Although the new academic year is still a few months away, as 2019 rolls in, we at The Hearth have compiled a list of areas for educators – in schools and otherwise – to keep their eyes on.
At the recent COP24 summit, world leaders spent an inordinate amount of time debating whether to “welcome” the somewhat dismal findings of the International Panel on Climate Change report. As we strive towards net zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century, when today’s young children will be entering their twenties, it goes without saying that we cannot afford for any schoolchild today to deny the significance of the climate challenge facing the Earth. This therefore calls for environmental education to be extended beyond the basics of recycling, pollution, and energy conservation that are typically briefly taught in environmental science lessons and have become so familiar as to often be ignored or taken for granted. Environmental education for the future must extend into history, English, mathematics, the visual and performing arts, economics, and political studies to help students understand the impact of climate change on cultures, livelihoods, and both global and local futures. Studying areas such as Adivasi land and ways of life, reports and literature from different communities, statistical research, medical progress and challenges, nutritional crises, and political movements will all constitute better preparation for a better planet.
Wellbeing: mental and physical
The global rise in mental health challenges in young people stems from a combination of growing incidences and growing awareness. The first step is for educators (schools, families, and non-formal educators) to consciously make mental health more central to daily discussions, events, thoughts, planning, reflection, and understanding. This includes not only providing attention and space to discuss conditions such as severe anxiety, depression, or eating disorders, but equally to lend importance to everyday wellbeing including goals and reflection, family stresses, peer relationships, and self-conception. Furthermore, it is that the presence of so-called ‘negative’ emotions or periods be seen not as negative in themselves, but rather continually recognised as opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of oneself, to form new relations, habits, or thought processes, and to grow through the experience. Schools have the potential to guide students into adulthood in the 21st century as more balanced, self-aware individuals who are better prepared to avoid the strains of over-working and burnout that have increasingly characterised the workforce.
An equally important aspect of wellbeing is the recognition that physical and mental wellness are inextricable from each other. As school, transport, leisure, and work become more sedentary, and food more readily available, any education initiative ought to integrate physical wellness into its system from the outset. From academic content to co-curricular activities and general school-wide or family ethos, physical wellness includes short-term aerobic and muscular activity, long-term flexibility and bone health, well balanced nutrition, and seasonality and locality in food consumption. Educators thus have the opportunity to incorporate initiatives like the daily mile and yoga, and to emphasise healthy and local food in their meals.
Political engagement and history
With the 2019 general elections around the corner and the recent significant global political changes it is crucial that students be encouraged to develop critical political engagement from a young age. Perhaps the biggest challenge of implementation is the level of criticality and awareness required of teachers in turn, to avoid one-sided or restrictive learning. Political engagement in schools need not, and arguably should not, involve teaching a particular political view, but moreover dedicating time to reading widely, discussing, and demonstrating that students form a legitimate part of the political landscape. Schools and families could introduce regular reading time (daily, on alternate days, or twice a week) in which the students read from a wide range of news sources, carefully selected for validity and diversity, and discuss their findings and thoughts. This provides a further opportunity to inculcate the principles of active listening, respect, well considered responses, and a readiness to change one’s mind.
While teaching looks towards the future, the ways in which it is influenced by the past require equal consideration. Global shifts such as Brexit, the dominance of Trump, the rise in right-wing extremism and xenophobia, and the local rise in lynching, communal violence, and insecurity beg the question of where we failed young people in the past. Educators today, to understand the needs of the future, need to look at how communities, relations, wars, nations, rights, and systems have been framed (or ignored) in both formal and non-formal education and develop collaborative responses for future teaching.
One thing that mob violence, environmental destruction and indifference, television political debates, and sexual harassment and violence collectively signal is a lack of respect. Perhaps instead of a focus on arms growth or GDP we would do well to aim to make our population more respectful in 2019. From Circle Time to stories, debates to independent reading, and social outreach to individual actions, there are a myriad ways in which respect can become integral to education at all ages. An ignorance of the underlying conflicts serves only to help them fester, and schools should become spaces of open and respectful discussions and actions both towards immediate relations and distant communities. As with environmental education, time explicitly focused on respect is useful but on its own can alienate students; respect needs to be integrated into every subject area, rule, activity, and action in a school in order for it to have the staying power to carry forward.
An adverse outcome of our national push for job creation and employability has been the neglect of areas of learning not deemed to contribute enough to reducing unemployment and raising productivity. In the pursuit of these quantifiable goals it seems easy to lose sight of the growing presence of AI, political and cultural disengagement, and the sheer excessive demand for places to study and work in STEM subjects. Continuing to sacrifice reading time for maths practice will continue to do a disservice to the potential of India’s enormous young population. This is not to say that STEM subjects are not important, that they do not contribute to employability, or that employability is not a significant individual and national concern. But young people who can adapt their skills to different learning contexts, who are raised to develop insights into different lives and times, and who communicate not just effectively but skilfully in both the written and spoken word will hold themselves and the country in better stead.
In 2019 state and national governments need to provide adequate funding to publish and distribute books in more Indian languages, giving a platform to India’s many contemporary publishers and digital reading technologies. Educators should in turn provide consistent and dedicated literature reading time, involving reading with children and in groups, seeking out a wide range of contemporary Indian and international children’s literature, addressing new or challenging topics and words, and fostering the value of the immeasurable, the unknown, the invisible, and the more leisurely aspects of knowledge.
Mira Manini Tiwari
(Mira is an Education Specialist at The Hearth Education Advisors)
12th January 2019