“No thank you, Miss”, the little boy said as I was handing him another plastic spoon for his ice cream to replace the one he just dropped on the floor, “I’ll just clean this one”.
As the boy continued to elaborate on how he learned about the amounts of plastic waste we produce and how that waste is being dumped into the ocean at school, it got me thinking. Plenty of times I have had conversations with friends, fellow students or my parent’s friends who were not necessarily denying climate change but at least looking upon it as something definitely not as important or discussion-worthy as the latest football scores.
Yet this little boy, no older than eight, politely refused me giving him another plastic spoon for his ice cream, because the education he received at school has embedded an awareness of our planet’s issues in his behaviourism.
The impact education can have not only on one’s individual behaviour, but on society as a whole and hence the environment, is tremendous. Education is the root of our character traits, values and knowledge and the idea of “we are what we learn” is a tale as old as time. But if we really accept that we only are who we are because of what we have been taught so far, does that not mean we need to consider that what we learn today will define who we will become tomorrow?
This is where the concept of Sustainability Education comes into play and where its power lies. As described by the WWF “Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) takes a holistic and realistic approach to learning by linking ecological, social and economic aspects of our daily lives.”
It is the linking part that in my opinion is the most crucial part of this approach. It is what makes ESD different to any environmental sciences, as it embeds the skills, values and behaviours needed for sustainable development in our everyday actions rather than treating them as a separate subject. Separating waste or consuming responsibly should come as natural to us as brushing our teeth or shaking someone’s hand when meeting them. If ESD manages to achieve this, it will have the power to transform the way we treat our planet.
The responsibility to stop climate change now lies within this generation and the generation that follows it. If we want the following generations to grow up with a different attitude towards our planet and a different understanding of what it means to be sustainable, we need to incorporate sustainability education into normal education systems.
In the words of Nelson Mandela „education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.