By Jacqueline Wild
A visionary project that links schools in Peru and in Cornwall is ensuring that the next generation is fully aware of the benefits of solar energy.
In a collaboration between Cornwall based solar PV installations company, Plug into the Sun and Peru based charity, Global Education, the aim is to help schools maximize the benefits of their solar installation, not just in terms of saving money, but also in educating its pupils and the local community.
The importance of education and sustainability was realized early on by Andrew Tanner, Managing Director of Plug into the Sun, whilst pioneering sustainable education in Cornwall, the U.K.
Andrew said, “I did workshops on sustainability in its widest context. Stuff on fair-trade, recycling and energy. In the end I thought that it was all about the next generation and that if I could educate them then I could make a difference.”
Recognized for his outstanding work, Andrew was awarded ￡10,000 which he used to set up a freelance education for sustainability and continued teaching for four and a half years.
Oxfam, UNICEF and Channel 4 also funded Andrew to do workshops in schools which led to a cutting-edge project in Ghana where pupils in the U.K. made books and videos to take to Ghana and vice versa. The Channel 4 project, ‘Down the Line’ in Ghana was one of the highlights of Andrew’s career and also showed him the educational benefits of linking schools from the U.K. with other countries.
If it had not been for Andrew’s work in schools, the progress of the solar industry in Cornwall might not have evolved so quickly. It was through his interaction with children and their questions about where they could get renewable energy from, that led Andrew to research the availability of solar PV in the region.
Unable to find an installer in the South West of the U.K., Andrew decided to retrain as a roofer and electrician and created the first solar PV installation company in Cornwall.
The importance of education is still is an integral part of the company. When Plug into the Sun installs solar PV onto a school it also comes with an educational package which is implemented by Tom Jolly from Global Education.
The collaboration came about after an unconventional meeting on top of the inspiring and rugged Cornish coastline, where it was decided that it was important to work together in order to bring about environmental change.
Tom Jolly spends his time divided between Cornwall and Peru where he educates pupils in both countries on sustainable education, human rights and cultural issues. He brings a natural passion to schools and teachers and pupils alike find themselves inspired.
Talking about Peru he said, “It is a totally interesting continent because we have a bit of everything there and what’s interesting about Peru is that we have most of the world’s eco systems, we have most types of climate, we have most of the world’s plants and animals represented the list goes on and on.”
Tom Jolly teaches in schools for a couple of days each, injecting a little Latin spirit into the curriculum by using music and dance along with more conventional methods. Sometimes however, he pretends to be a time traveler and explains to children in Peru that he has comes from their future and is there to tell them what lessons can be learned from the U.K.
He said, “We tend to do things before other countries. We get there first. We have made the mistakes and I think that a lot of people have to go through the same mistakes in order to realize what to do.”
“Well I am trying to educate people so that they can see the pitfalls of a certain path. I have got a strange look compared to other visitors and I go in on my bike and I make out that I have come from their future. I have an idea what is going to happen to them and I want to help them change this,” said Tom.
Tom’s ‘strange’ look could be described as a cross between Indiana Jones and Steve Tyler, he is the rock star of sustainable education and it is easy to see that he is genuine in his mission to teach.
As a result, pupils enjoy themselves and teachers also find themselves drawn to his talks.
“What’s also good is the amount of grown -ups we have had in the class room. We had a part time teacher who would not normally be in, come in and teachers that would be in preparation timethey stayed in school,” Tom said.
There is a natural connection between Cornwall and Peru in that they share a history of mining, a fishing industry and also tourism.
Head teacher from St. Columb Minor school in Newquay, Jennie Walker, said that it was important for pupils to understand that children had different lifestyles in other countries but also that they have a lot in common. Things like Nintendos and football tend to be common ground among pupils around the world and enable connections to be made easier.
“As head of a school in Cornwall, children see a black face and think that they are foreign. It’s important that we are multi-cultural and it’s important that the children are prepared for that.”
She added that it was important for pupils to understand their impact in terms of their carbon footprint and for them to be globally responsible.
The work that Tom Jolly does not only helps to make pupils understand the connections between cultures but also affects the behavior of pupils and their parents.
Because solar panels have such a high visibility, they make a very clear statement about that school’s environmental beliefs.
Head teacher from Gwinear, Helen Scholes said, “We feel it is a great achievement to have these. We are an Eco School, currently aiming for our Green Flag. It is an important part of our ethos to demonstrate that we are a sustainable school. Having the panels on the roof at the front of our school is a visual demonstration of this.
After they were installed, several parents commented on how pleased they were to see that we have been able to install the PV panels and how important it is for the children to learn about sustainability.”
Helen said that it was a number one priority for Gwinear School to raise awareness of sustainability issues, for the children and the community.
“We are educating our pupils for their lives in the twenty first century, and there is nothing more important than doing what we can to protect our planet for the future. We found Tom inspirational. He worked with class 3 and also led a twilight workshop for staff and parents. Parents joined us for an assembly where children showed some of their work from the day. Tom has also led a staff meeting to give us some pointers about becoming a more sustainable school.”
Gwinear school will soon be linked with a school in Pacasmayo and this will enable pupils to share experiences and learn from each other. The school in Peru will also be provided with renewable energy sources subsidized by the school and also by Plug into the Sun.
As a result of this collaboration, they will have a solar box cooker that can bake anything from a pasty to a pizza and also a thermal heating system. Everything gets built out of local materials and is hand built by local people which also results in a more knowledgeable and empowered community.
Parents of the children at the school will learn from this and realize that it’s not just a good idea but it will also save them money. They see that they won’t have to buy as many bottles of gas, or they won’t have to buy as much kiln wood in order to cook. When you consider that Peru is on a desert coast─this makes a big difference.
Reports from customers in the U.K. have also shown that having solar panels installed has an effect on their actual energy usage. Once people begin to understand energy on a more personal level, it actually becomes a more exciting thing to conserve. People tend to use their energy dependent on the amount of sunshine that they have had, perhaps having a bath if it had been really sunny, or just having a shower if it’s been a cloudy day.
Schools in Cornwall are also benefitting from the financial savings that have resulted from the solar panels and for Gwinear school, this is calculated in laptops, with an estimated return of five laptops a year.
The connection between Plug into the Sun and Global Education shows how a shared vision and passion can help to potentially change the future of the planet. The more that we understand about each other and can share ways to save money and the environment, the more likely it is that a sustainable future will be realized.
Jacqueline Wild has been a freelance writer for 10 years and is now PR and Marketing Assistant for Plug into the Sun (www.plugintothesun.co.uk).
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