October 2021 edition: Educating a Generation of Environmental Inventors, Innovators and Problem-solvers

Educating a Generation of Environmental Inventors, Innovators and Problem-solvers

One of the world’s most popular educationalists, the late Sir Ken Robinson, said: "We’re all born with immense, natural, creative abilities. Children demonstrate them all. We all feel them. But we feel they slip away from us as we get older”

A study conducted by Dr George Land and Beth Jarman on behalf of NASA endorsed this empirically. Their study of 1,600 children found that: "When children aged 5 were given a problem with which they had to come up with an imaginative, and innovative solution, 98 percent of 5-year-olds tested at the "genius” level. The same problem given to 15-year-olds indicated only 12% of students tested at the "genius” level and by adulthood that number falls to just 2%.”

They concluded: "Traditional education does not sufficiently value innovative and entrepreneurial thinking – our system even dumbs down the creative genius that we were born with”.

Set in the context of the climate and ecological crisis we’re facing, it’s an educational emergency. As Prince William said when he announced The Earthshot Prize last year "The Earth is at a tipping point and we face a stark choice: either we continue as we are and irreparably damage our planet, or we remember our unique power as human beings and our continual ability to lead, innovate and problem-solve”.

The Earthshot Prize is the most ambitious and prestigious of its kind – designed to incentivise change and help to repair our planet over the next ten years. The Prize is backed by The Earthshot Prize Council, a global team of influential individuals including Prince William, Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, Sir David Attenborough, Shakira Mebarak and Christiana Figueres.

By nurturing the innate creativity of young people and channelling it towards solving our biggest environmental challenges, Generation Earthshot aims to build children’s confidence that they can change the world for the better.

Alison Bellwood

One year on from Prince William’s announcement, we are fast approaching the first ever Earthshot Prize awards in London, broadcast on the BBC on 17th October. Five £1million prizes will be awarded to solutions to clean our air, revive our oceans, protect and restore nature, fix our climate and build a waste-free world.

It comes just weeks before the UK hosts COP 26 in Glasgow from 31st October – 12th November 2021. The climate talks will bring together heads of state, climate experts and campaigners to agree coordinated action to tackle climate change

As educators and school leaders, we play an important role in helping our students navigate these challenging subjects. Research shows that children and young people are aware of the urgency of our environmental challenges but can become overwhelmed. According to a survey of 10,000 16-26 year-olds across 10 countries, 59% of respondents were very or extremely worried and 84% at least moderately worried about climate change. Over 50% felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty.

A key factor in this phenomenon is children’s increasing alienation from the natural world. The Dimensions Educational Research Foundation found that "one result of the reduction of children’s direct experiences with the natural world is the rise of what researchers refer to as biophobia or ecophobia, a fear of the natural world and environmental issues.”

Therefore, it’s important that schools and Trusts are able to carve out space for outdoor learning, so students can develop a foundation of affinity and understanding for environmental learning. Recognising this need, the Nature Premium campaign is calling for a premium per pupil, much like the PE and Sports Premium, to enable schools to provide these opportunities.

Another key component is attitude. We are surrounded by stories of climate disaster, but rarely environmental success. No wonder children feel hopeless! This brings us back to The Earthshot Prize – specifically a new educational initiative developed with The Royal Foundation and The World’s Largest Lesson: Generation Earthshot.

Young people can be a part of "Generation Earthshot” by coming up with ideas to repair the planet and sharing them with others around the world. Teachers can use a free toolkit for creative problem solving, based on the principles of design thinking but simplified to be applied across a whole school, from science to humanities to arts.

By nurturing the innate creativity of young people and channelling it towards solving our biggest environmental challenges, Generation Earthshot aims to build children’s confidence that they can change the world for the better. In the process they will develop key innovation skills for the future workplace, described by the OECD as ‘Creating New Value’ in their three Transformative Competencies for 2030.

The youngest of the 2021 Earthshot Prize Finalists is 14-year-old Vinisha Umashankar, inventor of a solar-powered ironing cart as a clean alternative to the charcoal powered street irons that press clothes for millions of Indians each day. She is living proof that you are never too young to help the environment through innovation.