Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, declared this week that humanity had become “a weapon of mass extinction”, putting a million species at risk. The web of life that sustains our planet – everything from plants and animals to fungi and micro-organisms – faces an existential threat from dangers such as irresponsible land use, overexploitation of resources, pollution and climate change. Guterres said that there must be no buck-passing on biodiversity and that the time to act is now. He is right. But we also need to think long-term and how we educate future generations to live in harmony with the needs of the planet.
Life-Based Learning prioritises young people learning about the environmental challenges we face and involves encouraging and empowering them to take practical action to promote sustainability and help make a difference. In addition to helping protect the planet and its biodiversity, interacting with nature has wider benefits for children and young people – everything from improving physical and mental wellbeing to boosting confidence and self-esteem and developing teamwork and communication skills.
Last week we blogged about the UK government’s proposed National Education Nature Park, a key element of the Department for Education’s sustainability and climate change strategy. The aim, says the government, is to create “one, vast, virtual, nature park”. One of the project partners is the Royal Horticultural Society, an organisation that already does much to encourage young people to connect with nature through its fantastic Campaign for School Gardening scheme.
The campaign is aimed at schools and also at youth groups and home educators. According to its website, the campaign offers children and young people opportunities to connect with nature, helping them to explore the Great Outdoors and learn how to care for plants and our planet.
The website also has an excellent news section with lots of ideas for gardening activities all year round as well as summaries of activities and schemes that schools and others have been involved in. For anyone looking to promote gardening – for example by starting up a gardening club as an extra-curricular activity or by making gardening a focus of cross-curricular work – the Campaign for School Gardening is an excellent place to start.
Best of all, perhaps, is their awards scheme, aimed at helping individuals, schools and groups to plan and develop a garden. There are five levels, each with success criteria in the form of easy-to-understand ‘can do’ statements and plenty of supporting resources available to help young people demonstrate that they have met the criteria. Once completed, there are certificates and other rewards on offer.
Level 4, for example, combines nicely with developing enterprise skills. One of the success criteria is ‘We raise funds to buy seeds, plants and equipment for our garden’ and there is a support sheet with information about things to consider before starting a growing enterprise project, such as what are likely to be the best things to grow if you are looking to fundraise.
A short series of linked blogs we published earlier this year (see the links below) explored the key challenge that lies ahead as governments and other decision-makers seek ways to safeguard the planet’s biodiversity and prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change – in short, how do we influence lifestyle choices so that people live more sustainably? It concluded by arguing that there are no simple solutions but that a green education must be central to any long-term strategy. Children and young people, we said, are key to a greener future.
The concept of Life-Based Learning developed as a response to the urgent challenges we face. LBL is predicated on the notion that children need to be learning about the climate emergency, the threat to biodiversity and other such challenges. 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.
That’s why we need to ensure that a green education forms an integral part of the curriculum. LBL is about agency and empowerment, giving young people the knowledge, knowhow and skills to lead healthy, sustainable and happy lives, and helping inspire them to take on the immense challenges the planet faces.
The image at the head of this article is from the website of the RHS Campaign for School Gardening.