Today’s blog is the latest in a series by Ben Murphy who is a member of the University of Glasgow team co-ordinating the Scottish contribution to the Walk the Global Walk programme. The team is led by Dr Ines Alves and Dr Ria Dunkley, along with the city of Glasgow council’s international education officer Lesley Atkins. As ever with our blogs, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the thinking of the Association.
Learning about the issues tied to climate change can be difficult for anyone, none-more so than the generation who will be most impacted by it. However, that was the aim of Walk the Global Walk’s recent participatory photo-walks which were run with groups of pupils from schools across Glasgow’s southside. Through working with Open Aye, a local community interest company, that runs photography workshops for community groups, staff at the University of Glasgow aimed to engage and educate pupils about SDG16 and climate justice. We hoped that photography could provide an engaging and accessible entry point into what is a vastly complicated issue which at times can feel overwhelming.
By engaging groups of pupils outdoors, asking them to consider their local green space and questioning ideas of history, ownership & responsibility, we were able to spark discussions around climate justice. By looking at the local, we managed to extrapolate to the global. The activities were spread across numerous sessions and included photo walks, picture dialogue, active games, walking debates and exhibition of works, with associated discussions around how justice is key for peace and strong institutions to be realised.
Open Aye provided cameras, photography tips and facilitated photo walks around each of the green spaces. This was the overall focus for the workshops, to photographically document the biodiversity of the parks and picture the young people in these spaces. By using cameras and photography we were able to actively engage the pupils in the spaces and generate discussion. Starting from taking pictures, the session facilitators were able to introduce many more elements as to bring a wider scope and richness to the work.
The groups were encouraged to consider land ownership, equality, human rights, & climate responsibility, through a range of relevant images from the World Press Photo exhibitions (Climate & Nature categories), which were displayed as a mini photo exhibition in the trees. Through participatory methodologies led in a safe and supportive space, we were able to provide a platform for the young people to discuss, argue, agree or conclude, as they wish. We also encouraged pupils to think about how they can take action, and what local issues were important to them. We then discussed how these local issues tie into global injustices and the impacts of climate change for others.
We also looked at relevant local histories of the areas: in Kings Park we considered land ownership by discussing how the park had once been owned by a prominent slave trader in Glasgow. We investigated biodiversity of the sensory garden and considered the legacy of the space. In Govan we stopped outside Mary Barbour’s house to discuss the social activism and rent strikes that took place nearly 100 years ago. We used the Southside Heritage Trail map to consider other points of social history around the park, including its benefactor, Isabella Elder. In Shawlands we focussed on climate justice issues and considered how a single oak tree can nourish many different species. We talked about how trees are of benefit to humans, cities and environments and then this led on to a walk debate which focussed on climate justice issues. Each session integrated social, environmental, and political justice, as we aimed to use an intersectional approach to engagement and education.
Each session was unique and produced varied discussions, experiences and outcomes. Perhaps the most important outcome was showing pupils who had never visited their local greenspace, which was often just a stone’s throw from their school, these spaces. By taking photographs, school pupils experienced a far more immersive and stimulating walk in their park. Photography affords a focus on detail and allows for a slowness of movement that can be difficult to replicate in other settings. Many pupils expressed their joy at learning outside, and we encouraged them to ask for more regular outdoor learning from their school leaders. Above all else, pupils loved using a camera and being empowered to lead the sessions. This was a key aim of the participatory methodology. They sparked discussions, documented, and debated what they felt was important to them. At one school (King’s Park) photos were displayed at an art exhibition put on by the Friends of King’s Park and pupils’ photographs were displayed around the park for members of the public to see. The project team produced a video which can be viewed here and the team are working with Glasgow city council to embed more creative and outdoor learning opportunities across the curriculum.
Climate change education isn’t just about high-level conceptual discussions of hard-hitting issues. Sometimes, it can be about sowing a seed of appreciation for a local park. Through starting small and focusing on the local, fruitful and empowering educational sessions can arise from lessons designed to engage young people in sustainability. For some, engagement simply meant an appreciation of the giant Oak tree in their local park, for others it meant better understanding why there is unfair access to greenspace across Glasgow, and how this relates to the injustices tied to climate change and sustainability.
The WtGW project is co-ordinated in Scotland by Dr Ria Dunkley and Dr Ines Alves, with support from Ben Murphy, at Glasgow university, and Lesley Atkins, Education Officer for Glasgow city council. The team is keen to hear thoughts and ideas for project evaluation, as well as ideas for activities, so please do get in touch with Benjamin.Murphy@glasgow.ac.uk