Nationwide school competition: painting to protect insects
A nationwide painting competition under the patronage of Svenja Schulze, German Minister for the Environment, was launched in German schools to raise pupils’ awareness of the topic of protecting insects.
Task: raising pupils’ awareness of protecting insects
The number of insects and diversity of species have been in decline for many decades. This is a major challenge that can only be faced as a community and not solely as an individual. Consequently, the UN Decade on Biodiversity made the issue of “protecting insects” a major theme in 2019/20. In 2020 the aim was to anchor the topics of biodiversity and protecting insects firmly in the minds of the upcoming generation.
Commissioned by the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU) and Federal Ministry for Nature Conservation (BfN), we proposed a painting competition for children in school classes (3rd to the 9th grade) to make them aware of the issue. The conditions were that the idea was suitable for children, it could be easily integrated into lessons, and prizes were to be awarded so that children were motivated to take part. We aimed at integrating the topic into school lessons and intended getting teachers and parents to become multipliers who would then, in turn, spread the topic of biodiversity even further. We were responsible for creating, implementing and managing the painting competition in close collaboration with the Federal Ministry for the Environment.
A peek into the teachers’ staffroom
But how do you get school classes to participate? School curricula are full to the brim. Was there actually any free time for taking part in a painting competition? We sought to get into direct contact with the teachers to find out how to reach the target group. After talking to the teachers we found out how the school curriculum worked and what terms had to be taken into consideration for the competition: a theme suitable for children that could be integrated into lessons, at times that reconciled with the school timetable and holiday periods and simple conditions for taking part.
We worked on these fundamental principles and drafted such a convincing concept that Svenja Schulze, Minister for the Environment, took on the patronage for the competition. From then onwards, there was no stopping us: we used the channels of the UN decade on biodiversity as well as the Federal Ministry for the Environment to communicate the painting competition, and sent out a direct mailing to all 20,000 primary and secondary schools in Germany.
And then Corona came ...
The competition had only just got into full swing and then we suffered a serious setback: the lockdown came and all schools were closed. And what were we going to do now? Would we be forced to abandon the competition? Would anybody even consider taking part? Indeed, the pupils who entered the competition in the first few weeks were few and far between. What did we do then? After consulting the Ministry for the Environment, we eased the terms and conditions for taking part in the competition and extended the deadline by a fortnight. And then we crossed our fingers that this plan would work.
... and pictures came flooding in!
Our change of plans really did the trick. More and more paintings arrived every single day. Lots of the school classes that had taken part thanked us over the phone, by email or letter for putting on such a fabulous project, which – who would have thought it – was ideal for homeschooling. The final few weeks of the competition saw dozens of parcels arriving by post every day – filled with lovingly and cleverly crafted pictures of insects. It was not only the quality of the paintings that really enthralled us. We were quite literally taken aback by the ways in which pupils had approached the topic of protecting insects. Many of the classes enclosed touching letters, explaining the importance of insects for biodiversity, eco-systems and for humankind. They also wrote how much they had enjoyed taking part and exploring the topic. We now knew: we had completed our task with flying colours. We counted the number of entries at the end of the competition: an astounding 900 pictures had arrived at our office during the 14-week competition.
We achieved a lot, but learnt even more
At the end of the two-stage selection procedure, a meeting took place at the Federal Ministry for the Environment of a jury comprising representatives from both the Federal Ministry for Nature Conservation and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, a youth ambassador from the UN Decade on Biodiversity and a headmistress. Choosing the winners was far from easy because the quality of the entries was exceptionally good. Indeed, the standard was so high that an extra stage was added to the project, which had not originally been intended: the best paintings are going to be exhibited. We are currently looking for suitable space and an appropriate occasion.
It was a remarkable project and certainly was very different to what had initially been planned. Nevertheless, we went through a steep learning curve during the course of the competition. And we were certainly reminded as to just how important it is to know the target group. After all, it is only then that we can best respond to their needs – especially in times which require quick reactions. And even though the UN Decade on Biodiversity ends at the end of the year, we are quite certain that competitions such as these will pave the way for fantastic opportunities – irrespective of the decade. Exciting times for even more exciting projects.
An overview of the competition winners is here.