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Waterschool China

Coordinating Organisation Shangri-la Institute for Sustainable Communities
Organisers/Type of Organisation Development and research
Initiative Type Wide-ranging teacher training and educational program spanning 8 years, 12 provinces and a total of 150 schools and community centres
Field of Science Involved Water education, science education. Climate change education
Target Audience(s) Teachers, pre-service teachers, community educators and students
Reach National (four watersheds and twelve provinces across China)

Main Objectives

To promote water education, science education, environmental education and sustainable development.

Description of work

The Waterschool China Programme seeks to educate young citizens and engage communities throughout China in ways that enable them to become active participants in sustainable water resource management. From its origins in the Yangtze River basin in 2008, the Programme now extends to four river basins across China, and has reached 173,000 students through the formal education system. The Programme engages and supports 100 primary and secondary schools from 12 regions across China, as well as many communities and organisations in selected watersheds to educate students and community members to be aware of, and concerned about the condition of their local river and its tributaries. It also seeks to empower them to take action to improve the ecological integrity of their watershed and the sustainability of their communities.

The Programme works in five key areas: Teacher training, school activities, community action, resource development, and linking and learning at the national and international levels. 

The Shangri-La Institute for Sustainable Communities (SISC) approach is applied in the management structure of the Programme. Project teams at different levels have been established and developed through individual and institutional capacity building. At the local level, school leadership teams in the project schools initiate and implement ESD in the form of in-class activities, fieldwork, publicity and after-school clubs. At the regional level, schools and communities share and reflect on their learning from local educational practices through regular exchange meetings, and participatory work- shops facilitated by SISC staff. Through this process, suggestions for local problems to be addressed are collected and submitted to the regional authorities; following this a regional network is built among project sites and other educational agencies. Based on this work at the local and regional levels, a national-level learning platform is created.

The learning platform is designed to: facilitate information sharing among schools, communities and coordination center through annual seminars; to collate and publish regional educational resources developed by schools; to organise knowledge and expertise from local, regional and national levels to influence policies by working 
with the Ministry of Education on China’s Education Reforms and to collect examples of good practices together with traditional wisdom and lifestyles to contribute to global ESD theory and practice, through international education and conservation networks.

Each participating school in the Programme has selected a tributary or stretch of river to explore its social, cultural and environmental context. Through investigation and research, students identified and explored water-related problems in their local communities. Following the research phase, the students of each school carried out community- service activities, aiming to ‘solve’ the problems. 

Activities included cleaning the river, tree planting, and information campaigns based on their research. In this case, the community acted as a learning resource for the students, and the schools provided research results and service in return. 


The WS China program has empowered teachers in the project schools to teach about water and the environment in a place-specific, interactive, comprehensive way. However, the most tangible result of the Waterschool China project can be seen in the hundreds of thousands of teachers, students and community members who have been impacted by the program all across China.

This approach has resulted in environmental progress across many project sites as well as progress in educational objectives. Just one example is the action of rural project schools located along tributaries of the Jianling River in Mianyang, Sichuan Province. The project schools carried out in-community action and information campaigns, successfully changing the community’s waste management behaviour – ridding them of their former practice of disposing of household waste into the river, and supported the village administration to establish its first ever garbage disposal system which is still in place without continued input from project teachers or SISC staff. 

Resources used or generated

A suite of textbooks and curriculum packs has been developed specific to each watershed, and a model for yearly teacher training workshops and regular communication to create a learning and sharing platform which connects major stakeholders, whether socially, for knowledge sharing or for collective action. The program achieved a major milestone when case studies from the project were used to inform the introduction of the first ever national-level curriculum on environmental education in China. In this and other ways, the Programmes itself has become a learning resource for use in China.

Contact Details
Principal Contact Lucy Binfield
Director Yunhua Liu, 刘云华
e-mail Lucy Binfield
Social Media Facebook - shangrilainstitute
Twitter - @SISC_China
Instagram - shangrila_institute
YouTube - Shangri-La Institute

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