Our world is changing and so are the demands on our young people. Where there may have been apathy towards climate change before, there is now a growing sense of restlessness, climate anxiety and frustration emerging from our students. Now, more than ever, our lessons, experiences and schools need to respond to the threat posed by the climate crisis and create a generation of global citizens who are equipped and ready to face the world they are confronted with. Our Shared World (OSW), a coalition of more than 150 members including NGOs, Businesses, Universities; Teachers, Headteachers and Student Unions, Subject Associations, Youth Groups, and individuals, recognises this challenge and is ready to respond to the call for change. Advocating for SDG (UN Sustainable Development Goal) 4.7 in England by 2030, OSW aims to ‘ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and nonviolence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.’ To achieve this goal OSW has five working groups looking at policy, collating evidence, creating a social movement, designing and researching action learning and an overall coordination group.
In the wake of COP26, the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, OSW has also run a series of webinars aimed at engaging educators involved in education for sustainable development (ESD); offering spaces of learning, discussion, inspiration and affirmation. These sessions have covered a range of topics from responding to COP26 education pledges, to a Deep Dive into the DfE’s Sustainability and Climate Change paper, and ‘green’ skills bill. From these conversations emerged a need to prepare and support students in becoming active citizens who are aware of the world and able to partake in a just and sustainable future. As a result the OSW policy group has put together a response to the DfE Sustainability & Climate Change draft strategy, and has prepared an upcoming evidence report which was launched on Monday 16th May 2022.
Through ESD students recognise the intimate relationship between climate and human rights, and their personal role and value in the world. As educators we recognise this will require a new understanding of citizen rights and responsibilities that encompasses the Earth and all life within it and ‘a willingness to accept new obligations and responsibilities, not only to other citizens within a nation state, but to distant others and non-human nature’ (Hayward, Selboe and Plew, 2015). In our recent webinar on “green skills” our speakers grappled with what this might mean. One speaker, Livia Filotico (Shimaka Education), challenged the term saying ‘these skills are not something we produce, or something we create and then pass on, rather it’s something we listen to, so these skills are really embedded in what we call the natural world, they are embedded in the forest which is us. I’m forest, you’re forest, we are all forest.’ Underlining, here, the idea that the concept of skills and sustainability are inseparable, one flows from the other; our world and the environment and our skills to interrelate are one and the same. This echoed the words of another OSW speaker, Leslee Udwin (Think Equal), who described them as ‘pro-social skills’ which influence our perspective – in understanding others, our connection and our communication with them, we will think more about the planet and each other.
Our students are actively taking to the streets across the country, from London to Glasgow, they are already participating in current issues. As Citizenship teachers you are well placed to respond to this, to equip students with an understanding about different types of public engagement, protest, action and campaigning. Schreiner and Sjøberg (2005) and Schreiner et al. (2005) call this ‘environmental empowerment.’ It’s all about providing a safe environment for students to feel they can participate, enriching both their skills learning, but also their confidence and understanding of Citizenship beyond their inner circle. Leading workshops with primary school students post COP26 on the role of frontline voices in climate talks myself, it is clear students, at an early age, are able to grasp how their choices impact the environment and those most vulnerable around the world yet are unaware of how best to put their skills into action.
We know young people have a desire for change and yet feel unheard, frustrated or disillusioned by the system. Education for sustainable development challenges us to rethink our personal relationship with the planet and its people and as a result, to address structural imbalances such as over consumption, and the exploitation of humans and nature. In her 2022 OSW blog, Mia Venus McClafferty wrote ‘I wish I could say the education I received was already enough to inspire a new sustainable way of thinking but it was taught as an afterthought.’ However, she believes the information is there but teachers, focused on exams, brush over it and miss out on producing free thinking creative individuals. Furthermore, she highlights the need to embed ‘sustainable and morally sound values into the core of textiles education’ and the importance of re-educating textiles and art teachers, and updating the curriculum to ‘stay connected to the needs of the textiles industry’. Mia indicates a shift – as the world changes around us we, as educators, must also adapt our own image of citizenship and ESD to help our students shape the future. As a high carbon polluting country with a history of colonisation we need to be aware of our socio-political context in order to best prepare our students, as global citizens, to be ready to respond to the major issues of the day and recognise the role that they play globally. This is not only because the issue could directly affect them, but also because their democratic participation can influence the outcome.
But we don’t need to do this alone. The 1998 Crick report mentioned creating ‘Community Forums’ including all those with an interest in Citizenship education. It is within the global OSW family that educators may find like-minds, resources and motivation to take back to their students and colleagues. In Julie Ward’s 2021 Letter to Earth she writes: ‘For in Our Shared World there will be no losers, no hunger, no war. We will learn real maths, sharing resources fairly. Arts and science will be of equal value. History will teach us not to make the same mistakes again. Geography will join up the dots between people and places, animal, vegetable and mineral. Technology will bring us closer together – not tear us apart through hate and division. Citizenship will teach us global stewardship. We will learn the language of compassion.’
The skills already present in Citizenship classes are ones that transcend nationality and embrace a greener, more sustainable and more global future. Now more than ever, these skills need to be placed in an ESD context, acknowledging youthful vigour, passion and activism and effectively equipping young people to be the change they want to see.