Hundreds and thousands of students in more than 100 countries are walking out of their schools on Friday with a shared purpose: Save our planet. Some teachers, parents and politicians have raised objections to insist that these children should stay in school instead. I think we grown-ups need to think twice before we stand up against our children on this burning issue.
First, it is difficult to understand how young people feel about escalating natural catastrophes drummed into them by media practically every day. Many, like the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, think that we adults have left this environmental mess for children to sort out.
Young people are taking the lead on Friday because they have the tools to do so. Then they ask: Why we adults haven’t done more to change the course?
Second, education systems around the world have shifted the goals from teaching knowledge to learning skills about how to use knowledge in real-life situations. For example, in 2017 the NSW Department of Education issued an evidence-based review of the key skills for the 21st century. These skills include critical thinking, conscientiousness, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving.
Students gathered on streets around the world are not only calling for action to control climate change, but to show us how well they have learnt these very skills we expect them to learn in school.
Third, young people enjoy similar rights and freedoms as we all do. Therefore, we should listen to children carefully when they speak to us about their lives. In fact, increased depression and anxiety that have led to dramatic erosion of children’s mental health and well-being around the world is, at least partly, due to their worries about the state of our planet. Active citizenship means having a voice about things that affect their lives.
In Finland, schools decide whether their students may join in this strike for climate. Changing climate affects Nordic countries in ways that some might consider as positive: longer summers and milder winters. Yet climate change is the number one concern in youngsters’ lives. Finnish education authorities encourage schools rather prohibit them from finding ways for students to better express their views about important issues such as climate change.
Consequences of climate change in Australia are not positive. A UComms/ReachTEL poll for the Herald shows 57.5 per cent of voters will be swayed by climate change and environmental protection when deciding how to vote in the March 23 state election. Students’ action today may help more parents realise that this is the only planet we have.
In more than 55 locations in Australia today, students will strike at noon. Look at the streets. That’s what democracy looks like. We should embrace it, not stop it.
Published on 15 March 2019 in the Sydney Morning Herald