Colombia has the world’s best environmental education school. It’s called Institución Educativa Municipal Montessori and is located in Pitalito, Huila. The Montessori School won the 2023 World’s Best School Prize in the Environmental Action category. This Colombian school was selected from thousands of submissions from over 100 countries worldwide.
Last September, it made it to the top three finalists, alongside Mamoura British Academy in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), and Muntinlupa National High School in the Philippines.
Colombia took first place in the Environmental Action category for the CaféLab program at Institución Educativa Municipal Montessori, by the vote of a jury composed of over two hundred experts and leaders from around the world.
These awards are granted by T4 Education, a global community that rewards schools and teachers for transforming education. Each year, they celebrate the most inspiring educational institutions worldwide for their contributions to shaping new generations.
CaféLab Colombia Program
Through its CaféLab Colombia program, established in 2017, the school teaches students how to reduce pollution generated during the coffee production process, contributing to environmental improvement, fostering entrepreneurship, and supporting sustainable development in their region. Within this initiative, students and researchers conducted fieldwork to determine the best methods of waste elimination.
The Huila department is one of the country’s most important coffee production centers. Consequently, the region faces environmental issues due to the significant amount of waste generated during coffee production and processing. About 95% of the byproducts, including pulp, mucilage, husk, parchment, and stems, are discarded into water bodies, impacting the environment.
CaféLab Colombia has already shown significant results. Socially, it has become a research hub for the southern region of Colombia, benefiting more than 150,000 students, 5,000 teachers, and approximately 600,000 residents involved in coffee-related activities.
Environmentally, the program has reintegrated over 100,000 tons of coffee pulp for productive use, reclaiming over 20 liters of water per kilogram of washed coffee. It has also allowed for the production of electric batteries and eco-friendly materials.
“We are a success story, providing quality and inclusive education. Through our projects, we’re contributing to reducing the pollution left by coffee waste, generating renewable energy, and designing sustainable products. What some consider trash, for us, is the starting point for new businesses,” stated Ramón Majé Floriano, mathematics and physics teacher, and program leader.
Commitment to Environmental Education
The Minister of Education, Aurora Vergara, accompanied the representatives of the educational institution that ultimately received the highest recognition. Besides congratulating the center for the award, Vergara praised its example for other schools in Colombia and worldwide.
“We can proudly say that this school’s innovative pedagogy sets an example of environmental education for the world. I hope that schools in Colombia follow the same path and use education as a tool to protect life and nature, and contribute to the sustainable development of their territories and communities,” said the Minister of Education.
Vergara highlighted the Colombian government’s commitment to promoting environmental education. In fact, respect for the environment and the fight against climate change have been priorities of President Petro’s government since the beginning of his mandate 15 months ago.
“Our commitment from the National Government is to promote environmental education to make it a priority in all Colombian schools, because we understand its link to citizenship and socio-emotional competencies from a perspective of self-care, care for others, and care for nature,” said Minister Vergara.