Would You Hand Pupils the Power?

chris-slupski-433343-unsplash.jpgWhat’s happening on Friday?

Thousands of UK schoolchildren are preparing to walk out of lessons on Friday as part of a nationwide strike to protest global inaction on climate change. Following the example of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old activist who held a three-week protest outside the Swedish parliament, students across the globe have been holding ‘Fridays for the Future’ strikes to raise awareness of escalating climate change and demand immediate action from politicians. The growing movement will make its way to the UK for the first time on 15 February, ahead of a planned global strike on 15 March.

Greta’s message is clear: politicians around the world are not doing enough to combat climate change, the actions that are being taken are too little and too late, and today’s young people will bear the consequences on our planet. In a speech to the World Economic Forum in January, she told the delegates: “I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day and then I want you to act.”

How should we respond?

Obviously there are legal obligations and safeguarding concerns to consider regarding the whereabouts of children during school hours, but should we punish students for leaving lessons to demonstrate on school grounds? Or do we have a responsibility as educators to allow our students to express themselves, to grow and to develop their convictions?

Part of the issue is that our students are expected to trust that the older generation has their best interests at heart, yet the evidence they see on the news would indicate anything but. Why should they sit through a science lesson to learn about the evidence behind climate change when that evidence is ignored worldwide by the politicians who create climate policy?

We have to re-establish that trust with our students and reaffirm that they are the leaders of tomorrow. That may mean allowing them to demonstrate and express their opinions, but we also need to encourage them to go further in the classroom. Teach them about their own personal environmental impact. Get them to write letters to their MP. Create a debate club. Turn this strike into a teachable moment and you may be able to inspire young people to make a genuine impact on the world they will inherit.

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