Social change is supported to a large extent by education. Education in community groups, schools, colleges and universities, summer camps, youth groups, churches and public parks or recreation areas are means of social change. A very efficient way to change behaviour towards more sustainable water use practices is to educate children and youth in school. These young people grow up into adults that have a sense of the relationship between water consumption patterns, water supply levels and water quality issues. They also may carry the knowledge they have gathered home into their families and disseminate it there. Tying education on water issues to local watersheds, water management projects or water problems is a good strategy to provide young people with a sense of connection to water issues and to enhance learning.
Education on sustainable water management topics can take place in all levels of schooling. Bringing water issues into education programmes provides a means of encouraging young people to understand not only the wider water concepts, but also the effects of their own behaviour on water, its quality, and ecosystems.
There are many ways that water issues can be introduced into the general curriculum both inside and outside the classroom. In the classroom, educators can:
- Develop and use water textbooks, or more general environmental textbooks in middle schools and support these with audiovisual and online material;
- Develop experiential models around water to add to science, geography, and history courses;
- Develop inter-school competitions or partner with local TV and radio stations;
- Use actual local projects as learning classrooms for water management lessons, and use visits to water infrastructures to broaden the learning process;
- Use learning programmes at visitor sites (such as wetland centres, river banks, or reservoirs) to complement their teaching;
- Have students interview older local residents, historians, or culturally relevant elders about water use history in the region or interview water professionals. Other methods of investigation or research can serve the same purpose of understanding the changes in local water use and water quality over time.
- Integrate local museum and science exhibits on major public and private water works and infrastructure.
Education of children and youth outside of the school setting also plays a huge role in social change, and is an excellent method of engaging young people in water issues without the challenge of changing school curricula. Youth organisations (e.g. scouts), community groups, youth conferences, summer camps, and online webinars or programmes are some examples of venues for water education outside of school.
The EarthEco World Water Monitoring Challenge is an international programme that fosters water protection through education focused around the United Nations World Water Day. They send out free water testing kits to any eligible group around the world and users are expected to input their water quality test results to the website. Users learn about their local water sources and general water quality issues, they are inspired by being part of a global project, and the resulting map online is an excellent educational resource.
When thinking about education, universities also play a big a role. They are a key area of social change, often being the epicentre of social change movements. Similarly, university education that incorporates IWRM improves the understanding of water issues and results in professionals in many fields having an integrated perspective on water.
- Studies on introducing water conservation behaviour show that the most efficient way to affect adult behaviour is through educating children at school.
- Educational tools are particularly effective in middle schools, but can also be applied at elementary and high school levels.
- Introducing local water-related material into the classroom will give students a personal connection to the realities of water issues.
- Promoting environmental education can focus on the training of children as well as of teachers.
- Good practice at school (e.g. providing latrines – especially for girls – and promoting hygienic practices) can increase school attendance and influence the wider community.