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The Big Green Challenge

11th October 2008

a talking point for teenagers in the Highlands and Islands

An innovative project by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is helping pupils across Scotland to gain a better understanding and awareness of renewable energy.

More than 120 S1 & S3 students from 25 schools across the Highlands and Islands are putting their talking skills to the test in The Big Green Challenge debating competition. They have been working alongside local mentors to research both sides of the renewables debate.

The first rounds of the competition are taking place throughout October, with pupils from schools in the Western Isles and Shetland to Tiree and Arran participating in live debates.

The Big Green Challenge is a HIE initiative which is aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of renewable energy. HIE recognises renewable energy as a sector with high growth potential which will benefit the local economy and communities across the region. Increasing Scotland's renewable energy generation is also a key Scottish Government pledge, with the aim of half of Scotland's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. More than 120 pupils from 25 schools, fielding 43 teams have been working alongside local mentors to research both sides of the renewables debate in preparation for the first round competition.

Dr John McClatchey of the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) who has been involved in mentoring participating teams said: "It was really good to work with the enthusiastic pupils who were being challenged to think deeply about the benefits and problems of renewable energy that I and my colleagues are researching at ERI. The debate will help them to build on their knowledge of science, geography and politics, and bring it all together to understand the issues. It will also develop their speaking and presentational skills (from their work in English and Drama) in order to make their case. It should prove to be a really beneficial experience for everyone involved."

Support for the pupils has come from The Big Green Challenge portal website which also has pages in Gaelic. Participating schools have also had access to top tips for debating to hone their skills and have had sessions with mentors on presentation. The Big Green Challenge participants are expected to comprehensively research motions both for and against renewable energy.

Anna Allan, senior development manager in HIE's Energy team says, "The Highlands and Islands not only has some of the best renewable energy resources in Europe, but also some of the most diverse, in what is a relatively small geographic area. It's vital that we help support understanding of both sides of the renewables debate and that we encourage our young people to be well informed and engaged citizens.

"There is a desire to build a diverse renewable energy sector in the Highlands and Islands, and it's the young people in our schools today who will drive this industry forward. The Big Green Challenge is about engaging with young people and ensuring they can see both sides of the renewables debate."

Teams from Gairloch High in Gairloch, Speyside High in Aberlour, Alness Academy in Alness, Portree High School in Skye and Shetland based Sandwick Junior High won their rounds this week. Three further local heats will take place after the October holidays, and the eight winners from this stage will progress to the semi-final in November. Four teams will then go forward to the grand final in January 2009, when they will compete for a group trip to Iceland to visit the country's famous Blue Lagoon waterfall and the geothermal area of Geysir.

A spokesperson for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said: "This is an excellent initiative for the school participants. The Western Isles has tremendous resources of renewable energy and a unique environment so it should be a challenging debate! The competition at the Nicolson Institute featured schools from Gairloch, Lionel, Shawbost and the Nicolson who all worked exceptionally hard to prepare for what was an interesting and informative event."

Donnie MacDonald, Highland Council's Head of Education Services said: "Within Curriculum for Excellence we are keen that learners explore and engage with contemporary issues which give a real context for their studies in the sciences and in engineering. There are also related ethical and sustainability issues which the young people involved will explore through discussion and debate with pupils across the Highlands and Islands."

For further information on the Big Green Challenge log onto


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