Primary and secondary school children from Clydebank joined the Scottish Government’s Minister for Green Skills, the Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna Slater, and other policy makers, local authority officers, teachers and researchers at a University of Glasgow event to celebrate and amplify children’s hopes and concerns on local environmental issues.
Organised by the Network for Social and Educational Equity (NSEE) and Children’s Neighbourhood Scotland (CNS), we were joined live by young people teachers and researchers from partner schools in Chile.
The event was the culmination of months of partnership working where teachers, preservice teachers, researchers and pupils had worked in their classes and with their counterparts from abroad together during virtual and in-person workshops on a range of issues related to climate change. In addition, teachers developed many lessons about the countries involved.
During the workshops, pupils from Luis Cruz Martinez school in Chile and St Eunan’s Primary School and St. Peter the Apostle High School in Clydebank, Scotland discussed their understanding of, and perspective on, climate change, designing solutions for issues ranging from dealing with litter and pollution in their local areas. A case of young people acting locally and thinking globally!
The COP26 event was also used to showcase the workshops, which used the CNS ‘capabilities approach’. This approach emphasises young people’s agency in the research process, aiming to empower children to identify issues in their neighbourhoods, and to then design solutions to these challenges. Young people worked with each other, leading the work with teachers and researchers to find ways to embed climate change topics in all areas of the curriculum, including arts subjects as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Virtual workshops between Chile and Scotland supported pupils to connect with, and learn from, other young people seven thousand miles apart. The global dimension of the project empowered students to gain insights into the local issues and solutions in relation to climate change in different contexts.
Despite being most affected by the ongoing climate crisis, young people’s perspectives are mostly underrepresented in the policymaking space. This has prompted widespread calls for research that engages with pupil’s climate concerns throughout the world while empowering young people and helping them to build capacity around the responses to climate change
This is especially relevant to Scotland, where the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was recently passed into law, requiring new mechanisms to amplify the voices of young people.
With COP25 relocated away from Chile in 2019, and COP26 hosted in Glasgow, the project gave a chance for students in both countries to meaningfully participate in international climate discussions.
Professor Chris Chapman, opened Wednesday’s event, along with pupils Lauren and Matthew from St Eunan’s Primary School. During the introduction Chris Chapman explained that links between Scotland and Chile go far back, and the countries share similar sets of values and a strong sense of solidarity. He recounted the story about workers in Strathclyde who, in 1973, refused to repair the Rolls Royce engines of Chilean Hawker Hunter jets used by General Pinochet to bomb his own citizens.
The project aims to promote student voice and embed climate change into the curriculum in a holistic way. West Dunbartonshire Council, where the two Scottish schools are based, had been very supportive of the project and its young people, giving schools and teachers flexibility to incorporate the work into the school day.
A film made by the Chileans showed how teachers, pupils and researchers worked together to explore the impact of climate change and came up with local solutions to problems. Community gardens were among the solutions actioned by the children, and many of them talked in animated detail about what they learned. The Scottish children should learn to speak Spanish, one pupil added, so that they could visit their new friends in Chile.
Developing empathy across continents
Chilean parents spoke about how much their children enjoyed the experiences of talking to other children thousands of miles away, and what their children had taught them about recycling, growing your own food, pollution and more.
Pupils from St Eunan’s Primary School presented their work at the event. Who are we, they asked. “We’re a group who are using our voices to make a difference and we want to encourage young people to follow in our footsteps in an entirely new adventure.” At first, when their teacher raised the subject of Chile, they had thought they were going to be improving their culinary skills! But they had subsequently enjoyed finding out about a country they hadn’t known much about.
The young people from St Peter the Apostle’s Secondary School wanted to inform and educate their local community. In the lead up to COP26, they had taken photos of flooding in their area that had resulted from recent torrential rain – flooding being one of the more visible localised impacts of climate change. They had worked with their school to lessen plastic use and ensure there were more meat-free options available in the canteen.
Conversations with more than one voice
Dr Romina Madrid, who had been key to establishing the links between the Scottish and Chilean schools, spoke of how important it had been to set up those connections between schools and universities so that conversations that included more than one voice could take place.
Following presentations from the young people, Romina Madrid facilitated a discussion between some of the teachers involved in the project. Each noted the impact of the workshops on children’s learning, and that they had learned new pedagogical approaches to climate education. Duncan Muir, a teacher from St. Peter the Apostle, emphasised in the role of teachers as creating alliances and partnerships with young people that can provide guidance and support on how to make their voices stronger.
Lorna Slater MSP and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity and Laura Mason, West Dunbartonshire Council’s Chief Education Officer joined a panel with Romina and Ben Murphy from the University of Glasgow and Professor Carlos Duque from Colegio Luis Cruz Martinez School and the Catholic University in Valparaiso in Chile, to take questions from the young people.
Ms Mason said she couldn’t be prouder of the work the pupils had done and had learned lessons from the work of the Chileans in schools and communities. She wanted to gather the pupil groups together again, so they could work collectively to drive further improvements.
Working for the public, working for children and young people
Ms Slater reminded attendees that politicians worked for the public and that people shouldn’t hesitate to let them know what they thought elected officials should do and that Scotland was planning an upgrade of public buildings to ensure they were carbon neutral, while Romina and Ben said the key lesson that they had learned was the importance of making connections, especially as the Scottish/Chilean experience had shown that people were more alike than different and collectively can make a difference in their locality.
Professor Carlos Duque spoke about the Chilean Science for the Citizenship curriculum programme which incorporates an environmental module, and the developments in teaching practices that had occurred during the partnership.
Ben from Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland said: “It was fantastic to see the excitement and enthusiasm of the young people involved. We were all inspired to hear them talk with such passion, insight and confidence, in front of a daunting audience. Bring together young people from Clydebank and Chile has built long-lasting connections that will enable young people to bring in global understandings to all their learning.”
Rachel Cowper from Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland, added: “It is our job to ensure that children and young people can express their voice and agency, and in a time when climate is the key issue, supporting children to grow in confidence to raise these matters, debate solutions and put actions into place – is key… The event showcased just that, and on an international footing. It was inspiring, and the children spoke with passion and clarity, so with actions already underway there will undoubtedly be more to follow.”
The event ended with the panel members adding one sentence that summed up what they wanted the young people to take from the day. These included messages about learning, hope, working together, resilience, collaboration and vows to listen.