Learning from an adult of the future

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Energy descent suggests a new way of thinking about the future: one in which we will need to significantly reduce the amount of energy we use, albeit in a positive way. This presents many new challenges as well as many opportunities to do things differently than at present.

The prospect of an education system without discussion on the issues brought about by climate change for 5 to 14 year olds, is being seriously considered by the UK government. Having a grown-up debate on energy descent is impossible with thinking of the implications of climate change. Both energy descent and climate change are the two defining aspects of the 21st century. Economic meltdown is there too, and is intimately linked with both in transitioning to a sustainable and resilient future for us all.

So, the news that a 15 year old school pupil from London has created a petition to keep climate change in the UK school curriculum gives me some hope for this future. Let’s learn from our children on this one, because it’s clear that us adults aren’t quite up to it yet.

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Business as Usual? Not quite that good.

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So, climate change is being lost from Key Stages 1 to 3 in UK schools.

What?! Is this the Age of Stupid?

Speaking as both a parent and as someone who has taught Geography for the past 15 years, this comes as bombshell.  A report this week outlines that debate on climate change could disappear for pupils under 14. What this could mean in reality is that a large proportion of school leavers will have little understanding of climate change, unless they opt for Geography or Chemistry at GCSE. Or unless they have a teacher keen to incorporate climate change in to lessons.

The enthusiasm, clarity and sense of purpose demonstrated by children wanting to ‘do something’ about climate change is the result of the knowledge they gain between the ages of 5 and 14. My own experience of running various ‘eco-clubs’ over the years has shown me that kids of this age are far more committed and motivated than older students, and much more likely to influence the behaviour of their parents. If you want a flavour of this, check out Eco-Schools.

Some of those agreeing with this loss to the curriculum suggest that a return to more basic understanding of geographical processes should be welcomed. Well, yes, to a point, but back in the late 70s and early 80s I seem to recall endless lessons about coal mining, hill farming, and aquifers. All important, but maybe now we have some new priorities to think about.

What is the purpose of Geography if not to make the connection between what people do and how it affects the environment (and vice versa) and how if differs from place to place? Learning about climate change is more than understanding the physical aspects and science of the greenhouse effect; it is about discussing the implications, debating the role of humans and Earth’s systems, and it is about our options and choices as a species. High tech, geo-engineering, renewables, the future of fossil fuels, appropriate technology, taxation, international agreements and treaties, carbon trading, grassroots responses, global inequality and resource depletion are all themes which the study of climate change can lend itself to, amongst many others.

I had a conversation with a student recently about the themes covered in Geography at A Level. She made the point that it was a bit depressing: ‘All the challenges like population and food supply, energy and global warming. Not very cheerful is it?’ Well, no, but the point is what you do with that knowledge. You could pretend it doesn’t exist (and hope it goes away on its own) or you could motivate the kids to act on it. Debates, projects, tree-planting, gardening, visits to inspirational locations; part of the deal is that responses and solutions are studied as well as the causes of the problems.

The importance of education on climate change was underlined in 2012 by UNESCO in this short film. It makes the case for an holistic approach in four minutes, and goes far beyond telling us to change our lightbulbs.

Taking climate change out of Geography for 5 to 14 year olds means that it becomes marginalised and slips down the agenda; becomes hidden. To me, it feels like denial that there’s a problem. Business as usual wasn’t great; this new shift seems like a trip back to those care-free, pre-climate change days in the 1980s.

In fact, it would seem that this is part of a much bigger issue. The environment loses out in times of economic hardship. It would appear that we have gone back in time with our concerns, despite two decades of growing awareness.

Just as politics is too important to be left to the politicians, so education is far too important to be left in the hands of the Department for Education. There’s a job to be done. We’re all educators now. It’s the future.