My last article ended on what I believe to be one of the most important and relevant topics of today: how can we teach the next generation about climate change? Children and young adults of all ages must realize that the biggest challenge their generation will face is climate change. From our side, giving them the tools and knowledge necessary to prepare them for this battle is not only our responsibility, but also a part of our generation’s battle against climate change. It is estimated that the Earth’s population will reach close to 10 billion by 2050; the problems surrounding resource allocation will get even worse if we do not start teaching the next generation of consumers and leaders to be more conscious about how they live their lives or conduct their businesses.
But where do we start? First, let’s categorize the current generation of students: we have those from kindergarten to 6th grade, 7th grade to 12th grade, and, finally, college students. Those are the brackets I chose simply due to vast differences in the responsibilities, worldly knowledge, and future goals they all possess. For example, a college student might be looking for a job, while a high schooler is searching for a major/college. We need to design curriculums and initiatives that not only align, but also support the development of a child from one bracket to the next.
Primary Education: #BeNicetothePlanet
We teach young children how to be kind to one another, but let’s also teach them how to be kinder to the planet. We don’t need to tell the kids about carbon emissions and their footprint or ESGs and CSRs. Instead, let’s teach them about the beauty of this planet and ask them what they already know. Let’s tell them about how their everyday decisions, that may be small for us, but are big for them, have an actual impact on this planet. Between the ages of 5-12, a complex problem like climate change needs to be explained gradually, as their knowledge increases. Keeping young children engaged is difficult, but there are a ton of things a parent or educator can do: from field trips to the museum/science center to challenges that get them excited to learn more about their planet. Through this, we have laid the foundation for what is to come next.
Secondary Education: #ThinkBetterforthePlanet
We talked about introducing the planet and its many wonders to young children. Now, it’s important to start teaching teens about the issues at hand. Between the ages of 13-18, students start taking more complex subjects within the broader categories of math, science, social studies, and more, so why not integrate sustainability? Since they already have a foundation for the basics, integrating lessons into the existing curriculum surrounding the past, present, and the future of climate change and the science behind it all should be at the top of every school board’s agenda, if it isn’t already. Parents and educators that are frustrated by the constraints of board and state government politics surrounding the current curriculum need to speak up.
We are also giving these teens a head start outside of their classrooms; their lessons surrounding sustainability will hopefully trickle into their everyday habits and thoughts, some that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Now, to the last stop.
College Students: #DoBetterforthePlanet
Many colleges and universities across the globe have taken an important leap by starting up their own centers and departments for sustainability; some have even started to offer classes and degrees in relevant fields. Yet, there is a lot more to be done: e.g., an economics class teaches about profit maximization, but what about wealth maximization? Analyzing sustainability reports? Uncovering modern slavery tactics used by large corporations? We must realize that we’re teaching these young adults who are on verge of joining the global workforce about how to do one thing and one thing only: generating the highest profit for their companies. That is not a lofty or even a worthwhile goal. It’s time we start teaching them about the purpose of business in society, the triple bottom line and how that surprisingly (or not surprisingly) will have an even better impact for their companies.
Those that fit into this age bracket also need to start taking things into their own hands; things like taking classes on platforms like EdX, Udemy, etc., all of which offer courses relevant to sustainability. They also need to seek employment in companies or organizations that are trying to make a change or a starting business that has sustainability running through its veins, which in turn can provide employment for those that have similar ideologies.
Our generations’ responsibility is to guide those that are yet to begin, or support those that are already on the path towards becoming more conscious consumers and creators. To secure the future for those that are inheriting this planet from us, we must make such responsibility our priority as parents, educators, and mentors.
“Unless we are willing to encourage our children to reconnect with and appreciate the natural world, we can’t expect them to help protect and care for it.”
– David Suzuki
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This fortnightly knowledge byte series is an effort to simplify the understanding of sustainability and share insights that help actively be part of building a future that is just, equal and sustainable for all.