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‘Earth School’ to keep students connected to nature amid COVID-19

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, a coalition has come together to launch “Earth School,” which provides free, high-quality educational content to help students, parents and teachers around the world who are currently at home.

Inger Andersen
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. Photo credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Initiated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and TED-Ed, Earth School takes students on a 30-day “Adventure” through the natural world.

The curated Earth School content features videos, reading materials and activities – which will be translated into 10 languages – to help students gain an understanding of the environment while considering their role within it.

Available for free on TED-Ed’s website, the initiative has been described as the biggest online learning initiative in UNEP’s history.

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), over 1.5 billion learners are affected by COVID-19 school closures. The pandemic has caused a health, economic, and education crisis; in the age of physical and social constraints, there is a strong need for global science literacy.

Consequently, UNEP and TED-Ed – in coordination with 30 collaborators, including National Geographic, WWF and UNESCO – came together to launch Earth School in just over two weeks. Built for children and youth ages 5-18, it spans 30 school days that run between Earth Day and World Environment Day on June 5, which this year will take place under the banner of Time for Nature.

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TED-Ed creates free, video-based lessons on everything from animals and climate change to underwater farms. It is the educational arm of TED, whose library of thousands of interactive lessons – built by a network of 500,000 educators from across the world – spans all ages and subjects.

Each Adventure was selected by a panel of expert practitioners and caters to different age groups. Each consists of a hands-on experiment and nature discovery. In addition to TED-Ed’s own content, Earth School will feature videos from notable media organisations including National Geographic, PBS LearningMedia and the BBC with the goal of empowering participating students to be caretakers of our planet.

“Billions of children are currently out of school because of COVID-19. But learning cannot stop. COVID-19 has revealed how deeply interconnected all life on this planet is,” said UNEP’s Executive Director, Inger Andersen.

“I am delighted that UNEP, along with TED-Ed and other collaborators, are launching Earth School. Learning about the natural world will be critical to building a better and sustainable future for all,” she added.

“These unprecedented times highlight just how important it is for young people to connect with the natural world and understand science,” said Vicki Phillips, executive vice president and chief education officer at the National Geographic Society.

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“We’re thrilled to join forces with trusted organisations like UNEP and TED-Ed to cultivate a spirit of exploration and build empathy for the Earth, no matter where students are the world – even if it’s from inside their homes, from a window, or on a short walk in the neighborhood.”

“Despite being confined to their homes, this project shows that students, parents and teachers throughout the world can still engage in science-based learning and adventures together. Earth School is a collaboration between so many talented educators and incredible partners from around the world, which is why we’re proud and thrilled to see the initiative feeding the global curiosity of home-bound students, all of whom are the future environmental stewards of our planet.

“This platform is a gateway to some of the most inspiring lessons on nature and the environment, and each lesson comes with practical and fun activities that students can engage with and share,” said Logan Smalley, founding director of TED’s youth and education initiative, TED-Ed.

The lessons were curated by a team of environmental education experts including Kathleen Usher, Jessie Oliver and Juliane Voss, who worked with over 100 contributors in creating Earth School.

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The initiative is in support of SDG 4.7 and the Decade of Delivery and will contribute towards the Global Education Coalition launched by UNESCO last month to convene governments, technology partners and leaders in the education field to keep pupils learning. As part of this coalition, UNEP will be exploring how this content can be adapted and shared with children who aren’t able to access the Internet.

Collaborators who have agreed to support the initiative include: BBC Ideas, Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Conservation International, CEE, Earth Day Network, Earth Challenge 2020, Environment Online (ENO), GeSI, International Olympic Committee, IUCN, Institute for Planetary Security, Junior Achievement, Learning in Nature, Littlescribe, Minecraft, National Geographic Society, Ocean Wise, Only One, Royal Geographic Society, SciStarter, Sitra, TAT, and TED-Ed.

Others are the Nature Conservancy, UN Convention on Biodiversity, UN SDSN / TRENDS, UN Technology Innovation Lab, UNCCD, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNFCCC, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, University of Pennsylvania, Vult Labs, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), Wild Immersion and WWF.

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