A team of enterprising Dubai school pupils on a mission to boost air quality and an Abu Dhabi teacher delivering a crucial climate message to learners have won global recognition for their eco efforts.
The five pupils from Gems Our Own English High School – Dubai are among the five finalists of the Burjeel Holdings-Oxford Saïd Climate Change Challenge, which attracted entries from 43 countries.
Unnimaya Muraledharan, in 12th Grade, and Trisha Banerjee, Elvina Edison, Nischala Doddamani and Gayathri Vinod, all Grade 11 pupils, have created a natural fertiliser, Biogrow, that uses carbon dioxide and ammonia reducing the amount of carbon dioxide and ammonia in the air.
Frithi Francis, director of innovation, IT and sustainability at Cambridge High School – Abu Dhabi, also secured her place as a finalist in the teacher category of the competition, after ensuring the environment was a key topic of discussion in classrooms.
The UAE representatives have been invited to present their green solutions to judges in Abu Dhabi on December 1, with the winners being declared at a ceremony at Cop28 at Expo City Dubai the following day.
The winning pupils will get the opportunity to study a specially curated climate change course at the University of Oxford in 2024.
Making a difference
Elvina spoke of the need to combat rising pollution, highlighting the challenges faced in her homeland of India.
“We are from India and because of rising air pollution, there are some kids who could not attend school and had online learning. Also, one in eight households experience food insecurity, that’s what inspired us to get involved.
“We created a fertiliser that reduces carbon from the atmosphere, especially from places where factories give out a lot of carbon dioxide.
“This fertiliser has a slow-release technology, and we're capturing carbon from the atmosphere. I don't think another product like this exists.”
Gayathri said their idea, Biogrow, required a large amount of capital investment as well as government support to actually come to life.
“But it is a product that has a lot of long-term benefits, and we cannot put a price tag on our future.
“We need a lot of resources to bring it to life. But once it's created, the benefits will be huge and it can impact every corner of the world.”
The pupils were excited to have their chance to present their plan on the Cop 28 stage next week.
“It's definitely a new experience. I think for all of us it's the first time we will experience such a big event,” said Unnimaya.
“We are thinking of the fact that our idea actually went to the finals at such a big event.
“We are really happy and we're very excited and looking forward to December 1.”
Fellow pupil Trisha said she was excited to meet the judges and interact with like-minded people who were passionate about climate action.
The team will be competing against pupils from Poland, India, Syria, USA, South Korea and Indonesia.
Prof Soumitra Dutta, dean of Said Business School at the University of Oxford, hailed the enthusiasm of young people around the world to help protect the planet.
“The diverse range of applications from more than 40 countries, including entries from refugee camps, highlights the intense interest among school students and educators in tackling climate change,” he said.
“It also reaffirms the competition’s role as a catalyst for driving innovative solutions and giving young people agency in tackling the greatest challenge of our age.”
Learning valuable lessons
Ms Francis is in line for the international accolade after helping to teach the next generation about the need to go green.
The school adopted a cross-curriculum approach to educating pupils on climate action with elements of climate change being taught through different subjects such as history, geography, science.
Ms Francis created opportunities for pupils to head out in the real world and get experience at hospitals.
She will compete against other finalists from Canada, UK, Lebanon and India. The winning teacher will be able to attend a course at the University of Oxford in 2024.
“I have been an educator for more than 23 years. Integrating climate change into the curriculum was a challenge for me initially,” said Ms Francis.
“The main reason why we integrated it is to help our students develop a deeper understanding about climate change.
“Cambridge High School Abu Dhabi staff have integrated climate literacy into the curriculum and have become climate change educators.
“There are real world scenarios where we give students to chances to do a research project. We give our pupils internship opportunities. For example, our pupils, we have been giving them internship opportunities with Burjeel Hospital.”