Supporting Children’s Rights with Stephanie Hodge

September 15, 2022

Green Is Good Symbol

From the Green Is Good Archives

Originally aired on November 22, 2013

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As a former adventurous child who later traveled the globe, it’s only fitting that Stephanie Hodge found her way to UNICEF to make young children’s dreams of adventure a possible reality. UNICEF supports children both in emergency and developmental situations — most importantly, supporting children’s rights to education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation. Hodge found her niche in the organization as a cross-sector program specialist in UNICEF’s Education Department, where she focuses on environmental and climate change education.

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John: Hi, this is John Shegerian. I never could have imagined when we started the Green Is Good Radio Show back in 2006 that it would grow into a big podcast called The Green Is Good Podcast. Now, we’ve evolved that podcast to The Impact Podcast which is more inclusive and more diverse than ever before. But we did look back recently at some of our timeless Green Is Good interviews and decided to share some of them with you now. So enjoy one of our great Green Is Good episodes from our archives and next week, I’ll be back with a fresh and new episode of The Impact Podcast. Thanks again for listening, I’m grateful to all of you. This is John Shegerian.

John: Welcome back to Green Is Good and we’re so honored to have with us today, Stephanie Hodge. She’s the UNICEF cross-sector program specialist in the education department. Welcome to Green Is Good, Stephanie Hodge.

Stephanie Hodge: Well, thank you for having me.

John: We’re so honored to have you on today and Stephanie, before we get into UNICEF and all the great stuff you’re doing there, talk a little bit about Stephanie Hodge. Like, how do you end up here? Talk a little about your journey leading up to this position and all that kind of wonderful stuff that our listeners want to know.

Stephanie: Well, I was a curious kid and I also had the UNICEF boxes when I was a kindergarten student. I mean, from an early age, I had an interest in things around nature and human rights and definitely child rights, and UNICEF was a big UN brand. As a child, my journey was I was a very adventurous kid and ended up teaching in Africa as a young teacher. But then I found myself in the Okavango Delta, remembering all those Mutual of Omaha programs, all about beautiful nature and all those things. That led me really into the exploration of environmental education and climate change education today at UNICEF.

John: Oh my gosh, my childhood just flashed in front of me like the orange boxes and the Mutual of Omaha. I have goosebumps right now. Oh my gosh, Stephanie. So, talk a little bit about your wonderful website for our listeners out there that want to follow along as we are having this chat with Stephanie. It’s It’s a gorgeous website, Talk a little bit about what is UNICEF, the original mission of UNICEF, and how the organization has evolved.

Stephanie: Well, UNICEF started after the war. I mean, basically, it was the UNICEF emergency fund for children. Basically, we started with sort of providing emergency relief after the world war and handing out the schooling box, and schooling became a big part of emergency programs and it just grew from there. It’s the mission of children, support the children not only in emergencies but also in development situations like in terms of their rights. So their right to education, their right to health, their right to nutrition, their right to water and sanitation, children’s rights, and children’s protection is UNICEF’s mandate.

John: So, the issue of children which is so important. Before we came to the studio today, I was watching something on television about climate change and there are still some people that don’t believe it’s actually happening, which is still unreal. I’m sitting there just scratching my head while I’m watching television, but talk a little bit about the impact that climate change is having on children around the globe today.

Stephanie: Well, as the mother of all environmental problems, climate change is a proxy indicator for what’s going on with the environment. I’m from Newfoundland. Basically, the Icelandic shelf is coming to our shores now at an extraordinary pace. I mean, the impact, the evidence is there even in our daily lives. Even here in New York, with the hotter summers and the more erratic weather but the impact is definitely hitting children. It’s hitting school infrastructure in terms of increased natural disasters. It’s really impacting their right to learn because the learning outcomes are being impacted by this global trend that’s related to climate change migration, increased migration in population, human population, and changes in the traditional learning environment as a result of that increased migration. So we’re getting a lot more people with a lot more needs in a small classroom. They have a lot more needs in terms of languages, things like that. Well, it’s growing inequality as a result of this proxy indicator of what’s going on in our environment. There’s a structural issue around structural development issues, really creating a greater global divide between rich and poor and that gets right down even to communities with small villages. You still get that disparity. That disparity is linked to what’s going on in the environment and the fact that environmental externalities are now a factor in development. The poor getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. Insurance, land degradation, insurance access for the poor is also becoming something difficult. We have that here, Sandy, you see who has the insurance.

John: That’s a great point. Isn’t it fascinating Stephanie that when we talk about climate change, the deniers act like it’s not going to ever happen but the truth is, it’s happening now? This is not a problem that if we don’t act now, it’s going to happen in 30 years as you just pointed out with Sandy and the degradation that’s already happening. This is something you’re going to deal with, I’m going to deal with, our children will deal with, our grandchildren going to deal with, but it starts now. But talking a little bit about jumping forward, how bad is it, then the roll forward effect 20-30 years from now? Give our listeners a little visibility on what you see, because people like you that have a worldview and have the opportunity to both travel and also have some of the best experts in the world on these issues, that you are involved with, explain a little bit about what’s even coming.

Stephanie: Well, I guess there’s two scenarios, isn’t there? One is if we stay on the unsustainable path, then there’s going to continue to be environmental degradation and growing inequality. More changes in the climate, more vulnerability, more poverty, more altered land use, more land degradation. However, if we take the more sustainable path, where we start to really factor in those environmental externalities in our planning, in our daily lives, then, of course, we have actually a win-win scenario where we’re actually leapfrogging some of the problems because we’re taking affirmative action around structural problems around equity, around sectoral planning, around cost-benefit analysis, around the environment, really pricing that environment, right? I think then the future is really a good scenario. We’ve got a choice and the choice is now and I think we’re getting there, but it’s the disaster that’s now in our action and I guess that’s human nature.

John: At UNICEF, what’s your mission in terms of reduction of risk to children who face climate change? Obviously, children are always in any population, some of the most vulnerable people, and if not the most vulnerable to any external forces that are larger than life, such as climate change. What are some of the factors and some of the mission statements that you guys are working on to reduce the risk to children?

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Stephanie: Okay. Well UNICEF, as I said started as an emergency agency. So wherever there are natural disasters, UNICEF is there 24/7. They’re there from the first moment that the emergency is there to provide sort of relief services but then UNICEF really does get involved in going beyond the band-aid. That’s where we get into the structural issues, especially in education. We look at the vulnerability of schools, we look at the structural changes that need to happen in the school infrastructure. We look at the need for more relevant content in the school. We look at how you mainstream this knowledge into school so that children have access to knowledge and resources and skills around the environment that maybe we weren’t providing in past sorts of scenarios of education. The way that we address climate change education is really looking at the struggle for power, power over resources and the access to relevant knowledge and resources, access to knowledge and information about who has access to information to support individual knowledge base, and evidence-based decision-making, transparency, and participation. Children should be involved in decisions that affect their lives. Having access to that information is part of the education process. So making that systemic, looking at how to mainstream within the school system. So, how do you get environmental education, for example, into teaching and learning? How do you look at the learning environment from the perspective that you have a green school, for example, how do you look at the key most capacity of a child, who understands what it is to love nature, plants, and animals from a very young age, empathy for the environment, and for nature? These are classic educational outcomes and they improve learning outcomes. Children who are interested in the environment tend to be more inquisitive, tend to really get out there and take action and just be more resilient.

John: I agree with you so much. For our listeners out there that just joined, we’ve got Stephanie Hodge on with us, she’s from UNICEF. She’s really the environmental education guru at UNICEF and I want to get into this. Please go to their website, it’s a beautiful website. I’m on it right now. In fact, I’m just going to give you a little shameless plug here. What I love about organizations like yours, and again I grew up with the orange boxes too but this is so important, and more organizations should take note of what you’ve done here. Give with confidence, there’s a nice green box on the cover of your website. $0.90 of every dollar we spend goes to help children. It is so brilliant, the transparency that your organization shows that it’s not being spent on overhead and other types of issues that well-meaning organizations sometimes get bogged down in and the money’s actually going to go to the help that people donated for. So, I mean, this kind of transparency, I don’t see enough of it. There’s not enough of it, frankly, and this is to me a real winning statement right there.

So, Stephanie, kudos to you and kudos to your great organization. Can you get into some more particulars though? Since you really helped develop the strategy for environmental education at the United Nations Education Program, can you talk a little bit about the curriculum that UNICEF is promoting?

Stephanie: I mean the curriculum is the heart of education. So I really kind of have to discuss that a little bit because it shows you how we approach this which is really not sort of going into countries, okay, you have to mainstream this. The ideas about transformation, UNICEF promotes child-friendly education, the curriculum being the heart of what the society and the school values is a process. The development of curriculum thus becomes a democratic process. The curriculum is the heart and soul and therefore, what we promote is really a system’s critique. So you look at the educational policy and legislation around education and you say, do you have an environment as a kind of like a domain in that education? You also look at teaching and learning. So you’re looking at that process and you’re questioning, is the environmental domain a part of teaching-learning from a young age? You look at the cumulative capacities of the child from preschool and you say if you really want to create competencies around the environment, then the child should have the experience of the environment from a young age. So how is the child getting into nature through the education in the curriculum at a young age? So we promote, starting with the love of outdoor education or experimental learning. So you love a tree. But as you grow older, that becomes much more concrete in terms of your expectations for learning outcomes across your school life cycle. So as you grow older, the idea of a child’s growing capacity and ability to take action becomes a kind of guide for that curriculum. So as you go into Grade 4 and 5, you start to have more projects with the child that takes the children into more of an action mode. So you start to promote teaching and learning around little projects in the environment, school gardens, things like that, that really gives the child a sense of responsibility around the environment. The children can monitor that environment and that type of love and stewardship comes as a growing process. It’s not just about putting science environmental education in Grade 10. It’s about starting from before kindergarten and looking at the love of nature. How did you and I, for example, become stewards? We basically spent most of our younger years interested out there, picking up the fish, looking at the fish, looking at the trees, playing in the outdoors. That type of interaction and the love that’s guided by the facilitation of a good teacher becomes then the learning outcome, which is really the stewardship, the monitoring, and the love of nature and the environment.

John: That’s so important. Can you give a couple of examples of where this education is taking place? Like what countries or where particularly so we can frame the whole thing better and we can all imagine this whole thing?

Stephanie: There’s two parts. Unfortunately, it’s only taken place in pockets but fortunately, it’s expressing itself all over the world due to like you said, the grassroots base demand for change in education and in particular around the environmental domain in education. Now, it’s not systematic and now that’s the unfortunate part. So, what we try to promote is mainstreaming, so the policies and legislation of the school to create learning outcomes link to that environmental domain in schools in a systematic way. But at the same time for example, in the US, we are having so many great examples of green schools, eco-school, and school-based private. Usually, though, in private institutions or international schools, this is where you sort of get this because I guess the teachers and the administrators are starting to see the link between more relevant content and learning outcomes. So the international baccalaureate schools, they’re seriously progressive countries, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands. They really kind of have taken this forward as part of a systematic mainstreaming approach. Many countries in the south in developing countries are leapfrogging to this type of education, recognizing that the education, the whole sort of traditional sitting behind the school desk is not working anymore. But what we want now is a much more progressive education that takes advantage of the digital revolution and the fact that content is universally accessible now through digital content. We are not restricted to books anymore. Using our environment as learning pedagogy is now becoming really something that is going to make your country progressive and really give you a sense of where and what children need to learn today. So in Thailand, you’ll find a great progressive school. Again, it’s a champion. Basically, the principal is a monk and very, very attuned to environmental goals, and he’s decided to build a water school. The theme was the water school, but the stuff that’s coming out of that school is really showing the way that children are being taught is more progressive, is more attuned to what they want to learn. Children are naturally interested in the environment. We kind of like deskilled children from thinking about the environment. We also deskilled children in our current education from things that are natural like creativity, like sitting there behind a desk right now when there’s so much opportunity for sort of more experimental learning. Really, this is about transformation in our education that’s really going to provide us with new thinking around education that’s really relevant. Having children work together on projects in a multicultural environment is progressive education.

John: That kind of progressive education, since you’re one of the creators of it… we have about 2 minutes left. Has it been effective as you want it to be? Are you happy and hopeful about the effectiveness of this type of education?

Stephanie: Well, I was at the Harvard School of Education’s Project Zero last week. Harvard has been really promoting this education since 1968. You just go to their Project Zero website. We need more. We need more champions, we need more schools of education involved, we need more teacher education. This is what we need. We need the teachers to get involved in looking at school and saying, is this what we need for the 21st century? We need more of those involved in the educational process saying we need transformation. It’s coming but we need more. We need more advocacy. We need more journalists like you supporting the movement.

John: Well, we’re down to the last minute. Any last thoughts or shameless plugs for your great organization and all the great missions, especially environmental education?

Stephanie: UNICEF is a great organization and I’ll tell you why, because of its staff. The staff are motivated, committed, and educated. They are everywhere. 190 countries, they’re working with governments on education, nutrition, and health. UNICEF is a good organization. Partnering with UNICEF on what you think is right and protecting children around the world and children’s rights including around the environment is really an important mission. So thank you very much for this time and we look forward to partnering with the US population.

John: Well, Stephanie, you’re right. We need more transformation. We need more Stephanie Hodges, frankly. And for our listeners out there again, UNICEF,, and $0.90 of every dollar you spend and give to UNICEF goes to help children. Stephanie Hodge, you are an inspirational sustainability educational hero and leader and truly living proof that green is good.

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