Imagining environmentally-oriented education - its importance and potential
When we hear conversations about how our planet has been hurt by humanity, we are often met with discussions of the role the next generation has to play; the sheer might of young activists and the fact that this is their future. Calls to action are fuelled by imagined situations of sitting with your children, or grandchildren, one day in years to come and asking yourself if you did all you could to change the tides of climatic breakdown…
It’s tragic that things have come to this and it is all too easy to be overwhelmed by predictions of tipping points and changing conditions and feel as though a burden is being placed on individual citizens. In this sense, it’s so important that it is a matter of focus as opposed to responsibility that we place on young people everywhere.
I’m nineteen now and have been, like so many, thinking, reading and talking about the biological and ecological crises that life on the planet faces more as each year passes. I can remember sitting with a group of young activists shortly over a year ago. We were talking about why there’s been such a groundswell in action from younger generations and a boy opposite myself simply said “we have more skin in the game”. That really stayed with me. People care, not to make a point or follow a trend but, because this matters in the heaviest kind of way.
With all that said, and knowing that I couldn’t possibly sum up all of the discussions which swirl around the relationship between young people and the environment, I’d like to turn to the idea of education. It would be tough to outline exactly what education on the climate crisis and related issues should look like in a single blog post. The core concepts and ideas, however, are so worthy of more detailed discussion.
Firstly, insomuch as many children do develop a comprehensive understanding and concern for ecological and biological pressures which are building up, this is oftentimes the result of a particularly dedicated teacher, a personal curiosity or active guidance in that direction – essentially, to interact with these topics is not necessarily the norm. I’ve heard other young campaigners discussing how, throughout their schooling, caring about the environment was labelled as “their thing”. Talking on this very situation, Natalia Paley Whitman said in a recent group interview I was involved in, “it needs to be everyone’s thing”.
This speaks to the vitality of sinking environmental consciousness into the basic education of every young person. By no means is the goal to disturb and distress with apocalyptic predictions and harrowing statistics, rather, it would fill a void in essential understanding of the intricate and inextricable linkages between people everywhere and the inherent naturalness of human life. These are not niche issues. Feeling passionate about environmental protection and recovery should not be confined to small groups and dedicated societies within educational institutions. Instead, it would seem fitting to me that our curriculum does not merely pay lip service to a changing climate or accommodate related issues into particular subject modules. If education is truly about understanding our complex world and preparing for the future, the climate crisis and our relationship with nature should have a pivotal part to play.
According to Teach the Future, a dedicated UK campaign group, ‘4% of students feel that they know a lot about climate change; 68% of students want to learn more about the environment and 75% of teachers feel they haven’t received adequate training to educate students about climate change.’ These figures speak for themselves. These lessons, in the history of natural destruction; the social, geographical and racial inequality of climate shocks and hardship and the changes needed now to safeguard our future are not lessons that any child should have to teach themselves.
For so many, the fundamental shift in educational experience for everyone (teachers and institutions, students of all ages and their families) throughout the pandemic has marked an inflection point around the value and purpose of schooling. Perhaps, by learning from home, more young minds have explored their own relationship with nature and developed a deeper sense of compassion for others. Quite certainly, more of us have been exposed to how quickly our lives can be reshaped (often shattered) by existential forces and global events. We have witnessed in the most irrefutable way our societal ability to adopt and adapt to enormous changes. In this case, of course, we have faced changes in a restrictive and deeply challenging sense – but all to serve the purpose of protecting life. Imagine how impactful it could be if we commit to absorbing, as a matter of course, environmental issues into the national curriculum. A bolder commitment to doing so would signify a watershed moment in how we conceive of the purpose of education and the value of young minds.
Ultimately, we need to reimagine education to reflect the reality of the climate crisis and the inevitable need for empowered, impassioned and robustly informed young people in years to come. This is something that I look forward to exploring more deeply. I’m a big believer in the idea that awareness is key to producing a citizenry capable of holding the powers that be to account. In that respect, understanding the natural environment and the web of linkages between people and animal species everywhere should not be a vocation of a few but a central pillar in every education.