Marina Drndarski is a teacher of 10- to 15-year-olds in Belgrade, Serbia. She sums up her teaching philosophy in the following way: “During my entire career of teaching biology, I have tried my best to inspire and lead students to a better understanding of nature. I follow the motto ‘In order to love something you have to understand it first.’ Hard work, curiosity and an eagerness to learn are my major characteristics. I don’t take anything for granted and I’m always willing to look for more than one solution to a problem, or for more than a single explanation of a situation. I’m happy and proud to say that my teaching has had that same kind of influence on many of my pupils. Given their natural curiosity, there are no limits to what students can achieve with the right kind of leadership and motivation. The more that is offered to students, the more they will be ready to try new things, to experiment, and to be confident and knowledgeable about their discoveries.”
Did you always want to be a teacher?
Actually, from early childhood I wanted to be a field biologist.
How long have you been working in the classroom with the Green Pack? Did you have any previous background in environmental education, or was the Green Pack your first experience in teaching this kind of material?
The first time I met with the Green Pack was in 2007 — using the English-language version. From that year I started using different parts of the Green Pack in my everyday teaching, especially when discussing topics connected with the environment, such as water, energy-efficient products, sustainable development, biodiversity and so on.
I do have a background in environmental education, but the Green Pack has the best methodology and the most accessible approach to environmental science, with lots of material for different ages of students. There are also lots of video materials to help start and connect topics, or to help start up a classroom discussion.
As a teacher, I recognise the great importance of education for sustainable development, so I try to convey my knowledge, creativity, enthusiasm and love of nature to my students. They are the ones who will be here after us.
Which parts of the Green Pack materials are your favourites to use in class? What do the students seem to enjoy the most?
My students and I prefer the Global Challenges and Values sections, as we see these as the two most important challenges in the 21st century. The discussions among the students can last for hours, and these topics can always open up new information from the real, everyday world.
My fifth-grade students — 10- and 11-year-olds — always ask for the video clips to share and show to their friends and families, and they seem most effective. They tend to look for similar content on the Internet afterwards, and they ask a lot of questions, ranging from “Do smokers really get longer noses?” or “Will a baby seal really die every time I throw away a plastic bag?” to “Where can we buy a machine for recycling plastic?” They are very eager and willing, but our society is not yet aware of this potential and is not providing them with proper backup.
Which environmental concerns do you feel are most important to address where you live?
The most important environmental concerns for me, as a citizen and teacher, are vulnerable and disappearing biodiversity in Serbia, and the excessive and impractical use of water and energy. We also need to raise public awareness about pollution and about taking responsibility for the environment.
What is being done, or could be done, in Serbia to address these problems?
A lot of things can be done, at all levels. In general, people seem to be unaware of the long-term or even short-term effects of their actions. Proper waste disposal is a major issue, and we have very low levels of recycling. There is room for improvement anywhere we look. We have done a lot about recycling here at the school, starting with paper and moving on to aluminium, batteries and electronic waste. At the moment we are looking for a good way to deal with plastic waste. We are trying to set an example, not just for the kids to follow but the whole local community.
Are your municipal, local and national governments providing other kinds of support for education for sustainable development and environmental education within the school curricula?
Yes, but not enough. The new curricula currently being developed with funding from the EU [“Support Human Capital Development and Research: General Education and Human Capital Development”] will be introduced in September 2015. Sustainable development is one of the inter-subject competencies, and as such is inserted into respective national educational standards for different subjects, and for both elementary and secondary schools. I see this as a positive change. As a teacher, I believe that education for sustainable development is crucial for our future life on Earth.
What has been the influence of the Green Pack on students in terms of life outside the classroom? In other words, are they sharing the messages with their family members and classmates?
The students I teach are at an age when they are easily influenced and can easily contract the eco-awareness “virus”. And they are, as a rule, very anxious to spread it. They themselves sometimes think of specific assignments through which to spread their contagious enthusiasm. We usually start with small things, like energy and water efficiency at home, and then move on to how to take environmental action on certain issues like waste, light pollution and the like.
In addition to the recycling initiative you mentioned, has your school implemented any other green measures in recent years, such as water efficiency and energy efficiency schemes, or car-sharing networks?
Our school, Drinka Pavlovic, is one of the most environmentally aware and environment-friendly schools in Belgrade. We participate in national and international projects — such as WWF's “European Schools for a Living Planet”, and “Greenwave”, which is part of the EU Fibonacci Project — and our school was one of the first in Serbia to earn the Green Flag from the international Eco-Schools project. We observe all of the international environment days, and we collect old newspapers, cans and PET packaging.
Right now our students and my colleagues are participating in a humanitarian effort to collect caps from PET bottles to help raise money to buy wheelchairs for handicapped children whose parents can’t afford them. A few years ago we replaced the old windows to reduce heat loss, replaced old faucets with water-efficient ones and installed energy-efficient lighting. We also put some bird feeders outside in the schoolyard during the winter months.
Do you have any suggestions about how future editions of the Green Pack might be improved, whether in general or specifically pertaining to your local version?
My suggestion is to make the same interactive Green Pack educational game for the web, to make an application for mobile phones, and also to produce a classroom board game that can be played out of doors.