Mahnala Environmental School- in English

20 YEARS IN THE MAKING: Mahnala Environmental School

Introduction

Mahnala Environmental School is situated in Hameenkyro, in the province of Pirkanmaa. It is a traditional village primary school (Reception Class through to sixth form) that follows the National Curriculum. In the school year 2005 – 2006 there were 110 pupils enrolled in the school. The number of pupils has doubled in the last ten years.

The long and, at times, arduous task of changing Mahnala into an Environmental School began in the autumn of 1990 and in the 15 years since an incredible amount of work has gone into making it happen.

To begin with the journey required us to demonstrate some very important qualities:

  • The ability to visualise a different kind of school and the courage to pursue that vision
  • A willingness to change our own ways of working and recognize that creating an environmental school could not be achieved in the normal working week but rather would need to become a way of life.

Along the way, two other very important factors have influenced our progress greatly:

  • The school is located in a designated National Landscape Area. Its buildings and grounds are beautifully and conveniently situated next to forest and lake
  • Over the years a number of committed staff with a wide variety of interests in nature and environmental issues have joined the team

What We Did

The key elements of Mahnala School’s environmental education have been:

  • nature know-how
  • familiarity with nature’s processes
  • the man-made environment and the national landscape area
  • sustainability

The school began its programme of environmental education with the emphasis placed firmly on nature activities such as gardening, field-trips to the local forest, composting and recycling, and general nature know-how. Practical learning has been and remains still a very important method of environmental education at the school.

Integration of the school with the local community and cooperation with its neighbours were key objectives from the outset. To this end, senior pupils published over several years a bi-annual magazine and newsletter for local distribution. The school was established as the neighbourhood recycling point for paper and glass refuse and this has brought in important funding for teaching materials and equipment.

In addition to practical learning, cooperative working has been a key feature of our practice. A good example of both is the construction of the school’s ice-hockey pitch which was undertaken by the teacher and boys of the senior class who, along with many of the boys’ parents, together put in over 500 hours work.

Such projects have been a distinctive feature of our schooling and other examples include the making of a nature trail in the forest and the construction of various traditional out-buildings in the school grounds. In one year pupils and their parents constructed some 300 bird-nesting boxes which were used and sold locally.

Milestones and other Achievements

In October of 1990 our work at Mahnala was featured as part of a radio programme about the possibilities of environmental education in Finland and therefore brought the project into the public domain. Subsequently, television coverage and frequent newspaper articles in both the local and national press have helped raise awareness of the importance and possibilities of environmental education.

As a result of this media interest the school has hosted a number of visits over the years from teachers and pupils from other schools, officials from other regional educational departments, and international visitors as well. The school has performed a missionary role in this respect and our teachers have also been regularly invited to speak about the project.

In 1999 our work was recognised with the World Wildlife Fund’s Panda Award for environmental education – the first school in Finland to be given the award.

In 2000 the Pirkanmaa Ornithological Society rewarded the school for achievements in bird conservation and in 2003 we were awarded the Pirkanmaa Environmental Prize which recognizes excellence in the promotion of environmental issues through education.

In 2003 Mahnala School was awarded permanent Green Flag accreditation having acquired the award bi-annually in the preceding 4 years.

Obtaining the designation, “Environmental School” was in itself a matter of great pride, and obtaining approval to move towards the use of organic foods in school-meal provision was a ground-breaking development at the time and remains unusual even today.

The other achievement of which we are most proud is our cooperative venture with Pirkanmaa Environmental Centre in the creation and maintenance of the bird-reserve at nearby Lake Sarkkila. The enterprise was planned and developed between teachers at the school and the Environmental Centre with the support of the Ministry of the Environment and the European Union.

Plans/Objectives for the Future

To continue our journey at Mahnala our plans and objectives for the future include

Garden and Grounds:

  • enlargement of the school’s vegetable plot to include the provision of separate greenhouses for growing tomatoes and cucumbers.
  • enlargement of the grounds to enable us to keep a range of smaller farm animals, e.g. sheep, goats, hens, ducks

Building Improvements:

  • to provide new facilities at the school including a laboratory and bird and small mammal sanctuary
  • conversion of the school’s heating system from oil to wood-burning, to include the provision of heat-storing fireplaces in classrooms
  • provision of a meeting room and space for a permanent environment exhibition

Camp-school Destination: we would like to be able to offer Mahnala as a National Landscape camp-school destination with ready-made programme packages, as well as appropriate facilities including sleeping accommodation.

Cycle-paths: the provision of cycle-paths from the school to the nearby villages of Mahnala and Sasi. This will help reduce unnecessary car-journeys, make the school-route safer and increase healthy exercise.

Causeways: the construction of causeways at the nearby marsh-land area at Huutisuo and Sarkkilanjarvi. These traditional paths are constructed from wooden planks and enable access to marshes and bogs in an environmentally friendly manner.

Cooperation: continuing our work in this area, to include offering pupils work-practice opportunities on local farms

The list could go on for ever. The only limits in environmental education are usually attitudes, old habits and fear of change. “We never did things in that way before….”

Environmental education does not really have any limits. The knowledge that the Finn’s ecological footprint amounts to 7 hectares should in itself be sufficient reason for new environmental schools to begin appearing like mushrooms in the rain. Nature will take care that we not have an option. Nature is still the best teacher.