There is no doubt that the younger generations coming through are faced with a very different kind of understanding of life stability than those before them. News patterns show not just political and economic uncertainties – these have always existed – but there is a growing anxiety about the equilibrium of the world they are embarking into.
Waves of pandemics have radically changed our lives and the impact of climate change through vigorous weather that is slowly eroding the world, either through drought or flooding, accompanied by poverty, has added to a period of national tensions.
It is no wonder that many young people of today are falling into two camps. Those gripped by an anxiety paralysis of doom scrolling through their social media feed, and those who live in hope; believing that we can still make a difference. The Fridays For Future movement is a perfect example of the younger generation taking matters into their own hands, as they sense that governments are not addressing their future enough.
In education, this is a tough challenge. We deliver the required knowledge and concepts while striving to empower confidence and resilience for our students to look beyond themselves to how they can contribute to positive change, a true burden to bear. Some schools focus heavily on the short term, ensuring their students thrive academically for university, followed by an au revoir and good luck.
But other schools, like Verdala International School, take a more long-term approach that aligns the values of the school with a responsibility towards society. No matter where our students end up – as lawyers, doctors, accountants or hairdressers, and whatever organisation they work in – they should be ethical contributors and expect ethical standards that are not harming the world we live in.
No matter where our students end up, they should be ethical contributors and expect ethical standards that are not harming the world
Across the world, schools are integrating the values of sustainability through the Eco-Schools model. Malta has 76 such schools and Verdala International School is striving for the Green Flag. This process is not a top-down approach. Some people believe you can simply say you are eco-friendly; put out a few recycling bins and reminders to switch off the lights to say you are green.
The Eco School model is based on the UN Sustainable Goals and there is an expectation that institutions incorporate these goals and the eco values into the curriculum itself. Students need to consider through a service-learning approach how they can implement change in their community, get active and create sustainable projects that will survive beyond their school tenure.
We have just started this journey, working with our student, staff and parent eco-committees and adapting our decision-making to include bold eco-decisions, starting from our own daily habits to eco-discussions around our new building project.
Upcycling has been a part of this journey, with students creating murals using plastic bottle tops, while our teachers started the scholastic year with a team-building project that involved converting old wooden pallets into planters.
The curriculum at Verdala International School is inquiry-driven and based around project learning. So we have removed most textbooks; instead, we see where our questions and ideas lead us. The need for global and local sustainability is woven across the curriculum, giving our students the opportunity to explore innovative solutions that are making a difference.
Universities are changing their expectations of student applications, no longer looking just at academic grades; they are seeking students who have examples of getting involved.
The Eco-School model allows students to be part of shaping their future and instils the mindset that is required for habits to change. We all have a shared responsibility for our material waste and what happens to it. These are discussions young people want to be part of and not feel held back by a society where the commitment to saving the planet is considered to be ‘someone else’s problem’.
Young people are eager to contribute and have many good ideas, which need to be nurtured or they will become disheartened. Instead, they should see themselves as part of the solution, and once they move into jobs in five or 10 years’ time, sustainable decisions will remain at the forefront of their thinking. Our future may depend on them.