A common challenge of our time is that young people are often disconnected from the people in power and many of the decisions that have got us to where we are today. How often do you see children in an architect’s studio, at the Mayor’s table or even deciding what they would like to learn at school? If we want to speed up our response to current sustainability challenges, we really should be putting the people who will experience the consequences of today’s decisions at the heart of the matter.
In this issue we celebrate a host of different ways young people are taking part in the transition to more resilient communities, with examples from Sweden, Denmark and abroad. We explore some of the challenges of working across different languages and the opportunities of engaging with different cultures to awaken curiosity and heartfelt concern for laying down a blueprint for a better future. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learnt along the way;
Empowerment through real life challenges
One way of engaging young people with sustainability is the focus on very practical problems, such as how to grow food in cities, help those well off than you or design a better school garden. Not only has this given the municipalities lots of creative ideas, such as toy sharing kiosks, roof top growing and forest gardens but has also been an engaging way for the students to learn about sustainable urban planning. Empowerment processes are not always easy though as they tend to involve a switching of roles, which can be uncomfortable. Some pioneering teachers have taken up this challenge with rewarding results, such as the climate ambassador scheme where students have designed online climate change learning packages for other students. Likewise the political leaders of Lund have entered into conversations proposed by their Youth Parliament, such as how to renovate sexual education or improve cultural amenities in their city.
Make it fun, make it meaningful
Behavioural scientists tell us that information and knowledge are not enough to provoke behaviour change, which is more often than not triggered by an emotional experience, leading to curiosity and eventual action. This is also key for sustainability. Making new friends across cultures is one way of achieving this emotional connection. Once the kids from Malmo, Copenhagen and Lund started playing together in the Öresundsklassrummet project genuine curiosity arose about each others actions; why doesn´t your school do recycling? How do you deal with conflict in the classroom? Why are there so many more nationalities at your school? Deep experience leads to deep questioning which ultimately leads to deep commitment. Without the experience it is hard to get off first base.
Joining up the dots
Another challenge we face is that it is often very difficult to see the connection between individual actions and environmental consequences, let alone the social and economic implications. With children making up 20% of Malmo’s population and 157 nationalities in Cophenhagen the initiatives that bring together this great diversity of perspectives help us get a more global picture. Children who travel across the bridge, even if they don´t speak their neighbours language, also develop the capacity to appreciate how we are all far more connected than we think we are.
Finally for those of us whose daily bread is searching for innovative ways of facilitating learning for sustainability, and getting others inspired to join the conversation, the good news is that there are a host of resources available – we don´t have to reinvent the wheel! From places to take students outside the classroom, to creative games and resources, teachers support networks and engaging online communities we are very much not alone! Let the conversation continue.
Heloise Buckland & Katarina Pelin
This is an excerpt from Education and Sustainability Sverige, Issue no. 6. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get a copy of this issue, and read the Spanish and Catalan versions here.