Even a cursory glance at the media will reveal that talk in education is dominated by educational standards as measured by test results.

We are told that higher test scores is what is necessary to prepare our children to compete in the global economy and that that is a good thing.

Recently we have carried out enquiries with school pupils in both primary and secondary schools and they tell us that this focus on tests and assessment is causing them anxiety. We know that 1 in 10 children have mental health problems. Various strategies are proposed to build children’s resilience in the face of these pressures. Mindfulness programmes to teach them how to calm themselves down and manage their stress. This is a bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted – we need to look at the systems that are causing this stress and change them, not expect children to change.

When we ask children and young people what is important to them certain things come up time and time again in school after school. They want more green spaces and opportunities for exercise. They want to learn how to grow food and how to cook. They are worried about the environment and want plastic free schools. They long to make things – they want time for creativity and they want creative opportunities outdoors.


We need to ask ourselves what is really important in education. We need education as if children and the planet really matter. Our children are growing up at a time of major species extinction, major pollution, catastrophic resource depletion and an inexorable rise in levels of C02. These inconvenient facts are apparently just a side issue in our education system.

If our children are going to undo the damage done by industrialisation they need rather more than rising scores on very narrow tests that focus on the ability to analyse the grammar of English and solve calculations as if there were no planetary emergency.

What we need is nothing less that a paradigm shift in our thinking.

Our young people need to be taught a rather different set of basics than the ubiquitous 3Rs. The new basic has to be ecological understanding. Our children need to understand how the earth works, what humans have done to it and why that’s a bad thing.

How else are they going to understand what plastic is doing to our ecosystems? Why greenhouse gases are a bad idea, why deforestation is the road to suicide as we destroy the lungs of the planet. They need to see themselves as the human component of the planet’s ecosystem – a part of it – not apart from it. This capacity to see ourselves as separate from the planet that sustains us stops us from seeing the limits of growth in a finite system, prevents us from knowing there is no free lunch in the environment.

The best of us want to live ethical lives. We want our children to behave morally, to take their obligations seriously, to strive for a just world. Most of us want to live a good life. Education should have an empathic, ethical heart if it is to stop preparing young people to continue with the Hyper-ExpAnsionist ‘business as usual’ future and prepare them instead for a Sane, Humane and Ethical future.

We’ve got one generation – yours – to lay down this new consciousness, this biosphere consciousness..

Jeremy Rifkin – Feb 2018

And just as we our discovering that social prescribing for adults with mental health issues is more effective than medication we need to make sure our CYP connect with nature. It should be an entitlement for all young people to spent time in the natural world. To establish those connections with nature that are proving so vital for those with mental health issues. We hear a lot about the need for emotional intelligence, we also need ecological intelligence if we are to build good communities and take a long-term view of the future of the planet.

And this is what young people are telling us they want through our work with young people in schools. Cardiff Council are now rolling out participatory democracy to underpin Pupil Voice using VocalEyes to all 128 schools in the area as part of their Cardiff Child Friendly City project.

This blog was written in collaboration with Sue Lyle from Dialogue Exchange.
We have formed a partnership to support participatory democracy within educational contexts.

Education for Ecosystems Thinking, Biosphere Consciousness & Urgent Local Action