HOW do we teach young people to deal with the climate crisis and incorporate sustainability into Scotland’s education system? Those were among the key themes up for discussion at The Herald’s Roundtable event held yesterday in partnership with Epson UK.

The event, hosted by Herald Editor, Donald Martin, addressed many of the pressing issues surrounding sustainability and the part that education has to play in the global climate crisis.

 

HeraldScotland: Pictured left to right: Mark Cairns, Charlie de la Hey, Cllr Chris Cunningham and The Herald Editor, Donald MartinPictured left to right: Mark Cairns, Charlie de la Hey, Cllr Chris Cunningham and The Herald Editor, Donald Martin

 

Held in The Herald’s Glasgow city centre office, key panellists included Mark Cairns (Headteacher of Cumbernauld High School), Charlie de la Haye (Communications Manager at Epson (UK)) and Councillor Chris Cunningham (Glasgow City Convener for Education, Skills and Early Years).

With each panellist offering personal insights from different points of industry (education, tech, and the public sector) the debate took an honest approach in raising interesting challenges facing young people as well as exploring the reality of this convergence of education and sustainability in Scotland.

Cumbernauld High School’s Mark Cairns talked passionately about the daily challenges facing Scottish education. “We need to give young people a platform and forum to help them to change the world for the better. But there is a real challenge for us in schools to be able to provide the right professional learning for our staff. Young people are committed to a sustainable world, they have some ideas, but they need help with that, as do the teachers.

“There is a crisis in Scottish education surrounding how many teachers there are. Some steps have been taken to resolve that, but if we don’t have enough teachers then we won’t be able to do the work that we need to.”

Mr Cairns said there was a need to incorporate sustainability across the entire school curriculum, in all relevant subjects such as sciences, geography, business (particularly in terms of future career prospects), and even R.E if it’s studied from a moral perspective.

As well as educating young people on sustainability issues, Mr Cairns stressed the need for behavioural change such as littering in the playground, and challenges surrounding encouraging pupils to recycle.

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Councillor Chris Cunningham gave an insight into the scale of the challenge facing the education sector in terms of the built environment. “In Glasgow alone,” he said, “we have 30 secondary schools, 140 primaries, around 20 ASL schools, and over 100 nurseries. That is a large estate that we have to take responsibility for.

“In essence, there are two things that drive the performance of buildings – how efficient are they in terms of insulation and how much heat it needs.

“The second thing is: what is that heat source? And to be blunt about it, right now that heat source is predominantly gas/fire systems. So, we have a big challenge concerning those two factors.

 

“In terms of improving things, reducing the demand for energy is probably the most effective way of reducing climate change in schools right now. It’s relatively straightforward, but costly. If you want to get out of gas heating in buildings like schools, then biomass is the only viable option because air sourced heat pumps don’t work on buildings of that size.”

While curriculum, behaviour, and school buildings all play key roles in adapting to a more sustainable future, the same can be said for technology in schools.

When asked how industry can work in partnership with schools to help them combat climate change effectively, Communications Manager at Epson (UK), Charlie de la Haye commented: “Through tech we can create products that have a better effect on a school’s eco credentials.

“Epson is talking a big game not because it’s created a solution to the climate crisis but because it’s integrated sustainable methodologies into its manufacturing products, its supply chain and in the way it’s selling and incentivising products.

“In terms of future jobs for young people leaving education, you shouldn’t just have to be a sustainability manager or an environmentalist to effect change, anyone should be able to bring into their role a sense of clarity and influence in terms of how you can change a business from within.”

While identifying the key issues and priorities in terms of integrating sustainability and Scottish education, it was agreed that there is the need to help young people build on ideas and help them find creative solutions to the dramatic effects of climate change.

Councillor Cunningham commented: “Young people are acutely aware of the climate crisis; we will see thousands of young people marching at the weekend in Glasgow as proof.

“The challenge is turning that general sense of consciousness into: what does that mean in terms of practical action, and how should young people lead their lives both at home and at school?”

Mr Cairns concluded: “It’s through the actions of the school community that you then start to change the culture into what you want it to be. Empowerment at an early age is also key – 12 years old can be too late.

“The environment in which you grow up does seep into your sense of being and impacts your world view. In the world we are in now, you turn on the news and it’s doom-laden with the promise of decades of worsening conditions ahead for young people.

“Some might want to shut it out, but I think the majority of young people are solution focused and creative, but they need a framework of support.”