Skip to content

Reports Part of series: Education and democracy & History of education: BERA Brian Simon Fund research reports

Shifting youth environmental activism from the public imagination to community engagement

Implications for education for sustainability in the 21st century

There have been increasing concerns about the effects of human activities on environments, natural resources, social and economic development, ecology and biodiversity, and the longevity of both humanity and the planet. 

Funded by the Brian Simon fellowship grant, this research project on the topic ‘education and democracy’ aimed to explore and develop the opportunity to extend youth environmental activism from public imagination towards integration in community engagement and for stakeholders to work together to build a just, democratic, sustainable society in the changing and challenging 21st century.

Report summary

This research arises from the increasing concerns about the effects of human activities on natural resources, biodiversity, humanity and the planet. Radical, transformational, justice-oriented actions to disrupt social, cultural, economic and political landscapes are prevalent among youth environmental activists in the 21st century (Vogler, 2016; Bryan, 2022). This research has been inspired by youth environmental activist efforts to de-centre human beings and to challenge anthropocentric consumerism in favour of harmonious co-existing and co-living between human and non-human beings (Haraway, 2016; Pickard et al., 2020; Lack, 2022).

This research has taken place in Wokingham Borough Council, England. Provisional findings reveal the experiences and perspectives of children and adult participants on local issues. These relate to economic, environmental, educational, social and political domains as well as promises about the role of community engagement in contributing to a just, democratic, sustainable society. The following sums up the main findings of the research project:

  • There was strong recognition of the importance of sustainability among the participants, but issues considered the most urgent by adult participants were often related to families’ immediate needs in relation to the educational, health, social and economic issues that affect them.
  • Adult participants felt that a sense of community and belonging was attractive during the Covid-19 pandemic. The promise of an eco-community and just society inspired hope, especially among the child participants.
  • There is a big gap between Wokingham Borough Council’s ambitious Planet Pledge campaign and its lack of endeavour in inspiring the participants in this research to work together and to address the climate emergency that it has declared.
  • It is important to listen to both child and adult participants’ voices and lived experiences in order to develop deeper critical understanding of the challenges and promises involved in building a just, democratic and sustainable society in the local context.
  • There are implications for local policy development in terms of engaging community members and widening participation to work towards education for sustainability.


Profile picture of Fengling Tang
Fengling Tang, Dr

Senior Lecturer at University of Roehampton

I am a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, Centre for Learning, Teaching and Human Development, School of Education, Froebel College, University of Roehampton. I had worked in schools and further education in China and a nursery school in...