Giving our children the best start has never been more important. What can be done to better educate the global citizens of tomorrow?
Home page image credit - Photos: © Julian Dodd / Ashden Awards
Teaching hasn’t changed much recently, but the challenges facing the next generation have. Giles Crosse steps into a different type of classroom.
“The problem we have seen is the neo liberal agenda, everything in education now seems to be bought and sold,” says David Hickes, Professor of Education and writer on global learning.
“It’s all about how successful a course is, how successful a student is, which is a pretty dire situation. That said, there was a period of freedom in the late nineties to develop programmes of education which focused on sustainability and were looking to embed it more fully within education.”
Today’s mainstream learning focuses on competition between students for places and grades. Ultimately this develops competitive, consumerist adults, ready to fight for their share of jobs or resources, prolonging unsustainable global consumption patterns and failing to address planetary challenges.
“This all really stemmed from sustainability summits like Rio in the 90s, when concepts of international sustainable development, of environmental education, of global poverty and people and places became apparent.” says Hickes.
“We can develop sustainable schools, where children learn about food, about energy, about consumerism and about buildings. The rollout of this remains too limited for me, but this is the way to be doing things. It’s about moving to a mindset which might be less defined by growth, and more by eco growth, more by learning new ways of thinking about things.”
Another brick in the wall
Hickes points to many examples which illustrate just how simple it can be to change schools for the better. Wales was among the first worldwide countries to embed the importance of communities and social elements in its policy making. Now the Welsh Assembly has gone further, making a commitment to ‘Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship’. (Paper below)
Finland has also achieved this, with separate policy programmes for the well being of children, covering a child oriented society, well being of families and prevention of social exclusion.
‘The National Assembly for Wales will promote development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ reads the Assembly’s Sustainable Development Scheme. ‘This means that we will integrate the principles of sustainable development into our work & seek to influence others to do the same.’
Under the plans, values like interdependence, sustainable change, diversity, needs and rights or conflict resolution will be prioritised. Regional centres of expertise have just been developed, recognised by the United Nations University (UNU), which itself exists to form a global learning network, aiming to resolve global issues of human survival, development and welfare.
“You’ll find sustainability, in purely environmental terms, is looked at in schools, but is it light green, or is there something more long term and fundamental going on there?” asks Hickes.
“Something that’s truly promising is the commitment to global citizenship and sustainable development in Wales for example. Equally the Ashden Awards are doing some incredibly good work, work with one of the schools there almost moved me to tears it was so impressive. There’s the Food for Life programme, teaching kids to grow food and learn about organics, cooking and having proper meals.” Simple steps like this impact far down the sustainable value chain.
It’s also about practical ways learning isn’t working effectively. “We have outdated and inefficient school systems. It is a teacher centric system, and so you have a teacher in a hopeless situation trying to look after 30 children simultaneously which is impossible,” explains Karl Jaegar, Founder of The International School of America and Our Future Planet.
“At the end of the day the teacher reports on this, some do well and go forward in life while others fare less well and lead unhappy lives. We need to create a shift away from this competitive environment towards a more cooperative model where we change such systems.”
“Historically this situation where bells ring and 500 students move hasn’t changed for years, in an office you wouldn’t do this as the office would go bust, those students who are passive receive no attention, while those who either cause trouble or put their hands up with the right answer do. Problems like failure of nations at places like Copenhagen too can be put down to competitive territories and concerns about competition.”
There are truly meaningful reasons to make the change. The most recent United Nations Population Fund report, published 18th November, concludes ‘Poor women in poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate change, even though they contributed the least to it.’
‘The poor are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the majority of the 1.5 billion people living on $1 a day or less are women. Investments that empower women and girls, particularly education and health, bolster economic development and reduce poverty and have a beneficial impact on climate. Girls with more education, for example, tend to have smaller and healthier families as adults.’
Seaton Primary School, UK, a sustainable school 5:03 Mins
The DCSF have gone to great lengths to promote the Sustainable Schools Framework and the Eight Doorways, but ALL the schools we have visited know very little, or usually nothing, about the programme. They've all heard of Eco Schools, and most are involved and proud of their awards, but I find it quite worrying that that's as far as it goes.
We're trying to address sustainability through a practical programme of workshops and 'hands on' techniques, and students and teachers are really enjoying them. Students are involved in some major decisions about their school and feel genuine ownership and contribuition towards a greener future. When they take this learning into their homes, this can only be counterproductive.