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Early Start, Grow Smart

Sana Agha Al Nimer's picture
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It is not often that we at the World Bank are approached by school children to address a specific development topic. But a recent experience at school in Beirut suggests that talking to the youngsters is an effective communications tool, which could and should be part of our work.   

On a recent working visit to Lebanon, my colleague Mona el-Chami was asked by the Wellspring Learning Community if water experts from the Bank would make a presentation* to students on water scarcity and management. The surprise came when the school explained that the audience would be 3rd graders, meaning ages eight to nine.  We thought of the old Arabic proverb “Early Learning is akin to Carving in Stone” and off we went to the classroom, armed with a short a presentation and photographs illustrating the water cycle. But we could quickly tell that the water cycle is old news for these children so we quickly shifted gear to more sophisticated challenges, such as water scarcity in the Middle East region, and the pollution and waste that are exacerbating the problem.

The teacher had asked us to especially talk about the issues of physical and economic water scarcity. But in a question and answer session following the presentation it was clear that these young students had absorbed the main concept: there is a fixed amount of water around in the world, and it is being recycled continuously. 

And our eager students wanted more, and much more: Why is water scarce in some countries and not in others?  How to save water for our future?  How to recycle water?  How do you know where to find groundwater?  Why is there not sufficient water although we have much rain and many rivers?  

It was such a wonderful surprise that this group of third graders understood concepts that many adults don’t comprehend. We explained that physical water scarcity exists when there is not enough water available to meet people’s demand for water and how the Middle East and North Africa is struggling with physical water scarcity.  Then came the second barrage of questions: Why is water scarce in some countries and not in others?  And so we got on to the concept of economic water scarcity when water is available, but there is not enough money to develop the resource. This leaves consumers exposed to unsafe water for drinking, in addition to the scarcity that deprives rural areas of water to irrigate the land.

The children were also very observant: in the pictures we showed them they noted that women and children were carrying water, prompting questions about where the men were: At work and so it’s the women and kids (who cannot afford to go to schools) have to get the water so its scarcity is penalizing them.

The discussion closed around the question: What can they do to help ensure that there is enough clean water around? Brush their teeth with a cup instead of letting the water run, take shorter showers, put trash where it belongs and not where it would end up in rivers and the sea. Our classroom visit was a learning experience for us as much as it was for the children and culminated in the children designing a set of animated presentations on water and its impact on our lives. 

*The presentation was given by Caroline Van Den Berg and Sana Agha Al Nimer


I am the School Head at Wellspring Learning Community and of course I am proud of our 3rd Graders and their interest in changing the world. I applaud Mona El Chami and Sana and Caroline for seeing the importance of engaging with children in this way. This is an important way for adults be positive role models and to take action--just as we hope the children will learn to use their knowledge to take action to make the world a better place. Children are competent learners and capable of understanding much more than we tend to give them credit for! Thanks again for contributing to our Learning Community!

Submitted by Lara Klait on
Im Lara klait ,Feng shui master consultant and a parent for one of the Grade 3 students ,and i was so much impressed by the deep knowledge and research skills that these kids are exposed to...I would Thank Mrs Mona el Chami for her great contribution and for highlighting the issue of water in a deep and interesting manner..thank you all who contributed to make the presentation and subject as interesting as it was...

Very nicely done - brightens one's day to read stuff like this. We should indeed try and make more such presentations to primary school kids. I bet you that most will never forget this day and many of the lessons will stick with them.

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