"I have never seen anything quite like this," says Kathleen Usher, a Canadian elementary school teacher as she clicks through the website of Earth School. The portal, which the UN Environment Programme, and TED-Ed launched together with a wide array of partners as a response to COVID-19 on 22 April, features 30 kid-friendly primers on a range of environmental issues, from the origins of water to the life cycle of a t-shirt.
"The avalanche of support from leading scientists, incredible teachers and specialists in everything from climate to oceanography to build out Earth School has just been a joy to behold," says Usher, one of the school's curators. "Global collaboration for the sake of our kids feels amazing!"
With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting education worldwide, Earth School sought to bring together compelling and interactive resources for learning about nature and the environment on a single global platform. And it's working. Over 200,000 young people, hailing from every country on earth, have taken so-called quests on the site over the last month. Now Earth School is set to reach new heights as the Government of India will share it with teachers across the country through their online learning portal, DIKSHA, with other nations set to follow suit.
One of the stars of Earth School 2020 has been Priyanka Modi from India who has made a short animation of every lesson she has done together with her six-years-old son Atharva.
"I love exploring the quests with Atharva. It is fun to learn together and explore science new knowledge from home", Modi said.
The initiative was developed in just three weeks by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and TED-Ed, a non-profit educational organization. The goal was to create a platform that would connect kids with the nature while locked down at home.
It quickly drew in over 50 collaborating organizations, including major conservation and education players such as National Geographic, BBC Ideas, the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Day Network, Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Earth School has also won the support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is developing ways to support school children amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"With the COVID-19 lockdown and the need for home-schooling, it wasn't easy to find a series of reliable and engaging lessons on nature on the web," said Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director. "So we decided to try and change that. With TED-Ed and the amazing teachers and supporters behind this initiative, we want to try and get to one million children through Earth School by the end of 2020."
Governments have been involved as well, including the Government of Finland who provided financial support for the project.
"To build back better we have to learn back better. That is why we were delighted to support Earth School. Teaching young people about the importance of nature and how to protect it has never been more urgent, so it was very encouraging to see more than 200 000 kids from all over the take part", said the Finnish Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Krista Mikkonen.
Sumeera Rasul of TED-Ed, said, "Launching Earth School during COVID-19 has proved to be a powerful initiative, uniting students and educators all over the world for positive actionable learning, during a time of physical distancing. We have received a tremendous response to the animations, lessons and resources in the school. We aim to keep growing this platform, to help youth acquire knowledge and values needed to solve complex issues around climate change and build a better planet."
The lessons are built around an inspiring short-film from TED-Ed, which then leads to a quick quiz followed by a Dig Deeper section where youngsters can explore films and exercises that speak to their imagination and let them explore and discover the natural world.
Discussion boards then allow students to interact with children from across the world, sharing ideas on everything from how many t-shirts they really need, to how cats can inspire them to design greener buildings.
Organizers will keep the doors open to Earth School throughout the year. They will also examine how more governments can share the material with their teachers and explore how the lessons can bridge the digital divide by being shared with refugee populations. They aim to have 1 million children take quests by the end of 2020.