Recently The Guardian reported on how some universities are ‘bowing’ to student pressure and including classes on climate throughout all courses – whether they be geography and environmental studies (where such issues have traditionally been included) or music and fashion (where issues of connected with climate may not seem so obvious).
A report published this month by Winchester University showed that 54% of 16-18 year olds saw climate breakdown as the second biggest threat to the UK (after the quality of the NHS). The same percentage considered universities failing in their job of addressing it.
Without doubt, the demand and need for engagement with issues relating to the climate and ecological emergency have never been so clear. We are all aware that there is a need for action if we are to secure a more sustainable future. However, there is growing evidence that with the emergency increasing numbers of young people are reporting the effects of eco-anxiety. Higher Education institutions need to consider how they approach embedding these issues and what the impact may be.
At UWE, Bristol we have been mapping how every programme across the university engages with the Sustainable Development Goals. This has provided an opportunity for us to engage and enable learning for students around real issues associated with the climate and ecological emergency; making explicit links, providing up to date information and opportunities to problem solve. What it has also allowed for is time; time to discuss these issues in supportive groups, share both fears and hopes; share the problems which affect us all. Delivering the knowledge isn’t enough. Making the time to talk and problem solve together is essential in order to combat feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and despondency that our current situation is having on many people. The emotional landscape attached to these issues must be carefully negotiated.
As someone who delivers the Initial Teacher Education programme here at UWE, and undertakes research with young people regarding eco anxiety and sustainable futures, it is clear that emotions are running high in classrooms in both the university and primary classroom. Anger and helplessness are common emotions displayed by the learners. This is often mirrored by the fear or hope embedded in many educational resources used to engage with climate discussion. It is all too easy to say ‘teach climate’. We need to be thinking carefully of how we teach it, and what the impact of the teaching is having both in the short and long term.
At present I am working with The Global Goals Centre in developing immersive experiences which support young people in learning about the climate and ecological emergency. At the heart of this project is young people’s voice: what they want to learn, how they want to learn and how they feel about the issues. Workshops and focus groups are informing every step, in order to develop a unique learning experience, meeting the needs of the audience rather than socially engineering emotional appeals. Finding out who they think can help and be part of the solution is critical – the image shows one example of how an 8-year-old sees this jigsaw; they are very much part of the solution. However, not all young people have such a sophisticated and hopeful vision.
Teaching about the climate isn’t something that can be done quickly or easily. This is something we need, we need to do well, and we need to think through carefully and with support.
Dr Verity Jones is a Senior Lecturer on the Initial Teacher Training Programme in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE and is a member of UWE Bristol’s Knowledge Exchange for Sustainable Development group. Her research with the Global Goals Centre is funded by UWEs Vice Chancellors Early Career Researcher Award.
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