Justin Dillon, Professor of Science and Environmental Education at the University of Exeter, has been President of NAEE for the past four years and has been enthusiastically nominated by the Trustee Board and those involved in the day-today running of the Association to continue as President for a further four year period. The Board asked Justin to reflect on his term of office and look ahead. Here’s what he said:
As I look forward to the possibility of my second, and final, four-year term as President of NAEE, it’s time to look both backwards and forwards at NAEE in particular and at environmental education (EE) more generally.
Those of us who have been in the field throughout our lives could never have imagined, when we started out, that the environment would be front-page news so often in 2021. As COP26 begins in Glasgow, a study by the Global Future thinktank in conjunction with the University of York, found that 78% of people in the UK reported some level of eco-anxiety. Four out of five people – that is both astonishing and sobering. It’s not just young people who are concerned – high eco-anxiety is found in all age groups and in all classes. The biggest difference is between women (45% have high eco-anxiety) and men (36%). Not surprisingly, faith in politicians is low with only 18% of people thinking that COP26 will have a big effect. Almost everyone is aware that the environment is under threat on a global scale – something that was not the case when NAEE was founded.
So, what is the role of organisations such as NAEE? For a relatively small charity it continues to punch well above its weight. The weekly digest of news and the termly journal are invaluable resources for practitioners, as are the curriculum guides and the blog. NAEE continues to offer financial support to all schools in the West Midlands through the benevolence of the Kenrick family – the 6,000th Kenrick supported student will visit an outdoor centre this coming Spring.
Interest in nature continues to increase partly as a result of people being locked down and in for so long. Organisations offering education outside the classroom report massive uptakes of activities such as woodcraft and forest schools. Young people are increasingly aware that the current school curriculum is not fit for purpose and the Association has been supporting Teach the Future – helping to get young people’s voices heard by those politicians who might be prepared to do something. It’s not just young people who are increasingly frustrated – I’m sure that many NAEE members and supporters lobbied their MPs to bring in measures to stop water companies dumping raw sewage into our rivers and streams.
What we continue to see in the EE movement is a desire among and people both young and old to focus on environmental issues such as climate change and water quality rather than on rather vague notions of sustainability. I suspect that pattern will continue because while sustainability is the key to future improvements in the life of the planet, it is the single issues that people can identify with as problems that need to be addressed if not always solved.
NAEE, as an organisation, provides an opportunity for a range of highly committed people to work together as paid employees or as volunteers in support of our goals. Nine NAEE fellows provide concrete links between us and the wider EE community. As someone who has spent the past four years working with its trustees, officers and supporters, I continue to be impressed by the commitment to the environmental cause and to making the organisation as inclusive and effective as possible. We’ve got a long way to go but there’s not much that can stop us.