Today’s blog is the latest in a series by Tom Davies who co-ordinates NAEE’s Facebook pages. As ever, the views expressed are Tom’s, and are not necessarily shared by NAEE.

My time working as a professional in education is short but my time as a learner spans the whole of my 25 years of life. There is one question that regularly reoccurs when I learn something new – ‘why didn’t I learn about this in school?’

Educational approaches are constantly evolving. Our understanding of learning and brain function is continually updated. Why then, is the structure of an educational setting roughly the same as fifty years ago? The main concern I find with education, however, is that the outcome of schooling is to place a child into a nicely shaped box that fits with society’s norms and workplace expectations.

A refreshing approach to education is the upcoming Welsh 2022 curriculum, putting more emphasis on expression and originality, teacher autonomy and young person creativity. It is a move away from regimented, tick-box, success criteria modelling, allowing students and teachers to work collaboratively towards exciting outcomes.

Environmental education is an ideal approach to implement within this curriculum. Now, more than ever, the environment is a topic that should be central to educational processes. Young people, the next generation, need to be more adapted to, and aware of, changing environment and the vital role sustainability will play in providing solutions to the climate, biodiversity and ecological issues facing humanity.

Environmental education and/or education for sustainable development is a logical evolutionary change for education systems. It is this logic that motivated me to write an environmental education framework – a whole school, project based approach, immersing young people in contemporary issues and solutions both local and global. The framework is structured on a termly basis with a different project relating to the Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, climate awareness, active citizenship and global citizenship, beginning in Reception through to Year 11.

A sustainable society is the way the world is headed. Business, government and citizens have all been changing their behaviours, whether it is using a bag for life or revolutionising the energy sector, sustainability is part of our lives and as far as I can tell it is here to stay. The importance of sustainability, now more than ever, cannot be underestimated. A planet 4℃ warmer than pre-industrial levels at the end of the century is the reality we face if we don’t start investing heavily in a green energy sector. The IPCC has stated that 2% of global GDP is what is needed as investment in sustainable and renewable infrastructure to keep warming below 1.5℃ (a manageable level). These figures have been criticised as unachievable, whilst at the same time the United States Federal Reserve has invested 20% of its annual GDP on economic recovery from the Covid-19 Pandemic. Furthermore, a warmer planet means sea level rise that would be a catastrophe for countries such as Puerto Rico and especially Bangladesh which will lose up to two thirds of its land mass. Bangladesh’s 400 million population would massively be impacted, creating innumerable numbers of climate refugees. All this chaos and we haven’t even discussed the extreme loss of biodiversity – what Sir David Attenborough calls the sixth mass extinction.

This all sounds scary, but it will be a lot scarier if people aren’t educated about the realities. This is why environmental education is so imperative. Teaching the message of sustainability is vital in giving young people the tools and knowledge they need to enter a world of climate instability. Done effectively, environmental education might lead to a new generation of active and engaged citizens, fighting for their rights to a sustainable future, and it could mean that people will be conscious of the realities of society and the Earth. It could also mean that people will take notice of the policies politicians are placing on sustainability when they vote, and that young people are better prepared for the inevitable shifting of the economy towards green jobs.

Environmental education in schools is about giving young people an awareness and a preparedness of the world they are entering, which is why schools should be doing more of it. Wales is making a positive, progressive evolution of its curriculum, however, within it environmental education needs to be a central theme.


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