The scope and scale of environmental degradation is matched only by the pace of it. It’s little wonder, then, that many young people rank global environmental issues highly among the issues that concern them.
But what would they make of the WWF's Living Planet Report 2016, the biennial health check for the planet? I’ve seen a lot of these reports over the years – seen, too, the line on the graph representing humankind’s ecological footprint rise unrelentingly while the one denoting biodiversity goes tumbling down.
I’m strongly connected to my local environment. Even so, I’d managed to get a little casual about what was happening to our planet on a grander scale – at least until two years ago, when the WWF’s 2016 report came out.
I was shocked by its headline message: since the 1970s we have lost on average 58 per cent of wildlife populations around the globe. In my lifetime we’ve been busily dismantling the building blocks of our survival, our health and our wellbeing. And busily doing that on behalf of every other creature on the planet, including future generations.
Life lessons for pupils
You may already have come across the term “Anthropocene”, denoting the geological age during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Perhaps you’ve heard that we’re on the verge of a sixth mass extinction or seen the final episode of Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, which led to an outcry about – and, happily, action on – plastics.
Teaching is about helping young people to learn life skills, perhaps passing on enduring values, developing pupils’ integrity and autonomy – and even helping them to be “responsible and caring citizens capable of contributing to the development of a just society”, as stated in the 2000 national curriculum.
That same curriculum cited developing pupils’ “awareness and understanding of, and respect for, the environments in which they live, and secur[ing] their commitment to sustainable development at a personal, national and global level” among the overarching aims and purposes of education.
We fool ourselves if we think we can address economic or social issues without also recognising that we need to protect the environment. So surely we have a responsibility to make sure that environment and sustainable development are vital parts of education.
From words to action
This experience should be about capacity building. As well as increasing young people’s knowledge, we also want to give them the chance to develop skills, explore values, attitudes and behaviour – and have the opportunity to take action. They should also be given the chance to explore our connection to nature and the environment, wherever that may be.
Our education system should motivate and equip people to come up with constructive solutions and a better vision of the future. We need resilient, creative individuals who want and have the skills to learn: people who can adapt to circumstances and make positive change happen. We need learners prepared for the world they’ll inherit and able to help shape one that’s worth inheriting by their children and grandchildren. Finding ways of living sustainably on our beautiful planet is a worthy focus for their talents.
Working with schools
WWF, the world's leading independent conservation organisation, is proud to be working with Tes to encourage a new generation of sustainability champions. We hope the content in our hub will offer you food for thought, good ideas from other skilled practitioners and maybe some content to use with your learners. Together we can help people and nature to thrive.
Find out more about how to become a WWF Green Ambassador
Cherry Duggan is head of schools and youth, WWF-UK