Power To The Pupil. Lessons on Environmental Education from Susan Adams

The climate crisis looms large in the minds of today’s younger generations. They see the warnings about rising sea levels, increasingly frequent and powerful storms, and the news stories about devastating droughts, raging floods, and fires across the world. 

Susan Adams identified a troubling “disconnect in the information that we’re learning and we’re seeing, and the caring needed to motivate action.” While students were learning about climate change and resource depletion in their schools and textbooks, they felt that these imposing environmental challenges were simply out of their control. “It was like these concepts were just too big for young people,” Susan explains. “They thought it was up to governments and other leaders to do something about it.”


Susan’s approach to environmental education involves reconciling this disconnect many students feel toward issues of such magnitude and their role in the conversation. These are not intangible ideas that students should feel they can’t do anything about. It’s not just up to Governments, NGOs or other organisations. It’s time to offer students the opportunity and responsibility to make changes.


Environmental education is a unique chance to engage students, allowing them to develop their ideas into actions and to more fully realise their potential. “We talked about what was important to them, what they valued in the environment. And we looked out into our local community […] and we connected with the issues that related directly to them.”


Following work and talks with Susan, Newpark Comprehensive School students were empowered to begin campaigning for a single use plastic free school. Students educated their peers, educated other schools, they talked to their school’s board of management, the PTA, and connected with their local shops to change their lunch deal. After 3 months of student-driven programs and initiatives, Newpark became Ireland’s first single use plastic free school. 


Peer education and student-run agendas rely less on textbooks and more on a student consensus and teamwork. Students are given the opportunity and the responsibility to develop their own ideas into effectual projects and plans of action. Not only is it an engaging and inclusive method, but it reminds young learners that they do have a voice and can take initiative to enact change in their communities and indeed on a global scale. 


We need to listen to younger generations. In a world that, as many would be quick to admit, often marginalises their capacity to take meaningful action, young learners need to be reminded of their potential. “It’s necessary that we must give our young people the platform to take action. We must use them as a launchpad to the next higher level of ambition to influence and change our community.”

Learn more about Education for Sustainability by watching this insightful and inspiring TEDx Talk in Ballybofey, where Sue expounds on the importance of empowering students through an inclusive approach to environmental education in schools. You can find more information about particular topics discussed in the workshops here.

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