3rd step: recognize need of action based on an analysis of the current state
4th step: set priorities
5th step: formulate smart objectives
6th step: develop projects
7th step: realize and document projects
8th step: control and reflect the results
9th step: celebrate success and strengthen the team spirit
10th step: adopt successful projects into everyday school life
- Public relation as accompanying measure