Our research commission, recently announced by BERA, will bring teachers and young people together to co-produce a manifesto on education for environmental sustainability. The manifesto will declare a set of principles and a plan of action for education for environmental sustainability, and should challenge and provoke those who make decisions about what happens in our schools and classrooms.
The growth of social movements such as Teach the Future and Fridays for Future have seen young people at the forefront of calls for climate justice and climate education. They have also drawn attention to the inadequacies of current education for environmental sustainability at all levels, across the UK (Teach the Future, n.d.). These concerns are supported by recent research. In their recent review of environmental education policy in England, Melissa Glackin and Heather King (2020) found that the environment was limited in national educational policy and assessment specifications, with restricted exposure to the environment found in science and geography school schemes of work, and limited attention to education for the environment (as opposed to education about or in the environment). David Rousell and Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles (2014) have found that didactic approaches to climate change have been largely ineffective and argue that there is a need to stop ‘shying away from the Earth’s looming runaway climate change’. They call for educators to seize the moment to examine what really matters through participatory, interdisciplinary, creative and affect-driven approaches to climate change education which involve young people in responding to the scientific, social, ethical and political complexities of climate change.
Young people are vital in this transformation, but so too are the teachers and policymakers who influence educational practice. As the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE, 2012, p. 6) has observed:
‘Education often contributes to unsustainable living. This can happen through a lack of opportunity for learners to question their own lifestyles and the systems and structures that promote those lifestyles. It also happens through reproducing unsustainable models and practices.’
Young people are not alone in wanting better environmental education: according to a 2019 YouGov poll, for example, the majority of teachers polled said that they were concerned about climate change and agreed that UK students should be taught about climate change, its implications for environments and societies around the world, and how these implications can be addressed (YouGov, 2019). On the subject of participation in decision-making, Roger Hart (2008) argues:
‘the highest possible degree of citizenship in my view is when we, children or adults, not only feel that we can initiate some change ourselves, but when we also recognise that it is sometimes appropriate to also invite others to join us because of their own rights and because it affects them as fellow citizens.’
With young people and teachers recognising the need for change in education for environmental sustainability, the 2021/2022 BERA Research Commission is inviting young people aged 16–18 and teachers from schools and colleges in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to be part of the conversation and to come together to create a vision for education for environmental sustainability. We are working with partners Andrea Bullivant (Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool World Centre, TEESNet), Jane Essex (Strathclyde University), Faye Laverick and Alister Talbot (Huntington School), Cyrus Nayeri (Routes), Michelle Ryan (Campbell College and ASE Northern Ireland), Amanda Smith (Centre for Alternative Technology) and Judy Ling Wong (Black Environment Network) to ensure that the manifesto represents the interests of diverse youth and teachers in the UK. For more information about how to take part, visit york.ac.uk/education/research/uyseg/research-projects/manifesto-efes/.
Glackin, M., & King, H. (2020). Taking stock of environmental education policy in England: The what, the where and the why. Environmental Education Research, 26(3), 305–323. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2019.1707513
Hart, R. A. (2008). Stepping back from ‘The Ladder’: Reflections on a model of participatory work with children. In A. Reid et al. (eds). Participation and Learning, 19–31.
Rousell, D., & Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, A. (2019). A systematic review of climate change education: Giving children and young people a ‘voice’ and a ‘hand’ in redressing climate change. Children’s Geographies, 18(2), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/14733285.2019.1614532
Teach the Future (n.d.) Teach the future. https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/5f8805cef8a604de754618bb/5fa3e667cd1ee8abe322f067_Asks%20(England).pdf
United Nations [UN]. (2012). Learning for the future: Competences in education for sustainable development. https://unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/esd/ESD_Publications/Competences_Publication.pdf
YouGov. (2019, June 5). Concern for the environment at record highs. Retrieved from https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2019/06/05/concern-environment-record-highs