The environment is a key issue in South Africa, with water security being the most critical aspect, and is likely to continue to be as the impact of climate change is increasingly felt. In line with this, education in South Africa has started to incorporate environmental education in order for the wider public to be better informed and able to meet this growing challenge.

The 1995 South African White Paper on Education and Training included a principle on integrated, active approach to environmental education in all phases of the education and training system. In 1998, the environment portfolio added the National Environmental Management Act which emphasized the importance of environmental education across sectors and for all citizens in South Africa.  Building on this foundation, the Environmental Sector Skills Plan for South Africa together with the SANBI Biodiversity Human Capital Development Strategy produced in 2010 identified the need for strengthening teacher education for environment and sustainability if South Africa is to build the human capital necessary for environmental careers and skills for South Africa, for responding to climate change, for building a climate resilient development pathway and for realizing the green economy.

In line with these national actions, there has been a history of sustainability education in South African Schools over the past 16 years, namely through the implementation of the International Eco-Schools programme, Edu Plant and more recently the International Water Explorer Programme.  These projects have already established networks of schools that have been practicing sustainability education over a decade.

Water Explorers South Africa will identify and support 5 schools that demonstrate sustainability in all spheres of the school environment: teaching, learning and management and support them to further develop and upscale a sustainability project of their choice.  At the same time support will be offered to mentor and support at least 20 schools on their quest to become more sustainable through their Water Explorer programme. Mentoring will involve supporting schools with sustainability education topics.

In addition, South Africa will be the host of a regional international exchange, using best performing South African schools as an example and inspiration to countries across the region.