Learning the skills to engage with an uncertain world

In The Age (Saturday 21 May 2022), Lauriston Principal Susan Just discusses how targeted programs are helping students come to grips with the challenges of climate change.

Lauriston students grow and harvest vegetables at the school’s Howqua campus writes Monique Butterworth

It’s increasingly harder to deny that climate change affects us all. Whether it’s the social, environmental or economic impact, climate change puts real pressure on our planet, people, economy and government. But it’s our young people for whom climate change is an increasingly key issue, with many feeling anxious about the scale of the  problem.

According to a global study from the UK’s University of Bath in September 2021, there is significant pessimism and climate anxiety among 16-25-year-old Australians.

The study of 10,000 young people – including 1000 Australians – revealed more than three in four young Australians described being frightened for the future and believe people have failed to care for the planet. Around one in two believe they will have fewer opportunities than their parents and that climate change would destroy things they most value and threaten family security. More than 40 per cent of Australians said they were hesitant to have children due to climate change. Schools recognise the connection between learning sustainability skills and improving student wellbeing. Equipping students to take proactive action to fight climate change and create a sustainable future, improves student wellbeing in the process. Lauriston Girls’ School offers a unique learning experience for its year 9 students.

Principal Susan Just, says the Howqua Program is offered at an important point in the growth and development of a young person with OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) research showing a fall in social and emotional skill levels from the ages 10 to 15 years.

“Anxiety in young people is still on the rise and many factors feed into this, including the many environmental issues the world faces. Our job at Lauriston is not to deny these fears, but to equip students with a social and emotional toolkit that enables them to understand and realise they can make a contribution to grappling with and solving problems,” says Just. “Howqua is specifically designed to build capacities that encompass intellectual, social and emotional skills and these skills are important when considering and addressing both environmental issues and wellbeing.”

“Sitting in the bush on the land of the Taungurung people, in the Victorian High Country near Mansfield, the girls live together as a group. They develop a strong sense of belonging to their environment through learning about the history and geography of the area from both Indigenous and non- Indigenous perspectives.” Lauriston’s Howqua campus achieved a five-star rating for sustainability in 2016 and is one of only 25 schools in Victoria to do so.

“Students and staff work together to reduce waste, increase awareness of behaving sustainably, and build a community that leaves a positive impact on the environment,” explains Just. “Students are required to take responsibility for their actions in their Houses and are held to account for them.”

“The girls also see and study the negative impact of human activities on the environment in their academic classes. Students undertake a biodiversity audit to investigate flora and fauna around the campus to monitor for any changes that may be due to climate change,” she adds.

“Student-driven environmental activities are embedded into daily life. ‘‘Greenies’’ is a co-curricular club available for all Howqua students to join. The student-led group meets weekly and tasks include everything from educating the campus about the principles of sustainability to growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing vegetables grown in the greenhouse.”

Just says wellbeing is a key focus at Lauriston and is integrated into all aspects of the school.

“We provide learning and experiential opportunities that develop the levels of emotional resilience to enable students to be effective agents of their own path. They not only develop physical and intellectual courage, but also moral courage to stand up for what they believe in,” explains Just.

Cornish College principal Nicola Forrest says her school educates for a sustainable future.

“It is the most important obligation we have to this generation of young people and to our community,” says Forrest. “The curriculum is shaped through our model of sustainable thinking dispositions and a tool the school created called the Rings of Sustainability.”

The four interconnected rings represent Personal Sustainability, Socio-Cultural Sustainability, Urban-Technological Sustainability and Natural Sustainability.

“Each represent key areas of sustainability and together they provide a critical lens for viewing the world – and all our curriculum – so that our young people become problem identifiers and problem solvers with the capacity to create social good for a sustainable future,” explains Forrest. “Using the Rings, our students, when considering an issue such as climate change, will consider it directly in relation to their personal sustainability.”

“Ultimately, we want young people to view the world the way it is – as a series of interconnected parts and actions rather than siloed learning areas, which is the way a traditional curriculum is set up.”

Forrest says Cornish College is mindful that young people, in being educated about local and global environmental issues, can experience ‘‘sustainability fatigue’’ and a level of anxiety that can come from this if they feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility for leading change.

“This generation of young people is often called upon to be the changemakers and to understand that many of today’s problems are a result of what were essentially yesterday’s solutions – not created by these young people themselves,” says Forrest. “As a school whose motto is ‘Make a Difference’ we work with young people to remind them that the difference starts with taking care of their personal sustainability wellbeing first.”

“If people are not well and healthy (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually) and informed, then they are often not in a position to take care of others or our environment. Our wellbeing curriculum focuses then on agency in wellbeing and empowering young people to take positive steps and making informed choices about their own health and wellbeing and knowing where to seek support. Only then can we work together to make a difference today for a sustainable future.”