About 22,000 schoolchildren will be combining learning with vacation time in a program of four- and five-day excursions with an ecological theme. They will learn about the riches of Greece’s natural environment and acquire an awareness of environmental issues. And about time too, for in a country with such a diverse flora and fauna, some children believe that cotton comes off a sheep’s back, according to a European Union survey. Benefit to tourism The mountain regions they are to visit will also benefit, since the program will be a shot in the arm for local tourism. Presenting the program last week along with Tourism Development Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, Education Minister Marietta Giannakou said the program was scheduled for the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 academic years for 22,000 children from 700 junior and senior high schools. «The pupils will stay in traditional hostels and learn about the natural environment of the region. Teachers will explain to them the importance of developing environmental awareness, environmental development and how it is linked with cultural heritage, as well as how it has developed in every area as reflected in local customs.» Special educational material will be published, and Environmental Education Centers will be developed. There are already 17 of these which are currently being evaluated and tenders have been called to open another 15. Avramopoulos said the initiative comes just at the right time. «The efforts Greece is making to highlight tourism as the spearhead of its development policy, will not succeed in improving the quality of tourism activity with a cultural emphasis if young people are not made more aware,» he said.