According to the Biodiversity Information System for Europe, Europe’s flora comprises 20-25,000 species and the areas with the highest plant richness are in the Mediterranean region. Education about the importance of plant biodiversity to preserve the natural ecosystems and fight against climate change is crucial to meet the goals of the EU biodiversity strategy. Currently, we are facing a loss of biodiversity globally, and this is also the case for the partners involved in this project, which are all rich in terms of plant biodiversity. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, based on its Red List of species, reports that the percentage of vascular plant species at risk is 12% in Greece, 10% in Italy, 6% in France.
In ITALY, the main issue which seriously puts in danger the Italian diversity within flora and fauna is the introduction of dozens of species from other countries. Similarly, GREECE’s rich plant biodiversity is threatened by invasive alien species intentionally or accidentally introduced, as well as by pollution.
In FRANCE, habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation are the most significant threats at the European level that occur to species.
ROMANIA’s biodiversity faces many risks in the North-East because of pollution, fishing and hunting. There is poor awareness about waste management, and human waste ends up on river banks and in forests, putting many species at risk.
In SERBIA, it is estimated that around 60% of the endemic plant species are endangered for various reasons. A decline in biodiversity is directly attributed to a substantial loss of natural habitat due to expanding agriculture (particularly on the Pannonian plains) and the drainage of swamps and marshes.
Loss of biodiversity in CROATIA is mainly caused by the loss and fragmentation of habitats because of human activities (such as agricultural activity and infrastructure development) and natural succession processes (especially in abandoned agricultural land).
The situation depicted highlights how additional monitoring services and resources would be beneficial for enlarging the species dataset and knowledge base. Monitoring of endangered species, beyond contributing to scientific research, also has an impact on the project target groups in terms of understanding the seriousness and consequences of biodiversity loss.
Although biodiversity is studied in the school curriculum through geography and science classes, environmental education is not taught as a subject itself, being sometimes an elective subject that leaves it up to the teachers to decide what to teach. Therefore, there is the need to link scientific concepts with broader topics such as the effects of climate change, and continuous professional development of teachers is key to mainstream sustainability education in the curricula.
The project aims to:
- Create a new service-learning methodology for secondary schools targeted to the monitoring and protection of local plant biodiversity.
- Train teachers, school staff and leaders on the service-learning methodology applied to the monitoring of plant biodiversity, offering them a new pedagogical opportunity for their students that will turn beneficial for the community at large.
- Increase the percentage of European plant environments actually monitored on a regular basis.
- Promote a new model of grassroots citizen-science initiative dedicated to plant biodiversity performed by schools.
- Enhance the quality of STEM learning for secondary schools’ students through innovative project-based methodologies.
- Link student’s syllabus and learning objectives with real needs from the community, thus going beyond the old passive learning method where students just receive information from teachers, with no feedback or practical application.
- Increase students’ engagement and participation, thus combating early school drop.
- Promote active citizenship, environmental protection, social inclusion and the establishment of long-term structured cooperation between schools and local stakeholders.
Through the completion of the main aims of the project, LEAF will also:
- Support the development of sustainability competences in line with the European Sustainability Competence Framework (GreenComp). It will do so through an innovative and multidisciplinary teaching approach that promotes civic engagement and experiential learning.
- Raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity and the need to protect nature and promote the importance of citizen science to monitor plant biodiversity. Through education, the project aims to make teachers and students agents of change.
- Provide teachers with a unique Continuous Professional Development opportunity to improve their skills in using innovative and multidisciplinary teaching approaches.
The DIRECT TARGET GROUP envisaged for the LEAF project are secondary school teachers and leaders dealing with biodiversity and environmental studies, that are going to benefit from a new and innovative opportunity of Continuous Professional Development (CPD). The role of the teacher is broadening and becoming more demanding, as they are expected to use a wide variety of methods, tools and approaches and to tailor them to the students’ needs. They also need to have competences and skills necessary to create a positive classroom environment and work collaboratively with other stakeholders within and outside the school to provide timely support to learners.
The main INDIRECT TARGET GROUPS are the students. Secondary education is seen as a very delicate phase in their growing process, shifting from teenage to adulthood. Service programs facilitate this transition generating interpersonal skills, problem-solving abilities, initiative and active citizenship, ethical reasoning, and social and political understanding. In addition, it encourages the acquisition of lifelong learning skills, i.e. motivation and self-regulation to study.
SCHOOL STAFF: by being exposed to hands-on sustainability projects in the school and their surroundings, the school staff will be informed about the schools’ initiatives on environmental sustainability and invited to take part, in the view of the whole school approach to sustainability that sees all the school personnel involved.
PARENTS: families of the students will be made aware about the importance of protecting the environment through their daily behavior.
LOCAL COMMUNITY: service learning will imply reaching out to civil society, public administrations, the industrial and the non-profit sectors. This will improve and strengthen the relationship of the schools with the community, contributing to making schools “open-learning organizations”.
LEAF aims to leverage on the “service learning” (SL) and “citizen science” methodologies and apply them to secondary schools, with the aim to engage students in the monitoring of local plant biodiversity. SL means to create a link between students’ learning objectives and actual needs from the community, therefore literally taking learning out of the classrooms and into real life.
SL differs from community service because it is not sporadic or made on a voluntary basis, but systematic and included in the school’s syllabus, developed in a close and long-term relationship with the community’s stakeholders.
To tackle complex sustainability problems, including the preservation of biodiversity, sustainability must be mainstreamed into education inside and outside the classroom to educate learners to be catalysts of change, who are willing to start initiatives in favor of society and take responsibilities towards the planet.
To do this properly, teachers’ training is of utmost importance, therefore secondary school teachers were chosen as the main target group of the project. Contact with nature generates a range of positive learning and health benefits.
Howard Gardner identified nine multiple intelligences, including a ‘naturalist intelligence’. Those with this intelligence learn best when involved with experiencing, collecting or analyzing something in nature or closely related to nature, and therefore learn more through being outside. Moreover, there are physical health benefits from contact with nature and natural play, including reducing the effects of childhood obesity, and improving mental health and emotional well-being.
Therefore, the project will provide teachers with an innovative methodology to address a topic, biodiversity, which can generate benefits for pupils both in terms of learning and well-being.
Furthermore, as demonstrated by the global movements of “Fridays for Future” and other youth groups who took action in the past 3 years, issues related to the protection of the environment and the fight against climate change are of great concern for the younger generations, who want to have instruments to take concrete action. By having an impact on students, the project will also reach their families, which can be made aware of the importance of citizen science and the need to protect biodiversity.