With great learning comes great responsibility

Teachers should allow students the chance to take ownership of their school’s energy and environmental issues, so that they can not just lead the change within their school community, but also further afield, says Luke Wynne of Global Action Plan.

‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’ or so the saying goes. But obviously the author had never taught children. With the value of teaching children about the environment early and how simple actions can effectively change behaviour in a positive way now being universally recognised, isn’t it time that we all invested more focus on not only the future generation of behaviour-change specialists but recognise them as today’s generation?

Working at Global Action Plan (GAP), an environmental behaviour-change charity, has taught me many things and, as Principal Programme Manager on Schools, I’ve witnessed some effective ways of enacting change via school children and the value that it brings. Below I’ll take you through some key case studies and results that portray the effective schools programmes that we offer in areas like energy and water saving and some of the key learnings for future use. I’ll also outline the benefits that I’ve witnessed first-hand within the school itself and the wider community.

Firstly, the one key lesson that I’ve seen time and time again throughout all of our projects is that the most effective way to engage and excite children about environmental issues like energy saving is to allow them to take the lead. As with most audiences, when the onus is on the individual, the sense of empowerment and realisation of goals is immeasurable and the outcomes are more likely to produce a successful result.

Agents of change
GAP’s school programmes across energy, food, water and waste have proven the effectiveness of school children becoming the ‘agents of change’ within their school community. An example of this is our Water Explorer programme which partners with HSBC over 11 countries. After its first year, it achieved a massive 586 per cent over its water saving target by saving 1.3 million m3 of water and 581 per cent over its carbon saving target with a result of 1.45 million kgs saved. The programme has managed to be such a success because the students are encouraged to lead the change themselves and come up with their own water-saving solutions in teams. This format could easily be replicated with other environmentally‑friendly areas like energy saving.

Whilst the results of student-led initiatives like Water Explorer are impressive and beneficial to the environment, it’s not so much about encouraging students to save energy, water and waste but instead to give them the opportunity, empowerment and the tools to lead this change themselves. This in turn helps bring about long-term environmental savings at their school and in their home in a more effective way as it helps to leave a lasting legacy.

Another reason why school children should be encouraged to take the lead and be the change-makers themselves is the passion and dynamism that young people tend to have. From our experience with schools, we have seen in projects that young people are generally passionate about the environment and want to make a difference. It’s up to us to not only encourage the behaviour but to also harness the passion and enthusiasm by directing it into areas for empowerment and positive change.

In addition to this, school children often have some remarkably creative and innovative ideas for how positive change could be achieved. A great example that we’ve seen is the ‘Mister Mister’ showerhead product that was an idea from students within one of our Aqua Innovation programmes. The Aqua Innovation programme worked with 40 schools, 833 students and contributed to 5.8 million litres of water being saved per year and it doesn’t stop there. We also worked with many other UK schools on Appetite for Action with Sky, Action on Waste, and H20 Heroes. All of these programmes valued the unique contribution provided by school children in owning their behaviour change from strategy to implementation.

So with all of the above programmes in mind, what have been some of the key benefits that GAP have observed and more importantly, how do they help students achieve their desired outcomes? We can roughly divide these benefits into three distinct areas; the application of learning, Blooms taxonomy and the individual’s skills development.

Real life learning
When applying learning outcomes, there is no question about the value of embedding real-life situations into young people’s learning at school. This is true for both the theory and practice. Providing students with the opportunity to see and experience the link between their school work and the real world helps to embed their knowledge and apply their learning to real-life situations.

This includes examples like measuring and analysing a school’s energy consumption data alongside surveying friends and family members on their energy consumption habits.

From here, students are able to develop a plan of action to address their school’s key energy consumption issues. This specifically gives students a real project example to apply numeracy skills, scientific concepts and a variety of other curriculum linked themes and topics.

Using Water Explorer as an example, our teacher survey found that 69 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that the Water Explorer programme had improved students’ knowledge of local water issues and preventative actions.

When providing school-based programmes, GAP aims to keep Bloom’s Taxonomy in mind. Our schools programmes help provide the platform for students to apply their learning right through the top stages of Blooms Taxonomy (create, evaluate, analyse, apply) as they investigate, measure and assess their school’s environmental performance. This is then normally followed by designing behavioural interventions and engaging communication activities with the aim of getting the whole school community on board and implementing a tailored plan of action to address the school’s key environmental issues.

The benefits from this extend to the wider school community as the students can carry on this knowledge in their local area, their homes and eventual future organisations.

Key life skills
The direct link to developing a wider set of skills is a further benefit to those participants in an environmental behaviour change schools programme.
We’ve found that throughout this process, school children get the opportunity to develop many key life skills that they can continue to improve upon once their project has finished. Some of these skills, such as teamwork, presentation skills and problem solving help students to gain confidence in their own ability and thereby make a noticeable difference. The skills listed above are all attributes that are vitally important as a student progresses through their schooling and look to eventually enter the working world. In fact, the CBI has identified in a ‘…survey of 291 companies employing nearly 1.5 million people, over half (61 per cent) are concerned about the resilience and self-management of school leavers’.

The benefits of embedding an environmental behaviour change programme into an empowering project for school children are ample and through GAP’s experience, we’ve seen the most successful outcomes delivered where students are encouraged to own the process from beginning to end and develop the necessary tools to reach their goals. So teaching children to fish may be difficult but teaching them about environmental behaviour change has hopefully just got a little easier and this can only be a good thing in the long run.

Further Information