School meets Ecovillage
This article presents the Twinship between Gaia School in Estonia and Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Ireland as part of the “Twinning Regenerative Educators” project. One of the main learnings of this Twinship is how easy it is to use technology to deepen and enhance a meaningful learning experience for students. The project enabled children and youth to learn from and about ecovillages and to foster curiosity for more sustainable lifestyles and regenerative education in the classroom.
In order to deepen relationship building and to generate new project initiatives, GEN supported each educational project to build a “Twinship” with another partner. As a result of this process Gaia School in Estonia was matched with Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Ireland.
Cloughjordan Ecovillage is located in the midlands of Ireland in a small rural town. The Ecovillage aims to share their lessons learnt on the journey to a low-carbon society through their educational project that enables thousands of visitors to come to Cloughjordan to experience and learn about low-carbon, sustainable living. During the pandemic, Cloughjordan shifted some of their educational programs online.
“Our ecovillage features a community farm, amphitheatre, edible landscape, sustainable houses, with many acres dedicated to forestry and biodiversity. We hope that by welcoming primary and secondary school students, we can encourage them to build a brighter tomorrow and see the possibilities and solutions for solving some of today’s biggest issues.”
Gaia school is a pioneering school in regenerative education, as its curriculum is at the same time based on the Estonian national curriculum and is also inspired by the Map of Regeneration and Gaia education principles. Key principles that are foundational for the school are: Learning by doing, living with nature, care for the earth and regeneration, experiencing and being inspired by learning outdoors and sustainable development through freedom and responsibility. Gaia School was founded in 2014 and currently consists of over 200 students from grade 1 to 9 and 47 employees.
From the beginning on their collaboration unfolded naturally. After some first zoom calls to get to know each other and share their individual educational approaches, strengths and needs, their project idea grew out of the conversations they had. It became clear that the intentions they had – Veronica in Cloughjordan Ecovillage and Marit in Gaia School were very similar and that it would be easy to generate a common project from both of their experiences and areas of work. They organised a zoom meeting, where Veronica from Cloughjordan could share about life in an ecovillage in a direct conversation with a class in Gaia School. The session was planned just before the summer break with a group of older students aged 14 to 15 years.
Veronica from Cloughjordan had gained experience in hosting online educational sessions for groups mostly in Ireland and Irish public schools, so for her it was a new experience to work with a school in Estonia whose students were already familiar with ecovillage principles as the school itself is inspired by ecovillage approaches. However, to hear and speak to somebody who is actually living in an already established ecovillage was a new experience to the class. The small size of the group and the preparation that happened before the session allowed a very personal conversation, where students felt confident to ask questions directly and give feedback afterwards. Veronica gave an introduction to Cloughjordan Ecovillage: How they build their houses, the way they create their energy and the way the community cares for the land. She also especially focused on the question: “Why do we do what we do? And what were the learnings we gained on the journey?”
Interesting to both of them was that the students were especially curious about the enterprises and businesses, the small shops and handicrafts in the ecovillage. Reflecting afterwards Marit and Veronica both agreed – ‘It makes sense that this question is relevant to them, as they are in a phase of their lives when they have to decide how and what they would like to work as in the future.” When speaking about Cloughjordan’s consensus decision making process the children were surprised to hear “They are doing things differently. They are not just told what to do. They try to agree on how to do things.”
Both educators, Marit and Veronica, reflected afterwards that this Twinship was especially helpful for students at that age before leaving school or transitioning to higher education who are questioning their future and to see that there are lots of different ways to live, learn, study and work.
Main learning in a nutshell: Travelling via zoom to other countries and getting to know other ways of living is an opportunity we should use more often in the classroom!