Sustainability: the crucial role that schools and universities play in its’ implementation

By Maria Wehbe

Picture taken from CLIMATECLOCK

            “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today” – Malcolm X      

This statement carries an extremely powerful meaning, one that I could never stress on enough, because education really is the main tool used to shape individuals. It is the ideal preparation for the rest of your life and teaches you how to be a good citizen.  

As an education major myself, I did get the chance to witness school life from a teacher’s perspective and this has helped me shape my mindset regarding very different aspects of the educational sector. As a matter of fact, it does have a lot of material in store for its’ students and aims to provide them with everything that they need, but I have noticed that they are falling short in a very important subject that is essential in today’s world: sustainability and its importance in being able to live a decent and healthy life. Sustainability should be a major part of our lives today more than ever, as environmental crises keep happening all over the world, one after the other.

The situation is so dire that two artists, Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, decided to transform Metronome’s digital clock in Manhattan from one that tells time to one that tells how much time we have left. In fact, on September 19th, 2020, the following numbers showed up on the clock: 7:103:15:40:07 – representing the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds left until the “Earth’s Deadline”. The two artists declared that this was the “critical window for action to prevent the effects of global warming from becoming irreversible”.

What is worrisome in this scenario is that we are all contributing to global warming and climate change, whether we like it or not. Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic, sustainability and trying to keep the earth intact has become the least of our concerns, as our priorities have centered around fighting this deadly virus. Even before the pandemic, pollution and a number of other environmental problems have been prevailing in the world for quite some time, and schools and universities have continually failed in integrating sustainability in their curriculums, as well as implementing sustainable practices within their premises. Back in 2013, England’s education secretary Michael Gove stated that he was determined to “restructure education on a more factual basis, without giving students the opportunity to explore wider issues like sustainability.” This statement is a cause for concern, if students don’t explore the theme of sustainability how are they supposed to practice it in their everyday life?

Now, when I came across this piece of information, the first thought that popped into my head was: “how aware are students of their surroundings and how involved do they wish to be?” Young individuals are very curious by nature, as they wish to remain up to date with the most trending topics that overflow in our media outlets. Therefore, it’s a shame that a lot of people have the tendency to underestimate the amount of information these children can process and understand, and so they reprimand themselves from sharing it with them, since they think that young people wouldn’t be interested.

Now, here’s the thing: we shouldn’t be deciding this on their behalf, and they have every right to know what is going on in our world, for it is the only way for them to shape their own mindset and thoughts on global matters and issues. A very important example that comes to mind here is the countless amount of protests that students have conducted in order to march against climate change and global warming. Nobody was forcing them to do so, but rather they were speaking up about a topic that matters to them, and this is everything that we should hope for, our students not being afraid to speak up and stand up for what they believe in.

This is not only a problem in schools, but in universities as well. After all these years, students are still fighting to receive the proper education regarding climate change and sustainability, an education they so deeply desire. “It isn’t about making musicians into climate scientists. This is responding to what our students want and this generation is looking for. Employers will want students who understand global challenges”, said sustainability manager James Merrychlough of the University of Sheffield, in England. I, for one, would have loved to be able to take courses that would make me more knowledgeable on a topic that affects each and every last one of us. It isn’t only the job of environmentalists and health experts to be aware of the critical state that our environment is, but it is our job as well.

            It is important that we start taking action before it is too late. The world is on a tight deadline, and each and every one of us is responsible in trying to extend it, by amending our ways of life. Later on, in my own classroom, I would emphasize on the importance of sustainability as much as I can, because it is a concept that I believe in. After all, we cannot teach our students about certain topics and issues if we do not believe in them ourselves. Even though it is not stressed upon within the national curriculum and I personally haven’t even been taught about these topics, I do know that I will do whatever it takes to make sure that my students do realize that sustainability is not just a concept that they learn about, but it should be a part of their daily life. There are endless ways to promote sustainable development and a sustainable way of life and it all starts with education, since each and every person should be taught to do what is right, for the sake of their planet and for their own sake.

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