“Students and teachers join forces for the planet”, by Sebastian Berger.
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As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world and claimed millions of lives, it also entrenched deep structural inequalities both at an international and community level. In a single moment, it distilled the shortcomings of our leaders and laid bare, with tragic consequences, the injustices of our societies.
The genesis of a global democratic student movement
The unequal and immoral economic response of the global community ignited a powerful, international reaction of solidarity between young people across the globe. From national to regional student organisations, we came together to demand meaningful participation and justice. What has emerged is the Global Student Forum, the umbrella organisation of 183 student unions from 118 countries.
We are from movements with distinguished histories; we have been on the front lines of the struggles for environmental justice, human rights, gender equality, peace and democracy. Our heritage is an inspiration to us and a constant reminder that history progresses as the result of radical ideas and political participation, a catalyst for social change. Our cooperation is based on shared values which direct the way we work and what we want to achieve. As student movements, we share the fight for meaningful participation in the decisions that shape our lives, the future of the societies we live in and the planet we live on.
We find ourselves in an age in which democracy has become a radical principle. Our generation is watching as governments fail on the historic challenges of climate change, civil rights, disinformation, economic inequality, mass migration and public health. We believe that independent and democratic union structures are key to democratic development.
Meaningful political participation of young people means putting an end to practices of tokenism and cherry picking, to ensure fair and legitimate representation of youth and students in global discussions and decisions. Unjust global systems are upheld by unrepresentative governance structures of political and economic entities that embed, rather than challenge, inequality.
Students and teachers united in the fight for climate justice
From the outset of our initiative in 2019, we were searching for allies - representative, democratic and independent, value driven organisations to fight alongside us for a dignified life and better tomorrow. Student and teacher organisations have always been united through a shared culture of syndicalism and a determination to challenge the political status quo when needed.
In March 2021, the Global Student Forum entered into a hosting arrangement with Education International that allows us to be incubated within EI’s structure, facilitating mutual learning in the spirit of open, honest, critical exchange and commitment to respecting the autonomy of each other's constituency. This formal, global coalition between teacher and student movements unfolds at a critical juncture in history.
Scientists agree that climate change represents the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. Over-consumption of natural resources, mass extinction of species, lasting damages caused by pollution and persisting social injustices are well documented. As students and teachers, we listen to and stand behind the scientific community.
Together we need to act with urgency, to defend future generations and our ecosystem at large. We believe that education for sustainable development and active citizenship is key to empowering students to shape a sustainable future. Schools and universities should mainstream local and global sustainability in teaching, research and all their operations in order to fulfil their obligation towards creating more sustainable societies.
Education for sustainable development is a central aspect of quality education and students as well as teachers must be equipped to do their part to address the climate crisis and shape democratic, inclusive and socially sustainable societies.
Delivering quality climate change education requires far-reaching changes in curricula and study programmes. It also entails redesigning learning and teaching strategies in our institutions. Climate change education needs to be embedded into school and university curricula as a cross-disciplinary and core subject.
Students should not only achieve climate literacy once they complete their education, they should also be supported to carry out sustainability initiatives throughout their educational journey. This is something student-centred learning and stronger democratic involvement of students and staff in the operations of educational institutions should help address.
As the global federations of teachers and students, Education International and the Global Student Forum represent the lion’s share of the worldwide education community. Considering the transformative power of education, it is in our hands, in the hands of our membership and constituencies to turn the tide on global warming.
Together we shall transform the way we teach and learn about sustainable development and urge our governments to take immediate action before it is too late. It is five minutes before midnight, our time is running out.
Today, Education International launches a worldwide campaign to ensure that climate education becomes as fundamental as teaching reading and writing. Join our virtual launch: Teach for the Planet: Global Education Summit taking place on 21 April from 1 to 4 pm CEST.
The Global Education Summit is part of a series of events marking Earth Week. In collaboration with EARTHDAY.ORG, the events will bring together the voices of teachers, students, activists and climate justice advocates from around the world.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.