With sustainability growing as a hot topic in education, driven in in part by the Department for Education’s Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy it’s more important than ever. In the paper, the DfE set out the vital role that education plays in “helping to tackle climate change” and in “creating a better, greener world for future generations”. They explore the importance of engaging directly with children and young people, through education, who are “passionate about the natural world, want to do their best to protect it, [and] can influence their wider communities”.
Eco-anxiety in the classroom
The Pearson School Report, launched June 2022, found that almost half of teachers have seen an increase in pupils’ awareness around climate change and a quarter of all teachers have seen an increase in pupil anxiety on the topic.
This sense of eco-anxiety is something we’ve come across in some of our wider initiatives working with young people, including our Twist on a Tale: Our Tomorrow short story competition in 2021. The competition encourages young people in the UK aged 4–19 to let their imaginations run wild, and last year saw stories being entered that centred on the changes of the surrounding environment, welfare of animals, rising temperatures and increase in plastic waste.
How can we support and empower young people around this issue? Psychologists and therapists suggest being open to conversations with those struggling, acknowledging and validating their concerns to start. Second, is to navigate the conversation towards a more positive outlook, such as suggesting actions that can be done within the household or community that will support what the learner is trying to achieve:
- litter picking mornings
- reducing household/classroom waste
- discussing energy saving techniques
It’s important to centre around solutions, but also to emphasise that this is collective action rather than individual. All those little actions add up and no one person alone can fix those things.
Does the future look brighter for the next generation?
Schools are already being proactive around the topic of sustainability and climate change, with lots of great work happening in this area. In many conversations with teachers and students, we’ve heard volunteer recycling groups have started, the banning of single use plastic water bottles, and a (where possible) gardens for growing fruits and vegetables on school grounds, turning off electrics when unused, monitoring traffic and pollution around the school, checking classroom temperatures, and using solar energy and selling back into the grid are just some of the initiatives as a step towards a more eco-conscious mindset.
Insights from our Pearson School Report also found that taking steps to be a more sustainable school (41%), diversifying curriculum topics (41%) and teaching climate change and sustainability (34%) were part of over a third of teachers’ two-year plans. These figures were higher among headteachers, with 63% of heads planning to be a more sustainable and eco-friendly school in the next two years, and half (47%) planning to teach climate change.
The rise of ‘Green jobs’ for the future will means there is a demand for new knowledge and skills, making it increasingly important for learners to acquire these skills through school, much like they have through technologic advancements like coding.
What is Pearson doing to support?
At Pearson, we are committed to supporting schools in their mission to become more sustainable and in helping to shape a future generation of sustainably minded global citizens. Over the past few years, we have seen in both our project qualifications and initiatives like our Twist on a Tale and World Changers competition, that there is a real thirst for driving proactive change in this space. We are excited to build on this passion and are working with key partners in the sector to support schools, students and parents to make education enriching for all learners.
For more information about mental health and wellbeing, diversity and inclusion and sustainability, head to the Pearson UK School Educators page.