Government funding withdrawn from Jamaica Environment Trust’s 24-year-old Schools Environment Programme

The news that landed in my inbox today filled me with mixed emotions (mainly, anger). Despite the enormous success of the programme over the years, the Schools Environment Programme (SEP) has finally had the rug pulled from under it by its main donor, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA).

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and the SEP is 24 years old this year. I remember when it started off. Its longevity says a great deal about its tremendous value and its success at various levels in our education system. Teachers have taken it on, students have embraced it enthusiastically, worked hard on their projects, and produced amazing results.

Teachers are empowered too – even during the challenging 2019/2020 school year.

Earlier this year, I served as a judge for the 2019/2020 SEP competition, which was a virtual event. Despite great challenges (including shaky connectivity), the children went to great lengths and stayed completely focused on their topics, from solid waste management to the impact of COVID-19 on the environment. I was deeply touched by their commitment and their resilience.

I also wrote in 2018 about disparaging remarks made by the Chair of the NRCA, the programme’s largest donor and a Government agency, which has now withdrawn funding. At the time, Mr. Danville Walker said rather condescendingly that the SEP, which had taken years to build, was “a nice thing to do” but needed to be more than that; and was not good value for money, according to the NRCA Board. He did not seem to consider the SEP as the substantial, well-researched and serious education programme that it is.

As the then head of the Press Association of Jamaica Dionne Jackson Miller said at the SEP’s 2015 ceremony, young people must be the voice for the environment. The SEP sets out to teach, inform, inspire and spur those young people to action and to a deeper knowledge and understanding of the need to protect our environment.

Be that as it may, JET is now facing the complete withdrawal of government funding from the SEP. What a sad reflection on the Government’s approach to environmental education, to our environment as we face the rigors of climate change – and to our children’s future.

A representative of May Pen Primary School, whose project focused on the owl, at an SEP event in 2017. (My photo)

Here is JET’s press release dated September 14, 2021:

FUNDING TERMINATED FOR JET’S SCHOOLS’ ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME (SEP)

Jamaica’s long-running Schools’ Environment Programme (SEP) recently received the sad news that its largest donor, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA), will not be funding the programme in the 2021/22 school year. It is now seeking new funding partners to continue the programme for the new academic year.

Implemented by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), SEP is in its 24th year, and for more than two decades has delivered a campus-based education programme to increase environmental awareness among Jamaican teachers and studentsAt its height in 2003/4, SEP was delivered in 353 schools, reaching an estimated 300,000 students and 600 teachersOver the years, it has been funded by a wide range of donors including the Government of Jamaica, local and international environmental foundations and the Jamaican private sector. Funding challenges have reduced the scope of the programme, but although smaller in recent years, teachers and students have still attended annual workshops on environmental issues, participated in field trips, conducted research, planted trees, implemented clean-up projects and celebrated their work in an annual awards ceremony.

A student from Iona Preparatory School explains his school’s research earlier this year at the SEP’s virtual event. (My photo)

Ms. Karel Samuels, Senior Teacher at Maryland All Age School in Hanover expressed her distress at the possibility of having no SEP this year due to lack of funding. Ms. Samuels said that “The Schools Environment Programme has helped to shape and nurture our young people to become more environmentally aware citizens and good environmental stewards.  On behalf of the students, I am making a desperate plea, we need this programme to help in our children’s holistic development”.

The COVID-19 pandemic took a heavy toll on the Jamaican education system. Despite this challenge, JET was still able to successfully deliver SEP in 2020/21. “Given the many environmental challenges Jamaica faces, environmental education programmes are vital to build awareness and empower young people,” said Dr. Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, JET’s CEO. “COVID-19 has constrained the type of activities JET can deliver so we will alter the delivery of the programme. In addition, this year’s programme will focus on climate action and climate advocacy and we are seeking new partners and funders.”

“Everyone at JET is proud of our flagship education programme and we are determined that it will continue,” said Carlette Falloon, JET’s former Programme Director and one of the founders of SEP.

Students at Liberty Learning Centre in St. Mary researched the impact of COVID-19.

The Director for Liberty Learning Centre in Tower Isle, Mrs. Rosemarie Brent- Harris shared that “The SEP has benefited our students greatly. The expansive nature of the programme made many of our students develop an intense love of nature and a deep sense of environmental preservation. We sincerely hope that funding will be provided so that this very beneficial programme may be continued”.

2021 marks JET’s 30th anniversary year and the organization is seeking new partners and funders to ensure SEP can continue its important work educating Jamaican teachers and students. Dr. Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie indicated that “Our youth are the generation of change, and we would be doing a disservice to them if we do not continue programmes such as SEP”.

Students and teachers at Jack’s River Primary School in St. Mary explain their project to two of the judges at the 2017 Schools’ Environment Project event. (My photo)

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