Local Goal Getter John Steijns from CNME: make sustainable education the new normal!

Looking back, but moving forward, is what we focus on in this interview with Johns Steijns, this week’s Local Goal Getter. After 41 years of working towards sustainable education in Maastricht and beyond at CNME, he will start his next chapter continuing to work on sustainable development goals in education as he goes into early retirement.

A unique combination, providing a foundation

John together with about 20 colleagues, combines a unique set of disciplines to provide the basis for the creation of sustainable action, at the CNME. The CNME, center for education in nature and environmental affairs, offer their expertise in education and ecological management in and around Maastricht. A thread in CNME’s mission is the outlook that people develop a perspective in action that enables them to understand the impact of personal choices, such as dietary and mobility options, on the world around them.

A variety of activities provided by the Center, helps people, with a focus on pupils, be able to consider sustainable options and make balanced decisions accordingly. This varies from lessons in nature reserves to lessons about air quality, in which they look at the state of affairs, including their personal one in Maastricht, and how they can change it for the better. Starting with the youngest among us that experience and learn about nature through gnome trails, a nature trail for preschoolers, where gnomes give them assignments about the environment that surrounds them.

Sometimes we teach the youth through play, but with a serious undertone because these activities have a meaningful value in the message they give.

John holds the position as a consultant on Nature, Environment, Sustainability and Education. He advises teachers or communities of schools on sustainable education, by providing the necessary teaching materials or giving the lessons himself. John focuses on the transition of primary education towards sustainable teaching materials.

Global lessons learned

In September 2021 three information evenings (on September 7, 8 and 9) will be provided, in which people from all over the country who want to give Global Goals lessons can register and get a teaching package.

Reflection is important, even at an early age, you just need to know how to frame it in a language that each person understands.

Together with Maastricht Foto Festival, they developed a project, ” Global Goals in focus,” where the global goals were exhibited in conjunction with art, in this case, photography. In this workshop, pupils went on to create storytelling images about a Global Goal with solidarity as its theme. Each of the 10 participating groups chooses their own 5 best Global Goals in focus, which were exhibited last year at Maastricht University. This year 20 groups participated, including 3 from secondary schools at a new venue, Pathé.

The natural step

A cluster of experiences in reforming Maastricht’s approach to education is due to the Natural Step method. Within this training, sustainability becomes clear as a concept, which leads to the common usage of definition and language. John’s participation in the Natural Step program led to his involvement in the realization of the most sustainable school at the time, “de Geluksvogel” in Limmel. De Geluksvogel was unique in the Netherlands because the school building was established in response to their sustainable educational vision.

All participants were on the same page, there was no back-and-forth, only the question about the shaping of sustainable education.

In retrospect

The launch of his career at CNME is also one of his highlights, when he taught classes of around 40 schools about cycles, balance in nature, feeding patterns, and how that affects an individual, all in school gardens, most of which situated directly next to these teaching facilities. Even back then, he had a passion when it comes to teaching people about the workings of nature.

Schools are currently training the generation of tomorrow, otherwise known as the generation that will be adults when the Sustainable Development Goals are due to be met in 2030.

One of his educational milestones has suitably been achieved. In the primary education of Maastricht, sustainable teachings have become a priority. This reallocation of prime concerns commenced more or less three years ago, and is now visible in communities of schools’ policy plans, by means of a whole-school approach, a motion now visible throughout the Netherlands. Sustainable education is good education, and good education is a treat.

SDG Box

The vision behind an SDG Education Platform is to develop a resource for all schools in order that attention is paid to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This resulted in the SDG Box, which will launch in the week of September 25 2021, available to classrooms from grade 1 upwards. The SDG Box is a box with 17 signs of the 17 global goals for each sign. Each SDG has a QR code, in which teaching materials are hidden, along with activities to put the global goals into practice. The SDG Box provides an accessible way to teach about the development goals, which will save teachers a considerable amount of preparation.

The job is not done yet!

According to himself, he had about 40 jobs during his time at CNME, because every time something happened that made his work evolve into what it is today. In his retirement, John will continue to work towards Sustainable Development Goals. Although John has experienced many highlights, there is still much on the agenda when it comes to implementing sustainable education. In the years to come, he would like to look at the question: What does the education sector have in mind and is capable of doing in relation to sustainability?

As one of his future prospects, he hopes to see a basis of sustainable education provided to secondary education. Education does not stop at the doors of primary schools, succeeding next steps in implementing sustainable education in secondary and higher education are needed for continuity in the development of the adults of tomorrow. With a particular focus on secondary education, owing to the fact that in many instances a gap is created in this phase. Leaving a gap in the progression of sustainable awareness, and therefore the ongoing learning curve stops when students leave elementary school.

Curious about their commitment

Take a look at the website of the CNME: https://www.cnme.nl

Author: Jo-Anne Jaegermann

Pictures: Jo-Anne Jaegermann