The pandemic has rightly taken the majority of attention over the last 18 months, but as the country slowly begins to return to some form of normality (and vaccination campaign gathers apace), other events are beginning to take the media spotlight.
With the Siberian wildfires currently larger than all other wildfires on Earth combined (and the smoke coming from these wildfires forcing people to stay indoors) the impact of global warming has come into sharp focus recently. Further emphasised by the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) sixth assessment report, which found that some of the climate systems across the globe have already changed irreversibly as a result of global warming, climate change is now front and centre once more.
There had been hopes that one of the few silver linings to come from Covid would be a reduction in emissions caused by the majority of the nation’s workforce beginning to work from home. However, with lockdowns over the last 18 months, and moves by the government to support workers going back to work, it does appear that these changes were short lived.
So, what can we do in colleges? Well, we must make sure that students are properly and fully educated around the risks of climate change and global warming: the history of it, the causes, the impact and what steps need to be taken to ensure no more damage is done.
Firstly, this must happen in schools as climate change and global warming are already being covered, to an extent. There were hopes that this could be extended with the proposal of a bill which sought to extend teaching around global warming and climate change. However there has been some opposition to the bill with some opponents claiming global warming and climate changed were given adequate coverage in subjects such as geography and science. While the outcome of this bill is debated then, it is vital that Further Education continues and expands education around climate change and global warming.
Thankfully, this is already happening through initiatives such as SORTED (Sustainability Online Resource and Toolkit for Education) which aims to provide a toolkit to support Further Education Colleges to incorporate sustainability at all levels. With a focus on making colleges more sustainable through simple strategies such as making buildings and estates more efficient and embedding sustainable development in teaching, SORTED is certainly an excellent initiative in the move to implement sustainability.
As much as this excellent organisation continues to do great work, we must act as the problem demands: global warming and climate change impacts everything that we do, and so we must adapt everything that we do. From modelling excellence at all levels in colleges, and in the resources that we use, we must strive to be sustainable, and, as with anything in Further Education, schools and Higher Education, collaboration is absolutely key to developing and sharing best practice. This is no different when discussing sustainability.
As well as using existing links (such as those with parents, employers, community groups and other external stakeholders), there are additional links to be made with organisations which can further support sustainability in colleges. With a range of regional networks, the Alliance of Sustainability Leadership in Further Education and the Salix College Energy Fund, to name just a few, there are a range of opportunities to collaborate around sustainability. With tools and resources such as the Climate Action Roadmap for FE Colleges to support college sustainability, the tools are there to be implemented.
To do this effectively, further legislation is needed to ensure that sustainability is enshrined in the national curriculum, as well as well into Further Education, and that funding is made available to make this happen. Additionally, this must happen at all levels of an organisation, from students, parents and external stakeholders, to practitioners, leaders and governors.
Changing college culture to fully embed sustainability will likely mean some level of culture change throughout an organisation. As much as this is unlikely to happen overnight, as the worsening state of our climates continues to cause deep concern, education has a vital role to play. Within this, there are fundamentals which are evident in all great teaching: modelling and questioning. These tenets are vital: how do we evaluate what we are currently doing around sustainability and how do we demonstrate how we implement our approach? If we can support students to independently do this on their educational journey (in and after college and Further Education), we will go some way to making sure that students are equipped to make the right decisions around climate change and sustainability.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of Teaching, Learning and Assessment at a college in the North East. He has previously worked as Head of English and maths in FE and as an English teacher and Head of English in Secondary schools. He tweets @jonnykayteacher and his book, 'Improving Maths and English in Further Education: A Practical Guide', is available now.