Developing future generations of water and environment champions

James Hale discusses the importance of educating future generations about Wastewater in order to address the future skills shortage.

There are many challenges associated with managing the flooding of our sewers.

A significant part of the behavioural transition required to mitigate this problem is customer education. However, there is also an imminent need to provide an education for all aspects of sustainable urban water in order to address the impending skills gap within the water industry. Whilst there is a need to educate all water users, there is an opportunity to engage with future bill payers and environmental champions by working more closely with schools nationally to better understand the urban water environment.

As a parent, I know what an important role children can have in changing family behaviours and attitudes towards environmental challenges based on an impassioned lesson and topics delivered in school. I remember recycling initiatives in the 1980s targeted at children.

These initiatives have become the norm for families now and as that parent, but also a School Governor, Stem Ambassador and Water Engineer, I am a keen advocate of the need to increase the awareness of water sustainability education in schools in the same way and start the change in understanding and behaviours as early as possible. We have also seen the scale of action that can be achieved nationally through the right channels e.g. fat bergs and micro-plastics.

As in industry, we need to do more to push this educational need to the fore and enhance the Science Programme of Study for Key Stage 1 and 2, from a single line in the Chemistry section looking at the Earth’s Water resources and obtaining potable water, to a more robust section on sustainable water management covering all aspects of source to tap to treatment as part of sustainable water management. This will highlight the different challenges faced within the UK and internationally within the developing world.

I appreciate that this may be a challenge for teachers delivering a new element of the curriculum, but there is such a fundamental need for all of us to have a better understanding of our urban water systems and how they interact with the water cycle. To that end, we should be using all of the available resources and knowledge to facilitate this.

There is already a lot of information and educational resources available. All water companies have education programmes, which offer visits to facilities such as sewage treatment works, school classroom visits and talks as well as downloadable activities which can be rolled into lesson plans to achieve the enhanced curriculum objectives. Even additional initiatives such as Big Bang, or Severn Trent Water working with the Girl Guides to develop the ‘Waste Water and Me’ badge, can provide information and activities.

As well as resource availability, the STEM network is in place to link professionals who are able to support these activities with the schools as STEM Ambassadors with local schools delivering the curriculum. This is a great way to support and I would urge more of you to become Ambassadors.

I have personally worked with schools to promote a greater understanding of water and wastewater and watched as children actively engaged in treating ‘sewage soup’ as part of Science Week. Furthermore, I have heard children still talking about the activity months later, so I believe with the right targets at curriculum level, development of materials and engagement with water and wastewater professionals, we can inspire our children to champion our urban water cycle now and into the future.

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