The government’s DofE-style award for the environment is a step forward

The UK government announced at COP26 last week that it is planning to set up a scheme along the lines of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award to recognise and reward young people’s efforts to protect the environment. They described it as “one of a series of measures aimed at putting climate change at the heart of education”. Indeed, Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, talked of “world-leading” climate change education. If you are rolling your eyes at this point, it is a fair bet that you are not alone: we have heard more than enough hollow talk about ‘world-beating’ this and ‘game-changing’ that in recent times. These ideas on nature and the environment set out by the government are a step forward, but it is time for actions not words, outcomes not promises.

The proposed scheme is provisionally named the Climate Leaders Award. It will recognise the work of children and young people in improving the environment and will include a “prestigious” national awards ceremony every year.

The Climate Leaders Award will help children and young people develop their skills and knowledge in biodiversity and sustainability, and celebrate and recognise their work in protecting the local environment. For example, young people may choose to undertake a project that delivers change in their local community, such as increasing the biodiversity of a neighbourhood piece of land or helping to deliver experiences for younger children to explore nature and local woodland.

It will be developed in collaboration with children and young people so that we can ensure it supports them in making an impact in their local communities.

Pupils and students will be able to progress through different levels of the award, ‘bronze’, ‘silver’ and ‘gold’, in a similar way to the Duke of Edinburgh Awards [sic].

UK government press release, 5 November 2021

Other measures announced by the UK government include:

  • a model science curriculum, which will be in place by 2023, to teach children about nature and their impact on the world around them
  • encouraging children and young people to get involved in the natural world by increasing biodiversity in the grounds of their nursery, school or college by taking small steps like installing bird feeders
  • opportunities for children and young people to upload their data onto a new, virtual National Education Nature Park, “which will allow them to track their progress against other schools in the country, increase their knowledge of different species and develop skills in biodiversity mapping”

The government’s proposals are contained in a draft strategy document called Sustainability and Climate Change. The document refers to the 2021 Dasgupta review, which we highlighted at the time of its publication as a “landmark” document. The Dasgupta review was important because it was commissioned by the Treasury rather than by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), an indication that the most powerful government department is perhaps embracing the need to tackle the harm that humans are doing to the environment.

The review talked about connecting with nature being “woven throughout our lives”:

It is a cruel irony that we surround children with pictures and toys of animals and plants, only to focus subsequently on more conceptual knowledge, marginalising environmental education relative to the wider curriculum.

Quote from Chapter 24, The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review

Ahead of COP26 we said this:

A truly imaginative approach to COP26 will put education at the heart of its legacy planning, looking again at what we are teaching our children so that environmental education isn’t just another box-ticking bolt-on, achieved via a few science lessons and an awareness-raising day once or twice a year, but an integral part of the curriculum.

Children and young people need, in other words, to be learning about the urgent environmental problems that confront us now, about actions that we can all take to help alleviate those problems, and about the need to live sustainably in order to secure the long-term survival of the Earth’s resources on which humankind depends.

The concept of Life-Based Learning developed as a response to the urgent challenges we face. Nature, the environment, the animal kingdom, the physical world — in short, humankind’s relationship with and appreciation of the world around us — would be a central focus of a truly life-based approach to learning.

We owe it to our children of all ages, and to ourselves, to become equipped with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the staggering challenges facing current and future generations. Our ultimate life goals are personal realisation, harmony between peoples and environmental sustainability, enabling humankind to survive into the foreseeable future and beyond.

More about the Dasgupta Review

Draft Strategy Document

BBC Online News Story

Image at the head of this article by Michelle Raponi from Pixabay.

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