Air pollution is a critical issue that affects children’s health, wellbeing, and ability to learn. The Clean Air Schools for Hong Kong project (CASHK), a flagship initiative led by Clean Air Network (CAN), aims to address this issue in schools. The project, benefiting from the scientific and technological expertise of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, is funded by the Zeshan Foundation, and seeks to address the critical issue of air pollution by engaging schools, teachers, and students in a holistic approach.
The project commenced its journey in January 2022 with participation from eight schools in the districts of Tuen Mun and Sham Shui Po. Two types of data have been considered critical for the success of the project: environmental and social data. Environmental data reflects the level of air pollution, temperature, and relative humidity, while social data reflects the opinions of educators, parents, and students
On the environmental aspect, advanced air quality monitoring devices were deployed within the campuses to gather real-time data on outdoor and indoor air quality. Interim environmental data demonstrates the severity of the air quality problems in classrooms.
According to CAN’s theory of change, progress on the social side (enhancing awareness and knowledge level on air quality issues) will be critical to reaching a “self-discovery” stage, in which the stakeholders understand why, how, what they can or are willing to do in order to resolve the issue. Achieving “self-discovery” in this project means that the whole school community will participate and support, both mentally and emotionally, in efforts to improve air quality. It is one of the key conditions for implementing environmental solutions in a sustainable fashion.
To enhance the understanding of the social aspect, CAN collaborated with the Humans Matter to explore the human factors including emotions, habits, and motivations. Clean Air Network and Humans Matter joined hands to co-design and co-deliver a workshop introducing the Clean Air Schools Action Framework to schools. After more than 12 months of measuring and visualising campus air quality as part of the Clean Air Schools for Hong Kong (CASHK), the project shifted towards taking action to improve the air the children breathe day in and day out. The event was attended by teachers from the project’s participating schools.
What was the Action-Focused Workshop Like?
The workshop’s focal point was the Human Factor Mural session, which centered around the behaviour of adopting data-informed preventative and remedial actions to improve air quality. This behaviour specifically involved communicating the outdoor air quality status within the campus. The facilitated reflection and discussions during this session yielded interesting insights and perspectives.
1. Self-discovery: A stage of self-discovery is important to engage and gain the support of teachers, their heads, hearts and hands, to participate in cleaning the air.
2. Fostering motivation: Participating in air quality monitoring should be framed as “fun” and “rewarding” activities, instead of “tasks” and “penalties”.
3. Closing the knowledge gap:
3.1 For everyone including teachers and pupils: Instead of imposing knowledge, effective learning involves multiple steps: anchoring, transferring, transposing, and sustaining.
3.2 For children: Scientific knowledge is crucial, but how can such knowledge be presented in a way that children find receptive? Perhaps start by reflecting on language and coming up with simple definitions and representations. Instead of “low AQHI” (Air Quality Health Index), perhaps “dirty air” will get the message across better to children along with the implications of “coughing”, “wheezing”, and outdoor activities.
4. Closing the relevance gap: Similarly, for adults, teachers and other school stakeholders, how should the topic of clean air be framed to resonate better? For example, teachers may care more about character development and the overall health of pupils, indirectly (but significantly!) related to clean air.
5. Valorising progress: Despite the continuous effort required to improve and maintain good air quality, celebrating small milestones could boost the sense of achievement, and sustain interest and engagement. What if the class with the highest participation is rewarded with ice cream at the end of the school term?
6. Internalizing knowledge is important: How can children (and adults too) start paying attention to air quality, similar to paying attention to the weather?
Throughout the journey from visualising data to inducing behavioural change, social and human factors are as important as understanding environmental factors. Various approaches, including recognising and rewarding achievements, highlighting the significance of small victories, and celebrating them, are helpful in sustaining momentum. We are grateful for the educators’ generosity in offering their honest opinions during the workshop.
Looking Forward: A Brighter, Cleaner Future
The CASHK project stands as a testament to the collaborative efforts of organisations, educators, and stakeholders dedicated to promoting a healthier and cleaner environment for the next generation. By translating knowledge into actionable steps, CASHK creates lasting changes. With a blend of science and human-centric strategies, the project paves the way for a healthier environment, improved quality of life, and a brighter future for children and communities.
Curious to Find Out More?
For more information about the Clean Air Schools for Hong Kong project and its initiatives, please contact Clean Air Network at email@example.com. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with Humans Matter at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about deploying human-centred and science-based approaches to activating and sustaining and managing changes.