20/20 vision represents the standard of visual acuity that defines normal vision. Visual acuity measures the sharpness of vision. But vision also relates to something unconnected with eyesight. It is also used to describe ones future intention/direction based on clear, ethically sound values. This is the precise commitment we wish to see from our leaders, politicians and others. In the absence of a clear vision, outcomes can be haphazard, often leading to unintended consequences. Going forward, at this pivotal time for our civilisation, more than anything, we need visionary leaders. Interestingly, at the same time, we are coming to recognise that young people are assuming ever greater leadership over climate change. To execute this they need help from others, especially from within the education system.
2020 Vision For Youth is one citizen’s ideas about the future, reflecting on the short-term direction for climate action in the UK. In support of developing local communities, I offer my vision by setting out 4 key Objectives for the year 2020.
To empower young people to respond to climate change in their schools.
To support communities on how they may respond to climate change locally.
To urge government to set national policy in support of local/global climate action.
To explain to media commentators what 2020 Vision For Youth is about.
A lesson on climate action, learned from around the world, is that local communities have to be ‘on-board’. If it is just left to outside agencies to formulate local responses to climate change, people are not empowered and the commitment they feel to the crisis is unlikely to be strong. This not to challenge the established view that tackling climate change depends on global responses over fossil fuels emissions in particular.
At the heart of just about every community lies a school, attended in the main by local children and supported by parents and families. As a driver for social cohesion, community identity and community action, our school system remains woefully under developed. This has been the situation historically. Few initiatives to extend the use of school buildings outside the school day for other community groups have been trialled. Equally, opportunities created to encourage community involvement during the school day are difficult to find.
Added to this, most recently, the impact of an avalanche of education initiatives from central government over four decades has had a devastating impact on teacher morale. In such an environment it will not be an easy task to call on schools to take up new initiatives. Another issue arises out of the reforms, in that they have largely failed to help young people prepare for life in a rapidly changing world. This has been clearly articulated by higher education institutions and business leaders alike.
Today, many are aware of a glaring disconnect between the challenges facing our young people and the curriculum they receive. Not least in this respect are the young people themselves. Elsewhere, the Italian government has recently announced a major policy to transform its state schools. It is an admission by that government that more needs to be done to prepare young people for an uncertain future brought about by curriculum change.
It is too early to comment on this Italian initiative. However, my local council at Bath and NE Somerset has been responsive to the youth voice calling for positive action. The reaction has been swift and detailed. BaNES has set out a clear set of developing, funded policies to tackle everything from air quality to recycling in support of local community concerns and in response to the global climate crisis.
The process was set in motion in March 2019 when the Council passed its Climate Emergency Resolution encompassing the four following declarations:
- declare a climate emergency
- provide leadership to enable carbon neutral B&NES by 2030
- enable citizen engagement
- oppose expansion of Bristol Airport
2020 Vision For Youth outlines how these four commitments can be supported in our schools in the year ahead by the 4 Objectives set out above.
Having secured such a strong commitment from their local council, climate campaigners in BaNES have set in motion the process of empowering young people. The work of FACE (Family Action on Climate Emergency) in engaging directly with schools and parents has added considerable momentum and its role going forward is clear.
The diverse nature of the county requires localisation and this is where schools as local focal points for planning, coordination and action come into the equation. Through this route, it will be possible to reach all areas, not simply the urban centres, with a consistent focus for local action/support.
In the year ahead, there is need to legitimately explore how children can engage further in spreading awareness and demanding action about climate change. It should be seen as an opportunity to help them make their views known. This is where parents, working with schools can assist. To that end, the present drive to get individual schools to declare a climate emergency is crucial. If a way can be found to support children calling for this action in their schools, the take-up and pace of development could be hugely increased.
There is a second strand to consider if we want to empower children from nursery onward to find their voice and develop the confidence to articulate their views. I have written about this elsewhere. Suffice it to summarise here two of the main recommendations:
- all schools should (where not currently in place) introduce a forum such as a School Council to facilitate discussion and democratic decision making,
- across the whole school and in every curriculum discipline, schools should introduce Philosophy for Children (P4C) .
As part of drive to increase community awareness of the crisis, school leaders should be urged to consider how they can support their pupils further to bring this about. There are numerous ways this could happen, such as:
- arranging Open House sessions where people from the local area are invited to join with the children in learning about a specific change, action under consideration locally,
- arranging out of school hours lectures/workshops/ for those unable to attend during school hours,
- inviting supporters to help arrange ‘days-out’ to develop a stronger connection with the local environment,
- setting up community climate centres in schools to house related materials and resources.
Every way needs to be explored to increase the engagement of pupils in the developing national/international response to climate change. Schools have a role to play in making sure young people know how to make their voices heard. For older pupils, writing to an MP, for instance, is something that needs due consideration. Preparations for this can take place much earlier with younger children as part of more broad communication opportunities in the curriculum. When these are linked with learning about democratic structures and understanding issues around accountability, the door is open for schools to involve parents/carers directly.
Even very young children can be introduced to what national government is doing to address climate change across its full range of policies and allowed to debate how appropriate the plans appear to them. This is where P4C is such a powerful facilitator for engagement.
Schools have much to contribute in helping young people articulate 2020 Vision for Youth and spreading the impact of the Council’s leadership beyond its boundaries. By targeting local and national media with a range of strategies, they will have opportunities to share progress being made towards the stated objectives and invite comment and participation from others. For older pupils, this could open up the possibility of participating in the global movement to tackle climate change and support climate justice for far-flung communities.
So many opportunities for creative expression can be explored when deciding exactly how to gain maximum exposure for the work being carried out locally. There are many options for working alongside other members of the community, including the council itself, to educate others and to keep issues fresh and relevant.
Such developments need to be seen in the light of an ongoing response rather than a dramatic reaction to the crisis. Time is of the essence but any commitment needs careful management and constant revising to avoid fatigue and to keep things fresh. At every stage BaNES Council has a key role to play in helping individual communities ensure their efforts correspond to the council’s overarching agenda.
Another vital element of the local response to the climate emergency is Climate Emergency Watch BaNES. The role of this group in relation to 2020 Vision for Youth will be explored further later.