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Becky Baines: Back To School


Imagine you are eight years old again. Imagine seeing photos of burning forests and words such as “CODE RED for humanity”. Imagine living in fear of the Earth ending.  Now reflect upon the fact that you don’t really understand and none of this is your doing.

Now empathise with the fact that you are a doer, a person that sees life far more simply – if there is something wrong then we should fix it.

What if we could overhaul schools to embed a positive and meaningful culture which supports our work towards a better environmental future, but also supports a return to a simpler way of life?

Environmental news is becoming more and more mainstream and harrowing stories of the effects of climate change are becoming more regular and common place. The BBC recently seem to have been more freely honest with their climate coverage – a fantastic thing in my opinion – but some of the apocalyptic imagery is very upsetting even for adults.

This summer alone we have seen record temperatures across Canada and Northern parts of the USA with a high of almost 50°C reached in the village of Lytton, British Columbia. Closer to home, Belgium and Germany suffered extreme rainfall in July leading to severe flooding, whilst parts of Turkey and Greece saw extreme temperatures peaking at 55°C causing devastating fires.

As news stories about the climate crisis become more prevalent and more real, it can be challenging to ensure we are not scaring the next generation with exposure to this coverage. Our instincts are always to protect our children, but as this media coverage grows and indeed, as the effects of climate change are felt closer to home, it raises questions of how we engage with young people on what can be a very frightening topic.

That’s where schools (and governments) need to step up and step in. Young people need to be equipped with age-appropriate, sensitive and purposeful education. Young people have an innate interest in the world around them and this environmental education can and should be fact based by professionals who are equipped to deal with socially difficult topics. And these teachers, in turn, need the correct support to deliver a meaningful and relevant climate curriculum.

However, this education should also be practically based. There are so many simple principles which children can adopt to support both themselves and their families to live a healthier, more sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyle. Young people need to hear the valuable contributions they can make in order to help combat the effects of human activity on Earth and Nature.

These principles are so relevant to positive mental well being that it seems completely obvious that climate education, sustainable living and environmental stewardship should become embedded into the very culture of every educational setting across the UK. This, in turn, can empower youngsters to make attainable differences whist the rest of us support making larger changes.

The educational principles of climate education are also intertwined with a community-based society where we care for ourselves, each other and our locality. The empathy that grows from this is a true gift to humanity as well as the world itself. We can thus empower young people – who have the capacity for boundless optimism and a can-do approach.

I have been in education for over twenty years now and it has taught me one thing above all else: young people have a gift to see things in a far more straight-forward way. We need to give them the tools to equip them for a new kind of future now that the climate crisis is becoming more and more obvious. This future should rely less on commercialism and consumerism and far more on life experience and appreciation.

If I were education secretary for the day, I would start from the Primary curriculum – a topic I know much about – but also a targeted area where children should be developing their skills through hands-on engagement; questioning of the world and solving problems.

Primary Schools across the UK would all have a large and active outdoor setting with chickens, vegetables and wildlife care; a structured and holistic recycling programme; sustainable energy and energy-reduction principles; a seasonal and locally sourced menu and a grounds management programme. But, more importantly, this would all be governed by the children.

Educationalists such as Dorothy Heathcote lay their foundations in the children leading their own learning – just as children in the Foundation Stage (ending at Year One in England) – do through government standards. These educational principles can run from the real-life into the narrative immersion that allows children to become masters of their own learning journey.

But what about targets and attainment? I cannot think of a single pupil who I have worked with over my twenty years (and there have been thousands) that would not have found this enriching; accelerating and life-changing.

Furthermore, we would be supporting a generation of young people to understand the challenges our climate faces and be in a strong position to lead the way in securing a more positive future for humankind.

“With so much focus on children – the ones who will have to live with the coming ecological disaster – the role of education is key.”

 Meryl Batchedler

Becky Baines is an environmental educationalist who is passionate about supporting young people to make small changes within their family life to support bigger environmental impacts. Becky runs an eco fundraising business for schools, charities and organisations – The Ink Bin. She produces weekly newsletters for teachers wishing to run an Eco Club within school but who may lack the confidence or depth of knowledge to do so. She is a freelance writer for environmental education and has recently been nominated for a Women in Business Award.

Featured image: shared with permission from Abbey Mead Primary in Leicester – Abbey Mead Primary Academy (@AbbeyMead_TMET) / Twitter

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