Imagine that while you were in school, you had the chance to develop your project ideas, solve a particular issue in your local community, learn to draw up a financial plan, edit a video, write a PR article and a donation request letter or master advocacy before local authorities to improve standard social practices. What do you think? How much would you have learned from these experiences compared to the wide range of practical knowledge and skills that our children have been acquiring in schools for decades?
Meet LORA, a project aimed at changing standard patterns, offering higher-quality education solutions and letting the children – as the future of our society – do the talking.
“LORA – Sustainable Development Laboratory” is a project that formally deals with the sustainable development goals set by the UN in 2015 after presenting the 2030 Agenda and defining 17 goals that the world plans to achieve by 2030. Sustainable development is important as it represents a sort of environmental, economic and social balance measured by fulfilling the needs of current generations without endangering the possibility of fulfilling the needs of future generations.
Through the “LORA” project, the Bioteka Association, together with its partners, Hyla and Biom associations and the Borovje primary school has joined this initiative launched by the UN. By applying our own innovative methodology, we decided to shake up the education system and reverse the roles.
Our approach is based on students as the drivers of change. They are mentored by their teachers, who are in turn mentored by educated experts, thus coming to a full circle of cooperation between the public and the civil sector, aimed at building a better society.
The private sector and numerous volunteers have also been involved in this project, since children and teachers have been working on projects that do not only take place at schools, as is common, but rather introduce concrete changes in their local communities. By doing so, they are setting an example of how we can contribute to the sustainable development of the community in which all three sectors co-exist.
How to learn about and live in accordance with sustainable development?
In every school, children are divided into teams, each with a particular task. There are “statisticians” – a team tasked with collecting and processing data; “financial managers” – a team in charge of communicating with potential donors and taking care of the project’s financial affairs; “operatives” – a team in charge of fieldwork; and the “PR team” – a group covering each step of the project by preparing texts, photographs and videos for promoting the work of their teams. The teams are led by teachers and each project cooperates with several external parties.
Naturally, there have been a lot of preparations made and time invested in order for the “let the kids work on their own” method to work. The project team and the team of associates, consisting of teachers from 20 selected schools across Croatia, have been educated by Croatian and international experts so that all the parties involved would understand the sustainable development goals, translate them into Croatian, adapt them to the working conditions in Croatia and develop Agenda implementation models. After two three-day training sessions in Zagreb, the project team travelled across Croatia to work out the details of sustainable development programmes together with teachers. In each associate school, we familiarised ourselves with their specific issues and provided them with guidance to develop their own ideas on how to solve the issues in the best way possible.
Such a condensed and individualised approach resulted in as many as 21 unique sustainable development projects, each dealing with a specific problem occurring in local communities in 21 counties.
21 projects in 21 counties
There are over 600 students from all over Croatia currently participating in the “LORA” project. Through non-formal and informal learning and cooperation, they are carrying out independent projects dealing with specific environmental, social or economic problems in 21 counties. The projects being carried out concern all 17 sustainable development goals.
In the projects in Otočac, Postira, Slavonski Kobaš, Kneževi Vinogradi and Komletinci, students have been developing their entrepreneurial spirit and starting up small enterprises – they have been producing raw materials and finished products, manufacturing souvenirs and encouraging local production. Their products will later be sold at fairs and other events through student associations. The money earned will be used to improve the work of such associations, pay school meals for students in need or take a school excursion.
Projects in Pula and Požega deal with plastic, one of the major pollutants of land and sea, and with plastic recycling methods. Following the principles of circular and blue economy, they will recycle used plastic and turn it into new products, which will then be sold or displayed in public galleries.
How often do dads go to parent-teacher conferences? When it comes to participating in parent-teacher conferences and interviews, the inequality in parental roles is present in most schools. It is therefore easy to understand the importance of the project being carried out in Neviđane on the island of Pašman, which increases the participation of fathers in children’s education and demystifies some of the common gender roles in society.
The first Croatian-Romani children’s dictionary, which has been designed and made by children, will be published in Ludbreg in the autumn. The dictionary will contain the most commonly used words, which will help students in the lower grades in studying. This project is characterised by solidarity, empathy, friendship and support, and all of us can see how noble the project really is.
Another similar project has been designed and carried out by students in Čakovec. In addition to producing their own food and mending and modifying old clothes, they also bring locally produced food to the houses of the elderly and people in need. Can you imagine how much joy these children bring to their older fellow citizens?
Outdoor classes have a positive impact on students’ self-esteem, social skills, motivation and focus. For those reasons, students from Koprivnica, Ludbreg, Zagreb, Kutina, Kistanje, Rijeka, Špišić Bukovica and Dubrovnik decided to design outdoor classrooms, while some transformed their school yard into a sensory park or a permaculture garden.
Primary school children from the small Slavonian village of Komletinci, who face the issue of low-quality tap water, have been searching for an alternative water supply for the village. They will explore the wells in their village to find out how many there are and to examine whether the water in those wells complies with drinking water quality standards, in which they have the support of the entire community!
Students from Karlovac and Klanjec have directed their projects toward improving the health of their peers by promoting the most important aspects of human health: a healthy diet and sports. Children from Karlovac encourage coming to school by bicycle, while children from Klanjec promote healthy school meals. Healthier, higher-quality and better relationships are the topic of the project carried out by students from Velika Mlaka, who will design a handbook on improving relationships between classmates, which will be used by the entire school.
Increasing and improving children’s reading comprehension is the task set by children from Bjelovar. This project will allow for better reading methods, and particularly improve reading comprehension. The project has also been supported by the famous actor Goran Navojec, who read to the students of his city during class.
Drivers of change
The LORA project is proof that there are ways and that there are better ways. Only through cooperation can we achieve the goals advocated so strongly and declaratively by our society, while the real drivers of change exist somewhere else. We see them in the evening phone calls in which a teacher plans a cleaning or planting action with students, in preparing surveys for classmates, in administrative tasks that someone has to do after all, in visiting institutions, in a local company which donates resources to develop the school garden without making a fuss, in a teacher teaching children to be activists. We see it in a boy being taken to school by his grandpa, in a volunteer and in an association, in a principal who holds a meeting with students, in the power of a team. It is because of such better ways that LORA encourages and makes changes that many of us want to see in the world. We invite you to join us!