Blog Post: Wednesday March 21, 2018
When it comes to saving water, the children are the future
On Wednesday of Water Saving Week (19th-23rd March), the theme is ‘Saving Water in Your School’. Getting children aware of the need to save water, and fostering good habits that save water, will create a generation of adults that use water wisely. Today I [Hazel from Waterwise] talk to Mark Lewis, Director of Studies and teacher at St Helens College (also, my dad!), about the role teachers, parents and pupils can play in water efficiency.
You grew up in Cape Town, which of course is now facing a water crisis. Can you tell me a bit about what it was like living there, and how teachers, parents and others influenced the way you used and valued water?
I grew up in an affluent environment but water was not taken for granted. We were aware that other people in the country did not have drinking water on tap and that crops were sometimes affect by drought. Our water usage was metered and was priced so as to encourage conservation. We were taught at school and at home not to waste water. Winters in Cape Town were usually wet but we had water restrictions in the summer if we did not get the expected winter rainfall. Having said that, when water restrictions were not in place, cars were washed, swimming pools filled and lawns were watered with sprinklers.
Do you think children in your school understand the importance of water?
Our children are probably better informed than most about water, its importance for life and the consequences of water scarcity and contamination. It is a significant part of our Year 5 geography curriculum. The children investigate the processes and infrastructures that get clean water to our homes in the UK and, in partnership with Affinity Water, they undertake a STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] water pipe engineering challenge. They look at water pollution case studies to understand how the environment can become damaged and they look for ways to save water in their daily lives. They learn about parts of the world where clean water is scarce and the impact that this has on communities and particularly the children.
You have diverse backgrounds in your school, do you think this makes an impact on how people use or value water?
I am not sure. The children notice the difference in infrastructure when they visit relatives but I do not think that influences their day to day behaviour.
We see a lack of young people entering the utilities sector, particularly the water sector. Do you have any ideas about why this may be?
I don’t think that educators know what jobs, other than engineering, are available in the utilities sector. If young people are aware of the importance of water, they are likely to seek careers with environmental agencies or in overseas development. The utilities sector is unlikely to be seen as a place where they can make the difference they would like to make.
You’ve managed to raise a daughter who is passionate about water and works in the sector. What advice would you give to fellow parents and teachers to encourage children to consider taking this route?
This starts with talking to children frequently about the environment and making them aware of all of the natural resources we use and the consequences of misusing them. First hand experience is useful but your own was quite extreme and I do not recommend that parents exposed their children to serious illness due to a lack of fresh water. [My dad is referring here to when he took me to Ghana to volunteer at age 16 and I got ill due to lack of clean, running water. The trip was an amazing experience (thanks Dad!) that led me down the path of caring enough about water to work in the sector – but by no means necessary to create a generation which values water and uses it wisely!]
Primary schools are quite good at covering issues such as access to clean water. However, there is little curriculum time in secondary schools to follow this up. In addition, children are not given an understanding of how layers of government and industry interact to provide vital services, so for those who do have a passion for environmental issues, the perception remains that pressure groups provide the best means of tackling their concerns. I think that the water companies could do more to work with schools to inform teachers and students of what they are doing to safeguard water supplies and the environment in general.
Finally, can you share your favourite #WaterwiseTip with us?
Take shorter and less frequent showers. The average power shower uses around 15 litres per minute.
If your school is celebrating Water Saving Week, we’d love to see a photo. It could even win you a bumper pack of educational games for your school, courtesy of Eco Action Games. Enter by Tweeting @Waterwise using #WaterSavingWeek and #WSWPhotoComp or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can enter by submitting water themed poems! Click here for more information, water saving tips and downloadable resources and to join Mr Splosh on his mission to use water wisely, everywhere, everyday.